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Some of the work at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church is pop-up ministry. Other efforts are built to last across generations

The Iowa City congregation is heeding Christ’s call in Matthew 25

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

IOWA CITY, Iowa — St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City constructed its beautiful and versatile campus seven years ago. While the Pop-Up Ministry Room is not the most eye-catching of St. Andrew’s varied ministry spaces, it’s easily the most versatile, with plenty of storage and display space for clothing and food distribution as the need arises. Church leaders liken the large space to the Room of Requirement in the Harry Potter novels.

“The Pop-Up Ministry Room is a great space,” said Amy Schmidt-Rundell, St. Andrew’s mission and outreach coordinator. “We recently made sure to bring in the community because in addition to … helping people with food security, they also help … with other resources that are common needs that people don’t always know where to go.”

Schmidt-Rundell’s children were instrumental in designing and building St. Andrew’s outdoor facilities used by children and others. A prayer path has two pillars representing biblical themes of wind and fire. The pillars have 12 layers of bricks for the 12 disciples. One of her children saw the need for her neighbors’ food security and planted apple and cherry trees, which ought to bear fruit anytime now. To the rear of the building, another family planted prairie grass, which has been appreciated by birds of prey in the area.

The Lettuce Feed Others garden is a community outreach effort on the St. Andrew campus. St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City, Iowa is a Matthew 25 church addressing issues such as mental health, particularly in youth, and using its new property to benefit its neighborhood. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

It’s Schmidt-Rundell’s job to meet with Iowa City-area service providers that have partnered with the church in the past or may soon partner with.

“We are trying to work on bringing more people into the facility,” Schmidt-Rundell said. A current struggle is the church is no longer on the bus line. “There are a lot of people we have served in the past that we can’t reach,” she said, but church leaders “are figuring out how we can bring them in.”

“We love to see this wonderful building being used by others,” Schmidt-Rundell said.

Discipleship starts young

When Thomas Hartley isn’t directing St. Andrew’s Children’s and Families Ministries, you’ll find him teaching in an Iowa City kindergarten classroom.

Thomas Hartley is director of Children’s and Family Ministries at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

“Kids are my whole life,” Hartley said, saying he came to his current position at the church in part because “I saw myself as someone who could share my faith … A lot of what I do now is not only share what my own experiences are, but also share the imperfections of my own faith experience … Everyone is a work in progress. I don’t want kids to feel like, ‘Oh well, I could never do what Thomas does because he’s got it all figured out. It’s all perfect.’ No! We all have flaws — not just in the way we live, but in our faith. We’re all growing and working through that.”

He called the church’s emphasis this year on mental health and wellness “an important part of being a whole person … If you’re piling things up on yourself and you’re just go-go-go-go, yes, you’re very successful, but are you a whole person right now? Are you taking time for yourself? Are you ignoring things that make you worry or frustrate you?” In his ministry with children at St. Andrew, “I think mental health and wellness are just super important to being a whole person.”

One youth in the program had her home destroyed in a tornado this spring that struck nearby Coralville, Iowa. As the news reports came in, Hartley “vividly remembered” how the church youth had studied the life of Job the previous fall. At the time, Hartley posed this question: “What would you do if all of a sudden everything was gone — and you felt like there is no answer from God?”

He remembers this particular girl wondering at the time if she would lose her faith under those circumstances.

Fast forward to the tornado taking her family’s home. Just a few weeks after the catastrophe, the girl helped lead worship at St. Andrew.

“She’s doing her worship leading, and then she’s sitting next to me in the front row,” Hartley said. “In the fall, she felt like, ‘Man, my faith can really be on this one tipping point.’ But hopefully through the things she’s learned this year, and the things we’ve worked through, she’s got a strong faith that can withstand anything. Her faith has not wavered, and I was super impressed … She absolutely came back just the same kid with a strong faith and was very grateful for all the help from our church. She still believed. It’s been such a cool experience to see that.”

St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City, Iowa is a Matthew 25 church addressing issues such as mental health, particularly in youth. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

“If we use the Matthew 25 mission to show kids that hey, service — whether it’s service within the church or service in your own community or globally — those are the ways that we show that we’re the body of Christ … We don’t want our kids to be passive participants, right? We want our kids to engage to be active.”

“And they just always blow me away. Whenever you’re doing a service project, just the things they say or the things they think of,” Hartley said, recalling a project that included sending items to people across the globe. “The things they would write! ‘This person is going to need these socks because they live in a really cold place, and so if I don’t send a pair of socks, their feet are going to be really cold.’ It’s just the way they think about things. That innocence is just really awesome.”

On other weighty matters including gun violence, Hartley has found children want the adults in their life to be honest with them.

“We can be very honest about what we believe about how we’re going to take every step to … prevent this in the community when we can,” Hartley said. “But if something like this were to happen, we can … say to kids, ‘We are 100% here for you.’ We know it’s going to be difficult, and that goes back to our message: faith isn’t perfect, right? We are all a work in progress.”

“So, I have a funny story,” Hartley said near the end of his interview, a story that dates back to his own confirmation class growing up in First Presbyterian Church in Fort Dodge, Iowa. He offered the session his statement of faith, and one of the ruling elders asked him: “So, Thomas, are you going to be a hospital CEO like your grandfather on your mom’s side? Are you going to be a minister like you grandpa on your dad’s side? Are you going to be a principal like your dad?”

“After going through that, I’m now two of the three. I’m in ministry and I’m in education,” Hartley said. “I hit two out of three. Batting [.667] is pretty good.”

On Thursday, we’ll report our fourth and final installment on the Matthew 25 ministry going on at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City. Read previous reports here and here.

In the coming weeks, watch this site for in-depth digital productions on the kin-dom work going on at First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, as well as at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church.

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