A local Lutheran layperson who keeps an office right across the street from our church asked me one day, “How would you like to be on our chamber board?”

“Sure,” I said, without a lot of enthusiasm. I didn’t know that the Lord was about to use this seemingly unimportant decision to launch me and my congregation into a new and exciting chapter of community service.

The warm welcome I received from our community business leaders, their genuine care and concern for the community, and their evident Christian faith and values were an unexpected surprise. When asked to help our community secure a community grant and to serve on the board that formed as a result of that grant, I once more said, “Sure,” this time, with far more enthusiasm.

My work on the chamber board brought to my attention the needs of our community’s at-risk seniors and young children. One day, knowing that our youth group was searching for a summer Servant Event, my mind drew a connection. Why not have our energetic youth serve people from their own community? Thus, “Serve the Lord with Arch Gladness” was born, and the rest is now ministry history.

For the past three summers, our congregation and youth have had the joy of hosting “Serve the Lord with Arch Gladness,” sponsored by LCMS Servant Events. These events have brought over 130 youth and adult leaders from 14 LCMS congregations into the St. Louis community to serve both young and old at-risk souls in the Name of Jesus. All told, our event volunteers have put in over 2500 hours of service.

As the Project Coordinator for these events, I work alongside 35-50 congregation members who readily volunteer each year to serve on our host team. A community group called Neighbors Assisting Neighbors provides us with the names and needs of at risk seniors and provides us with on-site assistance. We ask a local daycare to connect servants with community at-risk children.

Our local public district school provides us with free housing in a new middle school building. (The superintendent serves with me on the community chamber board.) Two local banquet centers provide our participants with an evening meal at no cost to our congregation. Other local businesses donate food and many other items. We’ve also received grant money from Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. To provide participants with recreation options during their time in our city, our local professional baseball team, the Cardinals, provides us with free tickets if the team is in town. Six Flags and The St. Louis Arch also give our participants great ticket discounts.

All this partnering with our community makes our Servant Event virtually self-supporting. What a blessing from God!

Our congregation’s latest venture into community service includes hosting four one-day Servant Events in 2004 for 20-25 students and staff members form four area high schools. The purpose of this venture is to help area high school students see the need for service that exists in their own community and to consider making service a regular part of their adult Christian lives.

I would certainly challenge every LCMS pastor and congregation to discover the present needs for community service in their area. Make members aware of these needs, and they will become involved as a congregation in serving their community.

It’s a lot of work, but it’s worthwhile labor. It involves the entire congregation personally in the community, extends care to the needy, and creates a network with others in the community who care about the needs of others, too.

When the opportunity to reach out as a church to your community knocks, say, “Sure!” You never know where Jesus will take you.
Published January 2004