Love Our Neighbors as Ourselves

Written by: Rev. Steven M Peeler

Messiah Lutheran Church in Grand Island has a passion for serving their neighbors. Our neighborhood is a beautiful tapestry of people of Latino/a, African, and Asian heritage. One of Messiah’s congregational ministries has been Saturday Suppers hunger ministry. It has also been a longtime goal of the congregation to reach out to the community with Word and Sacrament. In 2022 the Messiah Council read the book, The Post-Quarantine Church by Thom Rainer as part of our spiritual practices. The necessity of collaboration and congregational partnerships would be vital to understand who we are after the pandemic and for the sake of ministry in this changed world. In the fall of 2022, we as a congregation began to see God acting in new ways in this post-pandemic world. Our neighboring ELCA/Nebraska Synod colleague, Rev. Ricardo Riqueza at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Marquette and Trinity Lutheran Church in Polk called to ask us about doing an intentional outreach to the Latino/a community in Grand Island!

Messiah began the discernment of this call to ministry through conversation with Pastor Ricardo. We discussed the gifts of Messiah (facility, endowment funds, location, existing partnerships with neighbors) that complement Pastor Ricardo’s gifts (languages, ordination, experience leading ministry in specialized settings, personal heritage) for potential ministry with the Latino/a community. Messiah Council members, Pastor Ricardo and myself then envisioned what this new ministry based on accompaniment with the Latino community could look like: a meal together, Bible study, and Holy Communion.

Following the conversations, I provided Council members with prayers for our community, clarity of the Holy Spirit’s movement, and the beauty of our diverse neighborhood and invited them into the sanctuary for five minutes of quiet, personal prayer. After prayer, it was unanimously decided by the Messiah Council to move forward with discernment of this ministry with Pastor Ricardo and the congregations he serves. Messiah Council members then began sharing their reflections and insights with the congregation. At its annual meeting, time was given for conversation, reflection and individual prayer about this potential ministry. With over 85% congregational support, Messiah approved a three year, endowment funded outreach with the Latino/a community. Trinity and St. John’s Lutheran Church also approved the ministry at their annual meeting. Currently, we are finalizing plans for the ministry and hope to launch it yet this year!

We invite your prayers and support for Pastor Ricardo; Trinity, St. John’s and Messiah Lutheran Churches; and our neighborhood. If you know of additional funding sources such as grants or foundations, kindly let us know here at Messiah. We are grateful for the Nebraska Synod’s guidance and accompaniment through this discernment process. Council member Jim Elrod said this is about ‘love our neighbors as ourselves.’ We are not completely sure where God is leading in all this. It has been exciting to catch a glimpse of new life and new Gospel possibilities after the pandemic. The mission has never been to form a new congregation; rather, we feel called to partner with God in providing the safe space here at Messiah for a Word and Sacrament community for our Latino/a neighbors. God will ultimately determine what this new outreach will become!