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Published: Saturday, 9/6/2008

Churches on a mission: city, suburban Lutheran congregations to sign covenant

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Two local Lutheran churches separated by race, class, and 10 miles, as one of the pastors put it, are making a commitment to help each other, share resources, and work together as we proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in our own communities.

The Rev. Tim Philabaum and the Rev. Ann Marshall, pastors of Zoar Lutheran Church, a mostly white congregation of 2,500 in the upscale suburb of Perrysburg, will sign a Mission Partners Covenant today with the Rev. Lori Strang, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, an urban congregation that averages 42 people an ethnic mix of white, African-American, and Hispanic worshippers at its Sunday services.

Joining the celebration will be Bishop Marcus Lohrmann of the Northwest Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Church in America, who will preside at four joint worship services today and tomorrow.

Bishop Lohrmann assigned Ms. Strang to Redeemer four years ago as an interim pastor, and eventually asked her to consider staying on at the Upton Avenue church.

The congregation had made a commitment years earlier to stay in the neighborhood, Ms. Strang said, in order to serve the surrounding community. But as its membership shrank and the neighborhood demographics changed, Redeemer faced more hurdles in an era of transition.

The bishop said to me, I think you yourself have gone through a transformation, and for the church to go through a transformation it needs someone who has gone through one on a personal level, she said.

Redeemer s congregation called Ms. Strang as their full-time pastor in December, 2006, and she was installed in April, 2007.

It has helped me grow and develop into having such a passion for social justice, and such a passion for people who live at or on the brink of poverty, she said. It s not about moving them from one place to another, but rather accepting them where they are and helping them to share their gifts and create an environment where their gifts are honored and their dignity is restored.

At Zoar, meanwhile, Ms. Marshall joined the church s staff as community pastor in August, 2007, and found that while there had been talk about partnering with Redeemer, those plans had been put on a back burner.

She rekindled the flames.

While other synods have established Mission Partners, arrangements vary according to the situations and the specific needs of the churches involved.

Frank Imhoff, associate director of ELCA News Service in Chicago, said the Zoar-Redeemer Mission Partnership is the first in northwest Ohio.

Ms. Marshall said she wanted a clear plan of action for Zoar and Redeemer.

I worked with the folks at Redeemer to renew this covenant, and I m a person who likes clarification, she said. I said, What does it mean to be Mission Partners? It was sort of a vague thing, so I said, Let s write something up.

Putting our commitment into writing not only clarifies our expectations of one another, it also provides direction for the partnership and it challenges the leadership and members of both congregations to participate, Ms. Marshall said.

Bishop Lohrmann said in a statement that historically, congregations in the suburbs and in the city have had little to do with one another. Part of that may be attributed to the fact that each ministry has its hands full. Sometimes it may be attributed to judgmental attitudes. It does not need to be that way.

Among the commitments included in the two-page covenant are calls for the congregations to pray for one another; to share their gifts, wisdom, time, and service; to exchange musicians, choirs, and dancers, and to hold shared fellowships.

Mr. Strang said it was important that the partnership not be viewed as a one-way street, with Zoar handing out money to the financially strapped congregation of Redeemer.

Everybody brings a gift. Both congregations will be mutually built up. We will break down walls on both sides, Ms. Strang said. One of the things we have to offer is we are the most multicultural church in the Northwest Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Bringing folks from Zoar into partnership with us gives them more exposure to multicultural aspects and what it means. It really breaks down the walls of classes and races that are pervasive in our culture.

The Mission Partnership Covenant celebration between Zoar and Redeemer Lutheran Churches will start with an outdoor barbecue at 4 p.m. today at Zoar, 314 East Indiana Ave., Perrysburg, followed by a worship service at 6 p.m. Tomorrow, the congregations will worship together at 7:15 and 8:30 a.m. at Zoar and at 10:30 a.m. at Redeemer, 1702 Upton Ave. A block party for Redeemer s neighborhood will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Nathan Hale Elementary School.

Contact David Yonke at:dyonke@theblade.comor 419-724-6154.



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