Michaelene Riley has been attending the Sunday services at the ELCA’s Cross Lutheran Church in Milwaukee for most of her life. She’s a proud ELCA member and has always believed, she says, that “God is here in my heart.”
It wasn’t until she had a particularly rough year, though, that Michaelene started feeling like she needed something more.
“A year ago I lost my job,” she recalls. “The bus that I took out to River Hills [the suburb where she worked] didn’t show up.” Michaelene had no other transportation to get to work, and ended up losing her job over the incident. “It was a competitive economy; they stated that ‘we’re going to have to let you go.’”
That’s when Michaelene started coming to Bread of Healing, a ministry at Cross Lutheran Church that takes place every Wednesday and is supported in part by the generous gifts ELCA members make to churchwide ministries through their weekly offerings.
Bread of Healing provides health care, mental health counseling, a hot meal, a food pantry and a time of fellowship and worship for anyone who stops by.
“I started coming to Bread of Healing because two of my sisters were there,” says Michaelene, who has a master’s degree in educational psychology. “Everyone has really embraced me,” she shares.
More importantly, everyone who attends Bread of Healing is part of a community built around empowerment and spiritual growth.
“When people are poor or homeless we make assumptions about them,” says Ken Wheeler, who directs the Wednesday ministry. “We make assumptions about people that often are wrong assumptions.”
Michelle Townsend de Lopez, Cross’ lead pastor, sees Bread of Healing as being an important community in addition to the group of people who attend her Sunday services. “I think part of the difference between Wednesday and Sunday is that the people come here, and they don’t have anything else to lose, so they’re very honest about who they are and what they need.”
“This is about community,” Ken adds. The members of Bread of Healing, he says, “don’t just come here to physically get fed but to spiritually get fed.”
For Michaelene it’s that spiritual meal that’s making all the difference.
“I keep meeting people who are giving me bits and pieces of what God needs me to do to put my life together,” she says. “I knew that God closed the door to open a window for me.”