ELCA NEWS SERVICE
June 26, 2009
Kansas Lutherans Say Home is Where God's Heart is Visible
HOME, Kan. (ELCA) -- Jesus is present wherever two or three are gathered in his name, according to the Gospel of Matthew. Friedens Lutheran Church draws four.
Members meet weekly for Saturday night worship. At a recent service they belted out "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and other hymns from a red 1950s Lutheran worship book.
Geneva Reinhardt, 94, and her son Larry Reinhardt, 70, commanded the second pew. Fred Kupfersmith, 80, sat behind them. Betty Peterson, 76, played the organ.
"Fred sings the best but you won't hear him if Larry's here," Peterson said. "He sings the loudest."
Friedens is one of nine congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) with an average worship attendance of five or less, the denomination's research shows. They're mostly in rural areas -- churches once comfortably filled, but hit by population shifts since the 1960s.
"So many of the people who were members are now dead," Peterson said. "Their kids moved away to find work."
Members of Friedens say it's the size of their faith, not the size of their congregation or their age that matters. "Just because we're old doesn't mean we're a museum," said Geneva Reinhardt, who then smiled widely and chuckled.
The Rev. Charlene Barnes, Friedens' pastor, serves ELCA congregations in three different towns. "When I interviewed here one of the questions was whether I preferred green or red tractors," Barnes said. "This is John Deere country."
Reinhardt and Peterson sew quilts for others on Wednesdays in the church basement. Quilters from nearby towns sometimes join them.
"When Geneva and I are the only ones, we run out of things to talk about," Peterson said. "We're happy to sit quietly and work. It's prayerful."
Members also participate in the annual rummage sale along U.S. Highway 36, a community-wide event that extends for miles. The sale is a fundraiser and a way to welcome people into the church. Friedens' pies and cookies make it a popular stop.
"We should never discount what God is able to do through people in the eighth, ninth and even tenth decades of their lives," said the Rev. Gerald Mansholt, bishop of the ELCA Central States Synod, the area name for congregations in Kansas and Missouri.
Friedens was built 124 years ago by German settlers who named the church for the word "peace" in their native tongue. It's the last church standing in Home, an unincorporated farming community of about 100 people also known as Home City.
A bequest enables the congregation to pay its bills and send funds to support ELCA ministries, Barnes said. At a meeting before worship on a muggy Saturday in June, she told members they were in an unusual position.
"You need members more than money," she said.
Then she asked questions to help members reflect on Friedens' mission today -- not what it was years ago when the pews were packed. Is Christ's mission being served by keeping the church doors open? Could his cause be furthered elsewhere with their resources and gifts?
"I'm not here to shut you down," Barnes assured them.
"That's good," Geneva Reinhardt said. "I was baptized, confirmed and married in this church. I intend to be buried in this church, too."
Later, during worship, Barnes preached on the gospel reading. In the passage Jesus likened God's kingdom to a tiny mustard seed. "Do you know what happens when seeds are planted?" she asked.
Larry Reinhardt, a crop farmer, spoke up. "They sprout and then they grow."
"Do you know exactly how that happens?" the pastor asked.
"No, not exactly," he answered.
"God makes it happen, right?" she asked.
Everyone agreed that people do the planting and harvesting, but God does the growing.
"The four of you are called to be like small mustard seeds," Barnes said. "Jesus says you're valuable workers in the kingdom of God no matter your age or size."
Keep planting seeds, she urged.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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