All we did was open our doors


All we did was open our doors
The members of Camp Covenant sing at Sunday worship.

By Abraham Allende

Originally published July 28, 2014, at “Pastor Allende’s Blog.” Republished with the author’s permission. 

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45-46).

On Sunday, July 27, nearly 60 kids from Camp Covenant along with their parents visited our worship service. Following the hymn of the day, Sharon Steward, camp director, gave a brief presentation to our regular worshipers as to what Camp Covenant’s ministry is and what the kids experienced over the course of the seven weeks.

Then the kids came up to the chancel to sing a few camp songs. That’s when the Holy Spirit went into high gear. Their performance was enough to win over even the toughest cynic. To watch the enthusiasm of these youngsters brought tears to the eyes of many of our mostly elderly congregation. If you weren’t moved, it was because you didn’t have a pulse.

Shortly afterward, as I walked down the aisle to share the peace, I heard more than once how wonderful the kids’ program left people feeling. I came up with a response which I repeated several times during my walk: “All we did was open our doors.”

Yes, all we did was open our doors.

Five years ago when I was called to The Lutheran Church of the Covenant, an ELCA congregation in Maple Heights, Ohio, it was with the intent of building bridges between our mostly White and aging congregation, and the surrounding community, which in the past several years had transitioned into a mostly African American neighborhood. All the previous efforts to connect had sputtered and eventually disappeared, and I didn’t come with any real solid vision as to how to do anything different.

Then I was approached about using our building for camp ministry. I didn’t hesitate for a moment. Camp Genesis, as it was then known, operated out of a neighboring Baptist church that was looking to expand the camp and needed a satellite location. We were the perfect spot. It was a no-brainer.

Our leadership gave its blessing when I proposed the idea. But although they were receptive, they didn’t exhibit any tremendous enthusiasm about becoming involved, Other than allowing the camp to go on, there was not much interest in doing anything more. But a couple of our parishioners, one who still lives in the neighborhood, provided a glimmer of hope by coming around and teaching the kids about gardening.

For three years the camp grew. But for a variety of reasons, the director had to suspend the camp in 2013. I was personally devastated. I perceived it as another failed effort. But, oh me of little faith. I failed to realize that God wasn’t done with us yet. Last November, Sharon, the camp director, approached me again, and again I didn’t think twice about saying yes!

Camp Covenant, as it was renamed, is now no longer a satellite, it is THE primary site. Some 60 kids have shown up each morning since June 16 and take part in daily Bible stories, a weekly children’s church, recreational activities, and field trips. This year, two more of our folks got involved in doing crafts with the kids. The children’s art work now hangs in the hall of our educational wing. Another member gave a generous monetary donation which allowed 10 kids to attend camp. Yet another volunteered to help out in the kitchen. Like yeast in dough, the Spirit is rising.

And, of course, the kids eat. A state sponsored nutrition program provides the youngsters with a hot breakfast and lunch. But here’s the best part. The meals are open to non-campers as well. So in addition to the campers, about two dozen or more neighborhood kids are also being fed. These kids don’t make the connection between the meals and the camp — they see it as “the church.”

As Sister Sharon told the congregation on Sunday, “This church is a light in the community. I see it when I stop by on Saturday and see the Farmers’ Market, the rummage sale, and the [monthly] community meal. Little is much when God is in it.”

What an affirmation of our congregation's outreach efforts!

So Sunday, all these little bodies invaded our space to help us learn about Jesus and to feel the love of Jesus. I preached on “Pearls of Great Value” from Matthew 13. But the kids were the sermon. The word of God shone through them. We saw the kingdom of heaven in the faces of these little ones.

And all we did was open our doors.

Abraham Allende is the newly elected bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod. Find a link to his blog, “Pastor Allende’s Blog,” at Lutheran Blogs.

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