Through their involvement in the community, Messiah Lutheran Church in South St. Louis City is developing eyes to see the needs of their neighborhood. They are learning that local surroundings affect mission opportunities, and responding to what you see on a day-to-day basis might pull you out of your comfort zone. Chris Shearman, former vice-president of the congregation, is quick to comment, “living out the Gospel often leads us to uncomfortable places.”
Over the past few years, Messiah has made a habit of following God’s call into new territory. Whether it is the ARC, their after school program for students attending the charter school next door, their affordable housing initiative, or their focus on offering a church community for Nepalese and Bhutanese refugees and immigrants, Messiah continues to learn that God has plenty of work for them to do right in their own backyard.
When asked why Messiah has engaged their community in these ways, Chris shared that their location in a densely populated neighborhood, on a main thoroughfare in the city, makes it difficult to avoid the challenges and hardships people face. As a congregation, they have developed the practice of looking for opportunities to serve their community that align with their gifts, passions, and skills. Additionally, the church has made the decision to prioritize local community engagement and the needs of those in their immediate midst.
The way God is using Messiah to impact their community is significant, but God has also used their service to shape the congregation. As involvement in the community has deepened, the congregation has begun to see the need for addressing both the immediate needs and root causes of poverty and other social ills. This has driven Messiah to look for ways to invest in the youth of their community (ARC after school program). Chris also shared that being involved in the community has been a stretching experience, stating, “it (community engagement) pushes people outside what they are typically comfortable with and challenges the idea that church is only about worship on Sunday morning.”
Messiah continues to ask how they can respond to the Gospel and Serve Boldly in their community, even when it means entering challenging and uncomfortable situations. Chris summed it up well: “Serving Boldly is not always comfortable, but perhaps comfort is not what we should be seeking.”