Three mission congregations whose members stood their ground when their home churches left the ELCA are proving they can make rapid and huge differences in their communities.
The ELCA start-ups are all churches of the Southwestern Texas Synod, which has been hard-hit by congregations voting to leave. Their original congregations left the ELCA over the 2009 Churchwide Assembly's decision to allow the ordination of gays and lesbians in committed relationships.
The largest of the three, Lutheran Mission of Seguin (population 25,000 and 37 miles east of San Antonio), led a community response to a brush fire that destroyed 1,600 homes in September 2011 in the Bastrop community, 38 miles away. The wildfire started on Labor Day, and by the next day Lutheran Mission had set up collection points and started publicizing a prayer service to gather relief supplies.
"We led a major effort, taking a few tons of relief supplies and about $2,000 in cash and gift cards to support the area," said Larry "Tim" Bauerkemper, pastor.
|Steve Rode leads an ELCA mission congregation, Our Savior, that meets at the YMCA in Boerne, Texas, a suburb of San Antonio. The group has little interest in finding a church building but wants to spend its money on helping others.
Among other initiatives, 20 volunteers from the mission stepped up to keep a previously closed food pantry open two Saturdays each month.
"We've learned the church has to be very responsive to the community's needs, and to be nimble and quickly mobile," Bauerkemper said. "There are times when we are flying by the seat of our pants. That's OK because we're trying to keep up with God's mission in the world."
Lutheran Mission took off after 40 former members of Faith Lutheran in Seguin processed out of the church after singing a final hymn on Dec. 5, 2010. The members had already asked Bauerkemper to start a new congregation, and they didn't want to deal with Faith taking a third "first" vote — believed to be the denomination's only three-time effort at a first vote — to leave the ELCA over the gay/lesbian issue. The first two votes failed. Ultimately, 130 joined the mission start-up.
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