Over the past couple of years I have been traveling around the country to preach or present at conferences and to learn about the ways ELCA congregations have been responding to the poverty they find in the communities where they live and worship.
Everywhere I’ve visited I have been inspired by the creativity, gospel-centeredness and the risks congregations have taken to care for their neighbor and to tangibly pass on the grace they have received.
Some of the greatest risks these congregations have taken happened by inviting people inside their worship spaces and home lives.
Members of Christ the King Lutheran in Houston told me about how helping one sick member as he died of AIDS changed their whole congregation.
They became not only a space that cared for individuals, families and friends of people living with AIDS, they also found that their work changed the way they heard the gospel, cared for those who tested negative and helped them to become more involved with the work of ELCA World Hunger.
Members of Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan in New York found that the worship and outreach they were doing with the Latino/a community inspired them to provide support for the LGBTQ homeless youth in their city by letting them sleep in their fellowship hall at night.
In Chicago, the church secretary at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square got tired of telling people who rang their door bell that they couldn’t help them get food. So she started bringing food from her own pantry to hand out to people. Soon she had inspired the congregation to develop a food pantry, which now feeds thousands.
In San Francisco, inspired by a sermon where I shared with the congregation that I had given my shoes to a barefoot homeless man, St. Francis Lutheran started a program where shoes collected from stores were given away to people who came to eat at their Sunday morning Hospitality Meal.
All of these congregations responded in their own way to the needs of the community around them. Because they lived their faith and gave what they could to the least among them, the members were changed. The individuals they served joined them at the communion rail, shared their prayers and became a part of their faith family.
In my travels, I’ve also heard the stories of individuals and congregations who simply don’t know where to begin or who remember a time years ago when a similar project didn’t go so well.
So I’m excited to announce that because of generous support from the ELCA’s World Hunger program, over the next year I’ll be posting stories of the congregations I visit and Do-It-Yourself Guides that have worked in Lutheran congregations on an interactive website of one of my congregations called “Just Lutheran.” Responding to poverty is something many ELCA members just do. For others, it takes mentoring and education to become a justice-centered member.
On this new hunger education site, you’ll find guides that have worked in ELCA congregations around the country, A Development Guide for Lutheran Dummies and ideas about how to include hunger issues in worship, prayers and your daily rituals.
We are a church that is energized by lively engagement in our faith and life. I’m proud to be a part of a church that is encouraging congregations to share our best practices with each other, to become more aware of the work of ELCA World Hunger, the ELCA Malaria Campaign and all the individuals who make it possible for others to have their daily bread.
While it’s true that our church is an ever-reforming church, we are also a church that holds justice and advocacy work at the center of our faith lives. We are the legacy of Martin Luther, a man so committed to hospitality that he provided the weary traveler who knocked on his door a place to stay on his wedding night.
I pray that all Lutherans will do what they can to alleviate the poverty that is found in all of our communities and around the world.
Megan Rohrer is an ELCA pastor called by five congregations and has been a missionary to the homeless in San Francisco since 2002.