Making Connections in Urban Ministry
Bethlehem Lutheran Church is located in the North St. Louis area. The congregation has expanded its outreach beyond the Hyde Park Neighborhood to now also serving the neighborhoods of Ferguson and Jennings, as well as other St. Louis North City and County areas. The staff and pastors at Bethlehem, Rev. John Schmidtke and Rev. Dr. Gerard Bolling, keep very busy expanding the work of the Lutheran Hope Center in Ferguson by rebranding it as the Lutheran Hope Center for Families with a clear outreach to children and families.
“Our bigger role, to be the best that we can be, is really the role of connector and coach,” says Rev. Schmidtke, “...most people still care about Ferguson, and everything that happened there. And many people care about the urban areas, the inner city, and so the premise is that they need a connector. They want to send a check, but they also want to come and participate ‘How do I do that?’. So we become the connector.”
Pre-pandemic, almost 200 Lutherans in the St. Louis area volunteered with Bethlehem, many on a regular basis. But there is room for more growth, Schmidtke says, “We don’t believe that we have to do it all ourselves. We become the equipping force, then it becomes exponential of how much it can be in the future too.” And Rev. Dr. Bolling notes the positive influence that coming together as Lutherans can bring:
“To be able to lead ministry together as Lutheran congregations all in the same place in St. Louis, and again kind of have this regional St. Louis idea of ‘us’ doing ministry that’s meaningful to kids. And also bridging gaps, you know, between people. Economic gaps are bridged, right, between people of means and kids without. Racial gaps are bridged, right, between people. And spiritual gaps are bridged too, because our kids get to see how big the Body of Christ is and what that means.”
While Bethlehem can assist families with their physical needs, Rev. Schmidtke and Rev. Dr. Bolling note that what defines Bethlehem is the focus on addressing and feeding people spiritually, “Are there giveaways of things? Sometimes,” explains Bolling, “...But, I’ll tell you with confidence the most lasting effect we have on people is when they can lock in spiritually...that they know the Giver of All... We want them to be in the congregation on Sunday- that’s our goal for them.” Rev. Schmidtke remarks, “You’re not going to find a way that’s going to be problem proof...None of us are called to do nothing… we are called to stand and bring Christ.”
Hear more about the work that Rev. Schmidtke and Rev. Dr. Bolling do with Bethlehem in the upcoming “Meet the Missionaries” video series February 23 at 7 pm. There’s no cost to participate and those attending can ask questions directly to the speakers. Simply visit mo.lcms.org/missionaries for the link and dial-in phone number.