The Lakota Lutheran Center, a worshiping community on track to becoming an ELCA congregation in Scottsbluff, Neb., is proud to say they don’t have a single member in their congregation.
Instead, says their pastor, Will Voss, they have participants.
“We’re participation minded; I’m proud of saying that because that’s important,” he says. “The character of our ministry has emphasis on social ministry and doing practical care in the community.”
The center is near the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, which is also important to its identity. “One of the things that makes us unique is that we are American Indian,” Will says. “We are a community of American Indian people who are serving those in need.”
While people may be quick to think of the area as primarily American Indian, the area the center serves is actually home to a mix of ethnicities from American Indian to Latino to Anglo, says Will.
One thing they have in common, though, are their struggles. “This is a very low-income region,” Will says, “and so we contribute to the safety net. We make a contribution to the kind of community care that is given around here for people in need.”
In response to the needs to the community, the center provides a number of outreach ministries.
For example, it runs a soup kitchen that is partially funded by ELCA World Hunger. “It is Indian volunteers that cook and serve 136 meals a year,” Will says, providing meals for “whoever shows up.”
And every Tuesday the center runs a medical bus that drives community members to a nearby town for medical services. “Every Tuesday people can make appointments,” Will says. “Patients that go are eligible for services there but don’t have the transportation.”
They can also send prescriptions with the medical bus and get them returned the next day.
The center also provides coats and blankets to whoever needs them when it’s cold, runs a parish nursing program and hosts self-help groups, support groups and Alcoholics Anonymous.
“A lot of the very same things that we encourage for Christians to be at, social ministry and caring for one another, also are a part of the American Indian tradition,” Will says. “Getting everyone in the community fed or to a meeting, for example; there’s pride taken both as Christians and living out the native culture.”
This pride in culture also lends itself to a large number of people participating in the ministries. “It’s very intergenerational,” Will says. “We have kids to elderly being a part of it.”
The youth, in particular, get excited to help. “Young people are engaged in their culture and are very loyal to it and are very proud to be a part of it,” Will says.
All of this, of course, is in addition to the services they host. “We try to have all the basic characteristics of a church. We have worship, Sunday school, youth groups.” But their pride in the American Indian culture also shows in the way they worship.
“Our worship is culturally appropriate with the use of the language,” Will says, and on special occasions it may even incorporate traditional American Indian rituals or dance.
“When we have powwows here locally, typically you look out there when children are out there dancing, and that’s our Sunday school out there dancing,” Will laughs. “I’m not sure that’s every Lutheran’s Sunday school.”