CALLED TO BE NEIGHBORS TO THE WORLD
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus teaches an ethics of neighborliness.
A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 35b-40)
But who are these neighbors, anyway? In Luke’s Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus goes on to teach us a working definition.
… wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead…. Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10: 29-37)
So, neighborliness is bound up with showing mercy – a shared commitment, as a congregation and as individuals to offering one another kindness, fairness, and respect. As a congregation of faithful Christians, we seek to live out Jesus’s call. We hope and trust that this lived commitment to neighborliness is a slow, profound, and deeply transformational ministry here in Monroe County and in the world.
As a congregation and as individuals, we do much of the work of neighboring by working with nonprofit agencies, supporting them through budgeted funds, personal contributions, volunteering, and gifts of material goods. Working with these agencies gives us powerful ways to live out our values. Here’s a list of some of these agencies.
MINISTRIES OF ACCOMPANIMENT AND SOLIDARITY
Sister Parish with Iglesia Santo Domingo de Guzman in Chichipate, Guatemala
“Sister Parish exists to foster mutual understanding and commitment to peace and justice among people in the United States and Central America. This objective is pursued through intentional linking between churches and Christian communities in the United States and Central America. Delegation travel to the North and South with home stays is an essential aspect in enhancing awareness and understanding, and nurturing closer relationships.We believe the Kingdom of God is already present but not complete, and the liberating Gospel calls us to work together to build this Kingdom… By putting ourselves in the reality of others and by building an interdependent community of brothers and sisters within and among countries, we will promote mutual respect and dignity for all people, advocate for human rights, and work for social and economic justice for all.”
Through the Sister Parish organization, St. Thomas is partnered with Iglesia Santo Domingo de Guzman in Chichipate, El Estor, Izabal, Guatemala. Our call to accompaniment is concerned with building solidarity across boundaries of nation, class, and ethnicity. We have participated in delegations from Indiana to Chichipate, as well as sponsoring delegations from Guatemala to Indiana.
Living Waters Lutheran Church, Cherokee, North Carolina
Living Waters is one of thirty ELCA congregations that are part of the American Indian and Alaska Native Ministries. Living Waters is pastored by Rev. Jack Russell; the congregation serves those living within the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee.
St. Thomas Lutheran Church is a partner in ministry with Living Waters Lutheran Church in Cherokee, North Carolina. St. Thomas members have visited and worshipped with members of Living Waters; Pastor Jack and his wife Lisa have also visited St. Thomas, where Pastor Jack has preached and led worship. As a congregation, we support Living Waters with funds from our annual budget, visits, and donations of clothing.
Pubic Health Education for Health, Chile / Educación Popular en Salud
EPES trains students, public officials, health and education workers, and women from vulnerable communities to advocate for the right to health care and quality, sustainable food, and to share their knowledge with others through workshops and community events…EPES began as a program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile and still has close ties to the church. The health promoters share information about health topics – such as nutrition, breast cancer prevention, HIV and AIDS, and violence against women – through workshops and community events. This ongoing work for more just systems is critical and creates a base of community relationships to respond when other crises arrive.
We’re connected to EPES through the Indiana/Kentucky Synod, a companion synod to the Lutheran Church in Chile. Karen Anderson, an EPES health educator, has visited St. Thomas and preached for us. The St. Thomas congregation supports Karen with funds from our annual budget.
PARTNERSHIPS TO HELP OUR NEIGHBORS IN MONROE COUNTY
“Beacon is a vital, leading, compassionate organization which aids and empowers those experiencing need with a full range of support services to reduce hunger, poverty, and homelessness in communities we serve.”
Beacon, Inc. began as the Shalom Center, a day shelter for the homeless. Beacon is a new name and organizational structure for the many ministries have grown out of the Shalom Center: street outreach, a breakfast program, a rapid re-housing program, low-income housing, and much more. Beacon provides St. Thomas with an immediate way to be neighbors to the neediest in our community. St. Thomas supports Beacon, Inc. with volunteers, volunteer leadership, and support from the Pastor’s Discretionary Fund for specific needs.
Monroe County United Ministries
“Monroe County United Ministries creates lasting solutions to economic, educational and social injustice in our community through quality services, collaboration and innovation. Our vision is to eliminate generational poverty for the people we serve.”
Monroe County United Ministries began in 1939 as the Bloomington Council of Church Women, offering child care services to low income families. In response to the needs of the community, they went on to establish a community center, a credit union, a tutoring program, a resale shop, and more. In the 1970s the organization changed its name to Monroe County United Ministries. MCUM continues to respond to the community’s needs through food assistance, family life coaching, a preschool, and more. It’s an effective way for volunteers to serve the community together. St. Thomas supports MCUM with volunteers, donations of food and cleaning supplies, and funds from our annual budget.
New Hope for Families
“New Hope for Families is a place for a family to call home while transitioning from homelessness to self sufficiency. New Hope is the only shelter in Monroe County where families with children can find shelter together. We serve families with respect and compassion, providing them with life-changing social services and a safe place to stay together when they need each other most. New Hope provides accredited early childhood care and education programs that help parents get back to work, and prepare children to succeed in school and in life.”
St. Thomas supports New Hope with donations of household goods, participation in fundraisers, and funds from our annual budget.
