On Sept. 7, yellow-shirted crusaders fanned out all across the metro to mark a special anniversary with a different kind of celebration.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America marked its 25th year of existence and did so with some 10,000 volunteers — including more than 100 from Bellevue’s Immanuel Lutheran Church — embarking upon service projects around the area under the banner of doing “God’s Work” with “Our Hands.”
“Theologically, when we talk about God’s work, we’re talking about the free gift of grace given through Jesus,” Immanuel Pastor the Rev. Lowell Nelson said as he prepared to send off his church’s contingent. “That work frees us up to help our neighbors with the other signs of God at work in the world today.”
As the volunteers streamed through Immanuel’s doors on the already warm Saturday morning, one of them, congregational president Jeff Akerson, stopped and jokingly asked Nelson: “Do you work here?”
Without a beat, Nelson responded: “God works here.”
“It’s the truth,” Akerson said later. “We are gifted for service. That’s part of our mission statement. We want to take that service part of our mission and really live it and give people a chance to serve. We want to see people get out of their comfort zones.”
After Nelson led the gathered servers in a short prayer and a rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine,” Dale Brownell, the leader of the church’s board of social ministry, gave out the assignments.
The volunteers were headed for Hillcrest Victoria Gardens to wash walkers and wheelchairs, Hillcrest Mable Rose to bake cookies, the Open Door Mission and Table Grace Cafe in Omaha to serve lunch.
“We’re going to have 100 people scattered around the city today,” Brownell reminded the volunteers. “I’d ask that if you’re working with people today, take a moment to look into their eyes and see God’s light in them. Truly, a movement of the Holy Spirit has allowed this to happen and we should acknowledge it.”
While most volunteers filtered out to begin their work, right there at church, the mission continued with a project that will venture far afield.
Immanuel’s quilt mission employed a half-dozen ladies engaged in tying hundreds of quilts that go out all over the world and serve as baby blankets, hospital beds, floors in houses and, in some cases, even houses themselves.
At this moment, the Lutheran World Federation has been tasked with the care of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war in their country. Immanuel’s quilting work may just find its way to the camps that are daily choked with the dispossessed of that war-torn nation.
Since 1991, when Judy Brown helped start the quilt-making program, she said the church has made almost 7,000 quilts that have gone out across the world.
“Quilting is a tradition in a lot of churches,” Brown said. “We have everything donated, all the materials, and we’re able to do this work. They call me the chairperson, I’m supposed to be the ringleader, but all the ladies who do this, they move me.”
The 25th anniversary of the ELCA is also being marked by the overall theme of “Always Being Made New.” Nelson said Immanuel, which has had a home in Bellevue for 70 years, is taking that motif to heart in its service and its mission.
“That type of renewal is a great message of hope,” Nelson said. “It speaks to what a privilege it is to serve, to be making things and ourselves new. For 70 years, our church has been growing and living that idea of always being made new. Bellevue has been a wonderful place to do ministry.”