Church #12. Meet Josh Ehrler. He is the solo pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Mount Morris, Illinois. Ehrler describes Trinity as a rural or small town congregation with an average worship attendance of 110.
Trinity’s mission statement is “Believing in Christ, we are called to grow and sent to serve.” Five summers ago, Trinity decided to respond to this mission statement by opening its doors to a summer outreach program.
Ehler says, “The land the church sits on has a park-like appearance. There are several low income housing facilities a couple of blocks away on either side of our church property, to the north and south.” Looking for a natural way to develop their property, Trinity decided to not to build some kind of structure but instead several picnic tables to feed kids during the summer.
By partnering with the Illinois Food Bank, Trinity provides a free lunch from 11:30-12:30 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday every week during the summer. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Each day between 35-40 kids are fed, and they have no problem getting volunteers to serve!
Ehrler says, “We are called to feed people with no strings attached. We don’t do this to publicize our church but to build new relationships.” From this small investment of building one thing – a picnic table, new ministry opportunities have sprouted.
First, Trinity expanded the partnership of the summer program with the University of Illinois. They built several raised beds to grow vegetables. Starting at 12:30, a gardener comes to teach kids how to plant, care for, harvest, and wash the vegetables.
It’s become a community garden! Kids feel a since of responsibility while learning a lifelong skill. As vegetables become available, kids are invited to take them home. In places where food insecurity is an issue, access to fresh fruits and vegetables is hard. But by opening up the land to allow for a community garden this has increased the access to fresh foods.
(Photo credits to the Visual Faith Project)
Secondly, Trinity expanded the partnership of the summer program with a reading advocate, Lori Peterson. Ehrler says, “Miss Lori comes to the tables with 30-40 books to read with the kids!” She is responsive by bring books that interest them. But the best part is when the older kids stick around to read to the younger ones.
The story about Trinity’s summer food program demonstrates how they live out their mission statement. Not only growing food to share and serve, but they are avidly seeking out ways to help break the cycle of poverty.
Why is breaking the cycle of poverty important? It’s important because of Nehemiah 2:17-18:
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.” I told them that the hand of my God had been gracious upon me, and also the words that the king had spoken to me. Then they said, “Let us start building!” So they committed themselves to the common good.
Ehrler says, “We need long range imagination to build strategically.” It was obvious to Nehemiah, and it is obvious to us too that people are struggling. But if we keep coming together, God will give us the insight to keep building, to keep reaching out, to break the cycle.
For more information on this story, please contact Josh Ehrler at (815) 734-6354 or firstname.lastname@example.org.