Saint Vincent de Paul, Bloomington
“In the spirit of love and justice, the Bloomington Society of St. Vincent de Paul serving Monroe County (SVdP) provides person-to-person services of time, talent and resources to help our neighbors in need. SVdP respects the dignity of every person, regardless of socioeconomic status. We provide Safety-Net services for families and individuals in our community who are often suffering, forgotten or deprived — the working poor, the homeless, those who have been incarcerated, and all people living on the margins of society. We also seek systemic change solutions to move people out of poverty.”
We have a years-long friendship with this agency and support St. Vincent de Paul through funds from the Pastor’s Discretionary Fund, through individual contributions, and through donations of household goods. We’ve invited them to meet at our building when they needed a temporary meeting place and St. Vincent’s has offered get-to-know-you coffee hour receptions for the whole congregation. Members of our congregation are dedicated, long-time volunteers.
Bloomington Refugee Support Network
“To serve, with our partnerships, the refugees (in Indianapolis and globally), as well as asylum seekers, Dreamers, and other immigrants in the Monroe County community, and nationally.”
For the last few years, this agency hasn’t been very active locally because of national restrictions on immigration, but we expect its scope and needs will grow in 2021. BRSN has called on the Mission Committee to coordinate collections of winter clothes for immigrant children in Indianapolis and to contribute funds for local urgent needs.
PARTNERSHIPS FOR CREATION CARE AND COMMUNITY CARE
Earth Care / Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light
“Earth Care has been an active advocate for congregations and individuals working to reduce energy use and shift to renewable energies. The organization has hosted numerous workshops, film showings, inspirational talks, discussions, demonstrations, trainings, and other events, all carefully designed to raise awareness of our moral calling to care for our earth and share information about how to do that.“
St. Thomas was one of 20 congregations that founded Earth Care, a local sub-group of Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light. Members of St. Thomas are faithful participants in the advocacy ministries of both Earth Care and HIPL. Bloomington Earth Care meets monthly at St. Thomas.
“Because we partner with local NGOs, farmers, volunteers, and missionaries, we’re able to be more efficient with our resources. We can put more dollars into training farmers and creating sustainable results.Most hunger needs arise in rural areas, which is why we focus on small-scale farming solutions that can create the most change and feed the most families. 70% of the world’s population depends on small-scale farmers for most or all of their food. Our programs are increasing food yield at its most critical source.”
St. Thomas members support ECHO by raising funds through an annual plant sale.
Community Kitchen of Monroe County
Community Kitchen provides carry-out meals in locations in Bloomington and Ellettsville, take-home weekend backpacks of food for children, and meals and snacks for children in after-school programs and during the summer. They also deliver meals to selected HIV+ patients in partnership with IU Health Bloomington Hospital and to low-income seniors in partnership with the Area 10 Council on Aging. St Thomas gives financial support from our annual budget.
“More than 1.7 billion people around the world are unbanked and can’t access the financial services they need. Kiva is an international nonprofit, founded in 2005 in San Francisco, with a mission to expand financial access to help underserved communities thrive. We do this by crowdfunding loans and unlocking capital for the underserved, improving the quality and cost of financial services, and addressing the underlying barriers to financial access around the world.”
St. Thomas members have made 391 loans worth $13,300 to people in fifty-seven countries
Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard
“Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard works to increase access to healthy food in ways that cultivate dignity, self-sufficiency, and community. We envision a community where everyone has equal access to nutritious food, waste is minimized, and all members are healthy, self-sufficient, and empowered to reach their full potential. Knowing that healthcare, housing, wages, and more affect community members’ ability to access food, MHC works with organizations from different sectors to affect change. We actively pursue partnerships to address root cause work at a local, state, and national level.”
Gardeners of St Thomas Community Garden give at least 25% of the produce from each bed to Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard (or MCUM). We also give financial support from our annual budget.
SEED MONEY FOR NEW MISSION PROJECTS
The Mission Endowment Fund at St. Thomas was established to provide startup funds for new mission projects within the congregation and extra support for existing missional ministries. The primary purpose of the Mission Endowment Fund is to provide funding in three categories: special needs at St. Thomas Lutheran Church, outreach in our local area, and mission around the world. It is a perpetual fund that distributes only its income. Distributions are made only to programs or projects not already supported by regular offerings. The Mission Endowment Fund Committee meets four times a year to distribute income from the mission endowment. Any member of the congregation may apply for a grant.
THE MISSION COMMITTEE AT ST. THOMAS
The Mission Committee at St. Thomas has the ongoing responsibility of supporting the varied mission commitments of members of the congregation, as well as bringing other local ministries to the attention of the congregation. At their monthly meetings, they’re continuing a long conversation about what showing mercy means right now. The committee keeps track of the person-to-person ties that connect us to our mission partners and the diverse and extensive missions of the congregation. The Mission Committee has some funds of its own, within the congregation’s budget, to use for fast response as needed.
Providing invitations and opportunities for study is an important role for the Mission Committee. To be good neighbors, it’s important to study – to choose to see. We don’t want to be like the rich man who conveniently doesn’t notice Lazarus at his gate (Luke 16: 19-31). The Mission Committee organizes book groups and adult education events to help us all have clearer sight. In 2021 we’re focusing on understanding homelessness.
The committee also lets the congregation know about opportunities for advocacy. It’s easy for people to start feeling we don’t really have any power or real voice in our community, our state, and our nation. Advocacy reminds us to speak up and act up about issues that matter. The Mission Committee brings opportunities for active participation and civic engagement to the attention of the congregation.