A focused message elevates excitement
June 14, 2020
April 22 marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Last year, a St. Louis church, Webster Groves Presbyterian, celebrated the 49th event in a big way — with a themed worship service, featuring a flowing fountain with blue and green fabric “water” cascading down the chancel steps. There was also an ethereal rendition of “Amazing Grace,” complete with the sounds of birds filling the sanctuary, and a slide show displaying photographs of water from the congregation, along with a soulful version of “Wade in the Water.”
The service was created by Webster Groves’ environmental stewardship team, and it was just one part of a yearlong focus on the importance of clean water for all God’s children, said Beth Kazlauskas.
A year ago, Kazlauskas, Webster Groves’ mission outreach coordinator for the past 11 years, shared over breakfast with the Rev. Rhonda Kruse the many missions that the church was engaged in.
As she talked about the projects, among them the congregation’s environmental and social justice work, it became clear to Kruse, who was then the PC(USA)’s mission engagement advisor for the Midwest, that Webster Groves was an example of a Matthew 25 church.
At the time of their breakfast, Matthew 25 was just being launched as a denominational invitation for congregations to heed the words of Jesus to feed the hungry, visit the lonely, clothe the naked and release the prisoners. Kruse explained to Kazlauskas that congregations would be invited to commit to any or all three ministry focuses: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.
Kazlauskas took this invitation to her pastors, the Rev. Ed Zumwinkel III, senior pastor, and the Rev. Dr. Susan Andrews, then parish associate.
“Becoming a Matthew 25 church felt like a perfect fit with what we were doing,” Kazlauskas said. Zumwinkel and Andrews agreed.
When the official Matthew 25 invitation was extended to the denomination on April 1, 2019, Webster Groves Presbyterian was among the first congregations to RSVP. It’s a decision that church leaders have not regretted, especially Kazlauskas, who has noticed increased energy among its members over the past year. She credits this energy — and renewed excitement in missions — to the focused message of Matthew 25.
“Our hope was that it would help us better communicate to our congregation and our community how we are reaching out and engaging with those around us,” she said.
Matthew 25 has done just that — and much more.
Julie Wood, chair of Webster Groves’ missions, sees the Matthew 25 invitation as opening a space for conversations to take place about the diverse interests of Webster Groves’ members, which can then be turned into hands-on missions. After all, the key to success, she says, is to have “issues/efforts that are near and dear” to members.
“Matthew 25 has fit in well with the energy that was already growing in our congregation,” Wood said, adding that a “strong group of members” were ready for more engagement in mission work and social justice.
Out of the desire to do more came the creation of a new advocacy team, Kazlauskas says. The team is currently focusing on hosting events to elevate gun violence prevention and is seeking ways to alleviate poverty in the St. Louis area.
Along with better communications and a rediscovery of the gifts of those in the pew, Matthew 25 has helped the Webster Groves congregation learn how to “appreciate and celebrate all we are doing as a church,” says Sue Scott, co-chair of the newly formed advocacy team.
“By celebrating what we do, we build even more synergy around those efforts,” she said.
“The people in our congregation all have different talents and interests … and more and more members are involved in hands-on mission projects, from sorting and delivering donations at a local furniture bank to working on our annual mission weekend projects [a weekend in the fall when the church goes out and helps the community] to packing meals for Rise Against Hunger,” Kazlauskas said. “There is a job for everyone to help us meet our goal and fulfill our commitment in being a Matthew 25 church.”
Donna Frischknecht Jackson, Editor of Presbyterians Today
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, June 14, 2020, the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Today’s Focus: Pew Sitters
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of true friends made of common values as well as diversity. Open us to the connections you would put in our paths and make us ready to glorify you in all we do. In the strong name of Jesus Christ. Amen.