by Michelle de Beauchamp
Our Savior's Lutheran Church is a 900 member church located in Owatonna, Minnesota, which has a population of about 25,000 people. The members of the congregation vary in occupations from farmers, factory workers, teachers, nurses, small business owners to construction workers. It is a congregation that is slowly growing (especially with younger families), and this year the building is being expanded because there is not enough education space for the kids.
When I arrived on internship last August I hoped that in some way I would be able to connect my passion for global mission to my internship project. Our Savior’s was in many ways already participating in global mission with selling Lutheran World Relief (LWR) fair trade coffee once a month between services and supporting the synod partnerships overseas in Tanzania and Colombia. They were already looking outward but I still had this question I wanted to try and answer with my internship project: How do you provide opportunities for learning and lay leadership in a local congregation in regards to global mission, especially in a way that is sustainable (that can survive once the intern has left)?
It was an ambitious question to try and answer with my project, but the foundation had been laid for global mission, so with my internship project I would build on it in three ways. First, building on the relationship the congregation already has with Lutheran World Relief and expand their selling of coffee to hosting a fair trade handcraft fair and clearly connect this through teaching and preaching as a form of discipleship/stewardship. Second, building personal relationships and sharing our “Owatonna culture” with international students at Luther Seminary (this makes the global church a reality to the congregation and seeing how they are participants in it). Third, developing a group in Our Savior’s that would look at the inter-faith opportunities in the town of Owatonna with the Muslim Somali population.
The Social Ministry committee at the church was super excited to help and plan a Christmas fair trade fair, because many of the members had wanted to do this before, but did not know how to begin. Through the monthly newsletter and the sermon the weekend before (which was “World Hunger Sunday”) we educated the congregation on fair trade and how it connect with discipleship and stewardship. The fair was a bigger success than we expected, because we sold over $1,000 worth of goods and all of it goes back to LWR. All it cost us was our time and the postage to mail the things back to LWR that did not sell. The committee is already planning on having a bigger fair trade fair next year!
The second piece was to make this local congregation really experience personally relationship with global Christians. I was approached by the Global Mission Institute at Luther Seminary with an idea of sharing “Owatonna culture” with the international student community, because it is rare for the students to get outside the Twin Cities and experience a smaller town and a different part of American culture. I thought this would be a great opportunity for Our Savior’s to begin to develop global ecumenical relationships, to learn about other churches from around the world and see how Our Savior’s is part of the global church, and also to build a relationship with Luther Seminary. In addition, this project cost the church little money but had huge benefits educationally and relationally for the congregation.
The students came and got a tour of a parishioner’s small dairy farm, a gigantic hog/grain farm (another church family owns this), and the local hospital where many of our members work. In addition, each student got to do an overnight host stay with a family from Our Savior’s and on Sunday we had “global worship services” and a question/answer forum with the international students during coffee hour.
The feedback I got from the congregation about our “global weekend” was all positive and that it was very meaningful for the congregation, especially the host families. The great thing is that the committees that helped plan this weekend asked if they could do the weekend again next year, because it was such a positive experience for the entire. Therefore, another part of the project that was successful and sustainable!
The last step of the project on building an inter-faith relationship with the Muslim Somali population in Owatonna has been a slow process. My supervisor and I are hoping to get a group of lay leaders in the congregation to head up building bridges between our church and the mosque, and maybe this summer that might come to be or maybe not.
I have found doing a project that had the congregation participate in different ways of global mission was a great experience for the church, and it really got people excited about participating and being part of the global church. This project really allowed room for the Holy Spirit to work and show them how this congregation can do so much beyond its building's walls; from small things like supporting fair trade, to opening our homes and workplaces to people from other countries.