Meeting the Community Where It’s At

On Wednesday of this week, I had the opportunity to spend time and draw wisdom from two different ELCA congregations in the Los Angeles area. Both congregations were suggested to me as sites to visit because they are known for thinking creatively about how these churches connect with their community.

The chancel at Salem in Glendale

Salem Lutheran Church in Glendale is a vibrant congregation, right in the heart of the community. The church has a school with grades pre-K through 8th. Pastor Amie Barsch Odahl has served there for four years.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Hawthorne is served by Pastor Kevin Bergeson, who has been there for just two years and who relocated there from Aberdeen, South Dakota. Trinity in Hawthorne is the home of a school with students through 6th grade.

When I called these pastors asking to spend some time with them, I didn’t know that they had schools, and I thought it was interesting that both of the congregation’s schools served kids up to (and through) middle school.

Salem in Glendale

After World War II, when the troops came home, the baby boom began and the Los Angeles Public Schools found themselves in the situation of not being able to keep up. They literally could not build schools fast enough to meet the needs of the young families in their communities. So the public schools approached the faith community and asked the churches to start schools to help meet these needs. This is why so many ELCA churches in this part of the country have schools for older children.

In the midwest, it is fairly common for churches to have pre-schools. But elementary and secondary schools in ELCA churches are very rare.

Lori and I with Pastor Kevin

Both pastors I visited talked about the schools as being key ways of connecting with their communities. In both churches, the majority of students and their families are not members of the congregation. Both pastors told me that connecting with and supporting those families is a major part of their congregation’s strategies.

Both congregations are also exploring what it is to be a worshipping community in a digital/hybrid age. Trinity in Hawthorne already had the equipment in place to be able to livestream. Salem has been experimenting with multiple cameras and different layouts for the worship space. Pastor Amie told me that they are doing whatever they can to help people feel connected and a part of a community. This includes bringing worship bags to people’s homes and regular ways of having people check in.

Pastor Amie told me that “We do a lot with sermon series here. And we have a log of really creative people who help us to figure out music and other elements to bring home the theme.”

The courtyard at Trinity in Hawthorne

Both pastors talked about what it means to be a church that accompanies…is alongside the community. For too long, the church has been an entity unto itself…a place to go for prayer or spiritual care. Now, these pastors are trying to turn the community into the ‘place to go’ for the members of the church, in order to build relationships in Christ’s name.

Pastor Kevin said “We just want to be a congregation that’s here for our community. We want them to know that we’re available for them.”

2 Replies to “Meeting the Community Where It’s At”

  1. I am enjoying your daily reflections. I’m too old even to have heard about sabbaticals for pastors. Your reflections are helping me understand the value. I look forward to seeing how your learnings will help Trinity to grow into a new age of ministry. Thanks for including us. Rod Hill (father of Marla Hill Holt)

  2. Todd: Glad to hear from you…we miss you here, but know that your visits to other churches will benefit us at Trinity. I am doing ok…having good and bad days. Went to the grief support group this past Monday…found it to be comforting. Todd Hale

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