By Sarah Carson
When an attempted robbery ended in a police shootout in Superior, Wis., residents started to worry that their city might be falling victim to a crime spree. After all, this was the second shooting in just six weeks and the third in only six months.
So a group of pastors decided they needed to do something. They organized a prayer vigil near the intersection where the shooting took place and invited the entire city to come and pray for both the city and the victim.
“One of the things that we’ve done is drawn a line in the sand when it comes to community violence,” says Patrick Ziems, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Superior. “This is not what we want our community to be, and we can make a difference.”
Patrick is a member of a group of area religious leaders called the Superior Area Ministerium. Together they are working not only to conduct prayer vigils but to determine how their congregations can work together to best meet the needs of the community.
Members of Zion have always had a focus on mission and outreach — from helping keep the local food pantry stocked to making quilts, from donating time and resources to supporting local domestic abuse and homeless shelters. Zion has long been a congregation that understands the importance of playing an active role in its community.
Re-evaluating mission plans
In 2012, Zion is taking a second look at the way it does mission work, thanks to a program called Beyond Our Doors — an initiative of the ELCA Northwest Synod of Wisconsin. Beyond Our Doors is part of an even larger churchwide initiative sparked by decisions made on recommendations of the ELCA’s Living into the Future Together task force at the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The program encourages ELCA congregations to re-evaluate their mission plans by collecting information about the changing demographics of their communities.
Pastor Amy Odgren, the synod’s director for evangelical mission, says the Beyond Our Doors process has made many congregations in her region start thinking about how they invest their time and resources.
“Your mission plan is how are you’re going to use what God’s blessed you with and how that lines up with what you say your goals are. Are you putting your blessings toward where you feel the spirit is?” asks Amy.
Many congregations in the synod have begun to think more about how to best use their gifts.
“Some have been thinking of who they are and what their ministry is where they’re at in their communities. Some have asked these questions for a long time. Some have used outside tools and outside consultants. Some read books, engage in conversation, participate in retreats for congregational leaders and councils. We’re all over the map, and we’re letting the congregations decide what really meets their needs,” Amy says.
At Zion Lutheran Church this has meant taking a step back to look at the programs in which the congregation was already involved. “What we did is we took the Beyond Our Doors framework and we plugged it into what we were already doing,” Patrick says. “What it did for our church was to formalize our mission plan. Beyond Our Doors made it really concrete.”
Patrick says he used the program as an opportunity to reflect upon the relationships he had already established in his community, like his efforts with the Superior Area Ministerium.
“In September, we had the director of the United Way (of Superior) speak to us, and she explained to us that the United Way has done some really solid research in our community and identified three priorities that they’re going to send funds toward: homelessness, literacy and hunger. They did some real formal, serious looking around at those issues,” says Patrick. “I thought, ‘Why do I need to reinvent the wheel?’”
Patrick realized that it would serve Superior best for Zion Lutheran to continue partnering with other congregations and organizations rather than trying to meet these needs on their own.
They have invested their time, for instance, working with Faith United Methodist Church’s Community Dinners and Food Shelf programs. And last summer they partnered with three other ELCA congregations to raise money to bring a breast cancer coordinator to their local hospital.
Amy is so impressed with the results that she has asked Patrick to be a part of a workshop that will help other ELCA congregations in the synod shape their own mission plans.
Overall, Amy says, the Beyond Our Doors program has been a great tool to get congregations thinking about their own mission work. “Congregations are looking at community through the lens of living their baptisms faithfully in everyday life,” she says. “We’re starting to see where congregations are now reaping the benefit of having a plan.”