Stitched into the Community

“Relationship-building ended up being really the glue that helped sort of bond people together.”


Produced by Rebecca Werner with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.

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Transcript for Stitched into the Community

My parents came down for my ordination and installation as the pastor at Our Saviour, and I was—really felt like I was overwhelmed by the responsibilities that were being entrusted to me.  Because the congregation really had no infrastructure.  They’d been vacant for six years.  I was ordained on the third Sunday in Advent, and I asked the leadership of the congregation at that point, “When are Christmas services?”  And their response was, “Well, when would you like them to be?”  Because they had no—there was no internal tradition anymore at that point.

And there were twenty people in the pews on a Sunday?

Right.  Yeah, I mean—

I mean, it was a really, really dying congregation.

Right, and they had sold the parsonage—they had sold the parsonage, and they had money to pay my salary for three years based upon the assets that they had sold, and that’s the stuff that caused me to say to my parents, “I think they’ve got the wrong guy,” because I didn’t even know what end of the stick to grab, but the founding pastor, Arthur Jurgenson—he would visit every family.  “I can do that.”  And so, I was like, “Alright—”

“Here’s my first to-do list!”

“Here’s my first to-do list: I’m going to go visit everybody.”  And that ended up—that relationship-building ended up being really the glue that helped sort of bond people together, and trust my leadership, and really step out, and we took some risks together.  That, for me, ended up really kind of turning the corner from, “What end of this thing do I even grab?” to “Here’s the thing that I can do.”  But somebody who was—you know, there were two guys that were working in Gary at the time, and Norm was here at St. John already retired at that point.  Norm really took me under his wing, especially that first spring and summer and took me around, and introduced me to people at, like, the NAACP and Urban League, and other places where he had connections and just kind of vouched for me, and allowed me to ride on his coattails of credibility within the community, because he was a real leader and a real pioneer in terms of helping St. John transition from an exclusively white, German congregation to a mostly African American mixed congregation.

And the congregation at Our Saviour was diverse as well.

There were a handful of African American folks who were kind of in the orbit of the congregation, and certainly there were connections with people in the community, but the heavy connection in the community didn’t happen until Trinity downtown closed, and that happened—

That’s right.

—the same December we were married.  That integrated Our Saviour almost overnight because most of the African American families from that church joined Our Saviour because we were a stable, viable community.  That then triggered other folks to come and join us.  And then when we started the preschool and daycare center, Sunbeams, that really helped stitch us into the community.  We got to know lots more people from the immediate neighborhood when that happened.  Those were—that was a really good time.  Yeah.