Church taking message to peopleELLSWORTH, Wis. — In looking inward while between pastors, an Ellsworth church congregation has been looking outward, too. After the retirement of the Rev. Harlen Menk this past spring, English Lutheran Church members hired “Church Doctor Ministries” through the Lutherans’ Northwest Synod in Chetek to help assess the congregation’s present condition and determine its future direction. A group of the members, including Melissa Bisila, Kelly Church, Heidi Gutting, Pat Linder and Billy Penn, discussed the effort Tuesday.
By: By Bill Kirk, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
ELLSWORTH, Wis. — In looking inward while between pastors, an Ellsworth church congregation has been looking outward, too.
After the retirement of the Rev. Harlen Menk this past spring, English Lutheran Church members hired “Church Doctor Ministries” through the Lutherans’ Northwest Synod in Chetek to help assess the congregation’s present condition and determine its future direction. A group of the members, including Melissa Bisila, Kelly Church, Heidi Gutting, Pat Linder and Billy Penn, discussed the effort Tuesday.
Menk had served the church for 25 years, Church Council President Gutting said. With his departure, Bishop Duane Pederson suggested using the opportunity to take advantage of the outside consultation the “Church Doctor” could provide.
“The bishop told us ‘the longer a pastor has served, the longer the process (to find another) will take,’” she said, indicating a call committee has since been formed and hoping the new pastor can be identified in anywhere from nine to 24 months.
The “Doctor” actually consisted of two consultants from Indiana who arrived a year ago in September to make recommendations, the president of the nine-member council said. The assessment project lasted around three months.
As part of it, a team of four members completed a “visioning” document locally, she said. This report went to the Synod for input about its philosophy.
The approximately 850-member congregation was encouraged to hold small group meetings toward a 20/20 Vision series, which Gutting said involves sermons and a study guide.
“It’s to get us thinking about who we are,” she said, explaining they’ve now come to realize insights about the membership’s feelings on tithing and other issues.
A special emphasis which has been recognized is sharing God’s Word and a way English Lutheran has already achieved this is through the Alpha course, taught there since 2003. Church, an Alpha instructor, said the 13-week course has been offered up to three times yearly. But it had always been held at their worship place along the village’s main street.
“The doctor suggested holding it in a bar,” she said, admitting to originally being nervous about teaching it off-site and wondering whether it would be successful. Gutting acknowledged the idea was to follow Jesus’ lead in going wherever there’s a need.
Clyde’s Corner in Beldenville graciously allowed the use of their facility’s upstairs rent-free for the purpose, she said. The Monday evening event has contained elements of a Bible study, focusing on Christ’s foundations, telling who he was and why he came, plus how an individual can have a relationship with him.
“It’s more than coming to church on Sunday mornings … it can be a part of daily lives,” she said.
The teaching at the bar has drawn up to six people, including some from outside English Lutheran, the president said, pleased with the response. It incorporates a dinner, a video presentation and group discussion. The social networking is believed to be important so participants can share what they learn.
Church Member Michelle (Smith) Westberg wrote: “(Our Alpha course leaders) felt that this would be a place where people who weren’t accustomed to or had reservations about going to church would feel more comfortable and relaxed in.”
Almost the same number of residents attended when the course was taken to the Check Inn, right across adjacent Piety Street from the church, Gutting said. The gatherings there have resulted in an adoptive-type of treatment among that facility’s occupants and the church members.
Seeing promise in recreating the desired atmosphere at the bar and the housing unit, the church members are implementing their outreach ministry elsewhere, she said. A Youth House operates next to the church, open three nights weekly for young people to gather, do homework, use a computer and the like. “Sermon in Shorts” was a program headed by Dale Bohnert this summer, during which attendees examined Bible verses, grilled out and socialized at informal settings such as Nugget Lake County Park near Plum City or Kinni Creek Lodge in River Falls.
A marriage course attracted seven couples when it was kicked off on Valentine’s Day, the president said. A Celebrate Recovery group will begin Jan. 2 on Sundays at 5:30 p.m. Penn, its leader, said the Christ-centered approach addresses hurts, habits and hang-ups, ranging from co-dependency to smoking, divorce and more. An expansion of the established men’s group, the meetings will include a supper and praise band, and is open to all.
A soup kitchen ministry has also been advanced as a future possibility.
The congregation is presently being served by two interim pastors, Gutting said. Valerie Peterson came in as interim associate pastor when Lauryl Stockness left in August of 2009, then became interim pastor, succeeding Menk, and her husband, John, is now the interim associate.
Bill Kirk is editor for the Pierce County Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.