In Rev. John Schmidtke’s 30+ years as pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Louis, numerous students and church workers whom he mentored encouraged him to share his experiences in a book. “I by no means have all the answers,” Schmidtke said, “but after 30 years, I can anticipate most of the questions.”
Published on July 10th of this year, Schmidtke composed a collection of 90 essays specifically with urban ministry in mind. But these essays also offer practical and inspired advice in any context for those who want to spread God’s Word. It isn’t simply a textbook or an inspirational book – Schmidtke encourages reading each scriptural-based essay one a time and then reflecting on it.
One of Schmidtke’s goals when he sat down to write this book was to equip new urban ministry pastors and church workers with the essential knowledge they need including “the issues, the questions, and the joys of being in an urban parish.” A Place Not Forgotten provides ideas to bring about change, and it challenges thinking in new ways to cultivate greater understanding. Other topics include leadership, interpersonal relationships, fundraising, how to create engagement, how to nurture potential partners in urban ministry (including sister church relationships), and more. Comprehensive indices list the specific themes covered in each essay and pertinent scriptural references.
One of the most popular essays, entitled “A Tangled Web,” illustrates how people have multiple complex situations that intersect, as told through the story of a single mother. “No person has one issue. In ministry, you have to learn how to help people and realize that you can’t fix every problem,” Schmidtke said. “A Place Not Forgotten gives an inside view of what urban ministry entails. On one of our mission Sundays in a suburban church in St. Louis county, an individual who has been involved in our ministry for 20+ years had just read the book and said, ‘I never knew what all you’ve faced there, and I thought I knew everything.’”
Church groups are utilizing the essays as discussion starters to improve their ministry effectiveness. Concordia College in New York is also using the 392-page book this semester, reading particular essays and engaging in discussion. “That’s really valuable,” Schmidtke reflected, “to push Christians into talking about issues and what life is really like.”