Called into community

KenWheeler
03/01/2012

Called into community

Members of the community of Cross Lutheran Church, Milwaukee.

As the ELCA, we are a church that rolls up our sleeves and gets the work done.

It is a daunting task when I think about the work that the Lord has called us to in this community. This past January the coalition of Milwaukee churches hosted several students from Wartburg Seminary. The day that they came to Cross Lutheran Church was a very full day.

There were over 400 people who were here for our hot meal, various support groups, Bible study, worship and job counseling.

At the end of the day the students asked for time to process what they had seen. One of them made the observation, "Of all the ministries we have seen thus far this one seems to be the most intense and taxing. So what do you do to care for yourselves?"

I appreciated the question but had to confess that the self-care piece was one that we probably weren’t very good at. Not because we weren’t aware of the need but because of the immensity of the challenges.

Those of you who have been following my writing know that I have written a lot about the nature of our ministry and the context of the setting in which we find ourselves. The poverty, the homelessness, the high rate of Black infant mortality, the violence that disrupts so much of life here, these are painful realities that consume a lot of our time.

I have been in this ministry for almost seven years. I was not trained as an urban pastor. A lot of the realities that I see and touch were not a part of my life when I served on the bishop's staff in the synod office. But over these last several years I have learned a lot and I continue to do so. My teachers have been and are those people who have generally been discarded by the larger society.

On any given week we have from 900 to 1,200 people in our building participating in our various ministries. The work that we do is because of the "We" working in concert. We are faithful people of God who are drawn to walk with the least of these, to advocate for justice on their behalf.

When we established our clinic 10 years ago, we did so in response to the growing health needs of people in the community who could not afford the resources to provide for basic health care.

That one clinic has given birth to two other clinics in two additional neighborhoods that are equally challenged by poverty. At each of those sites, 400 people are seen every month.

Each day that God allows me to show up in this incredible place I am acutely aware of the deep faith, faithfulness and compassionate generosity of so many people, doctors, medical students, suburban partners, a few who are not even Lutheran, men who come from a neighboring prison pre-release center, members of Cross, the people that we serve who want to give back, and a host of angels that God sends our way.

Everyday, I give thanks because there are so many people who hear the call of Jesus to feed his sheep and who roll up their sleeves to get the work done.

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Ken Wheeler is pastor of Cross Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Milwaukee. He served 18 years as an assistant to the bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA.

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