by Christine Galeone
One of the most recent initiatives at Emanuel Lutheran Church, https://emanuelworc.org/, emerged as the answer to a thoughtful, faith-inspired question. Sarahbeth Persiani, a member of the church and its Ministry Committee, remembers the committee asking that important question. “How can we reach out to people and spread a little kindness?” Persiani recalled was what she and the rest of the committee wanted to know. “It’s all about encouragement.”
She said that an answer is the church’s “Caring for Our Community” letter writing campaign, which she created and suggested to her fellow committee members. Launched in late August, the campaign has already generated more than 100 letters written by members of the congregation. While some letters are written anonymously and some are signed, the writers don’t know who will receive their notes of encouragement.
Minister Thomas Houston said that the letters will be mailed/distributed to senior members of the congregation, others who aren’t able to or aren’t comfortable returning to church yet and members of the community where the church is located. He said, “It’s two folks being connected in a very real, concrete way – one community member reaching out to another.”
The campaign is only one of the church’s three new initiatives that are providing help and compassion. Along with the “Caring for Our Community” campaign, a weekly collection and distribution of food has been organized. And the church, which is located at 200 Greenwood Street in Worcester and holds and streams its service at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays, has opened its own thrift store inside its building. All the initiatives are helping people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The church has welcomed people from Quinsigamond Village, Southeast Worcester and several towns throughout Worcester County for 124 years. Affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, its new initiatives have helped it to expand its caring presence in the community during the pandemic. And Houston has already seen how they’re affecting people in a positive way.
He said that the letter writing campaign has been a way of sustaining faith-filled camaraderie. “A highlight of our church has been the fellowship,” Houston said. He added, “It’s very important for us to keep that fellowship and relationship building growing strong.”
In regards to the weekly food drives for families served by the Guild of St. Agnes early education and care agency and for Quinsigamond Elementary School students, Houston is happy that the program – which originated around the beginning of this year – has been helping people at a time when that assistance is greatly needed. He said that the school principal confirmed that the food has been beneficial, and it has filled a void, since the pandemic-driven school closures eliminated access to meal programs for the kids.
He said that the Guild of St. Agnes has also needed more food than usual. “They’ve been feeding more folks than in the past,” Houston said, adding that the Quinsigamond Village Community Center has donated some baked goods to the church, so they can be included in the food distribution. “There’s strength in numbers.”
Finally, Houston believes that Emanuel’s Closet, the thrift shop that opened Aug. 29 and is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., will become increasingly valuable to the community. It sells inexpensive, gently-used clothing, housewares and books and allows people to shop with dignity. He said, “It may have a much wider impact than what we can imagine.”
Persiani lamented that the pandemic has taken a toll on the church and its outreach programs. But, she said, despite the pandemic, the church is trying to stay on course. And she feels that the good work being done in the three new initiatives is exciting. She said, “It fills you with a sense of enthusiasm!”
Houston agrees. While he’s looking forward to expanding the church’s youth ministry program, inviting local youth to join the church’s youth for friendship and fellowship, and holding social events again in the future, he’s excited about sharing God’s grace with the community through the three new initiatives. “Christ gave us very specific demands,” he shared. “We are to clothe, feed and reach out to our neighbors in whatever ways we can.”