Some days are full of optimism; some days look hopeless. Although this could describe the ebb and flow of many ministries, it is especially true of “renewal” work.
I was called in 2014 to Immanuel Lutheran of Eugene, Oregon as its “renewal” pastor. At that time our small congregation no longer had an elder board, and you could count the number of people under 75 years old without using all your fingers. Immanuel has been blessed over the years with a number of very dedicated people, but our situation made it clear that we needed to shepherd a new generation if our ministry outpost in Eugene would continue.
Though we are somewhat geographically isolated from most Lutheran Brethren churches, we have been well supported by our greater church body, making our renewal efforts possible. Financially, we are receiving much needed support from a variety of different groups with CLB connections. Pastorally, I have been blessed by the support of our Regional Pastors as well as other local pastors. Socially, we have had the blessing of hosting several CLB leaders who have gone out of their way to visit us.
Our work here is a bittersweet kind of ministry. We are providing hospice care for a dying church, while trying to plant a new church under its umbrella. Striving for continuity makes some things challenging; at the same time, our history gives us opportunities that a new church plant would never have. We’ve hosted a number of funerals for people who have had a history with Immanuel. While there is always heartache at a funeral, it has also become one of our greatest opportunities to show love to our neighbors, and preach the gospel into their lives.
During our time here we haven’t seen a rapid increase in numbers, but we have seen younger generations stepping in. Although several from our congregation have passed or moved away, we have welcomed a number of younger families to our regular fellowship.
One of the more exciting developments is a recent partnership with a young Chinese-born Christian and his American-born wife. “Isaiah” has joined our fellowship as an intern as he finishes a Bachelor’s degree in pastoral studies. We are presently seeking support for Isaiah as he plans on matriculating into Lutheran Brethren Seminary’s distance program next fall. We are hoping to help support his tuition costs, and to offer him a stipend as he helps to further our ministry impact here in Eugene. Isaiah has a desire and gift to minister to the international student community at the University of Oregon, and Immanuel is excited to join in.
One of the greatest needs we see in renewal situations like ours is the need for young leaders to come alongside aging churches. We still have no active elders, and we struggle with a “critical mass” for many activities or studies we would like to begin. Pray for these needs, and join in a conversation about how we can send young families to add life and come alongside the ministry efforts of our aging congregations.
Rev. Daniel Berge, Ph.D., serves as pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Brethren Church in Eugene, Oregon.