Love in Deed and Truth
Many congregations across the LCMS Northern Illinois District sponsor or support pro-life programs, such as crisis pregnancy centers.
Illinois generally, and the Chicago metropolitan area specifically, is often referred to as the abortion capital of the Midwest. Abortion on demand is prevalent throughout the state, and in 2019 abortions there jumped 10% — to more than 46,500 — over the prior year, according to an article from the Chicago Tribune.
Yet, the battlefield where we appear weakest is precisely where Christ is strong. Many congregations across The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) Northern Illinois District (NID) sponsor or support pro-life programs, such as crisis pregnancy centers. The district’s pro-life Recognized Service Organizations (RSOs) include Bethesda Lutheran Communities, which serves people with developmental disabilities; multiple senior residential volunteer and chaplain services; Lutherans For Life; and an expansion of Redeeming Life Outreach Ministries’ maternity home ministry, which originated in Sanford, Fla. In addition, the NID’s Life Task Force offers resources and education, and local LCMS congregations and families run such programs as Breakfast with Baby, foster care through Safe Families (not Lutheran itself, but which has connected local LCMS families to vulnerable children), and two Swaddling Clothes branches.
Trusting in the Lord’s Promises
These opportunities are a blessing to the church, especially in the era of COVID-19. Instead of remaining mired in helpless frustration, the church focuses on what the Lord has promised. “We don’t know what the Holy Spirit will do,” said the Rev. Dr. Allan Buss (top, center in photo), president of the NID. “We lament for the state of the world — we need to stand for the truth, repute evil — but as the psalmist says: Trust the Lord and do good. Every person we serve is a person Christ died for.
“It’s a great time to be the church,” he continued. “We have a clear focus on Jesus crucified and risen. We’re not afraid of the challenges — we don’t fight for victory but from victory.”
Through these efforts, the church has unique opportunities to plant the Word. To help make that vital connection of mercy work to Word, the district supplied 3,000 Arch Books (a series of Bible storybooks from Concordia Publishing House) in both English and Spanish to multiple ministries last Giving Tuesday.
“Any pagan can hand out food,” said Buss. “We have something more.”
In her role as Stewardship, Administration and Human Care liaison for the NID, Deaconess Lori Trinche works with the RSOs in the district. Their newest project is the expansion of Redeeming Life Outreach Ministries into Illinois. The area is ripe for a maternity home ministry, which not only offers a home for pregnant, unwed mothers and teaches them life skills but, most importantly, is connected to a sponsoring LCMS congregation. Residents are expected to attend weekly worship where they learn about Christ. That they’re valuable — loved beyond price — is a concept foreign to these young mothers.
Coming Together to Support Life
Mercy work, undergirded by the Word, blesses the church in turn. Excited by the project, congregations that shut down in-person activities due to tight pandemic restrictions are beginning to reconnect with one another and the district, in both conversation and generosity.
“That communion of the saints coming together, it brings people out of their shells, it’s helping bring people back to the church,” explained Trinche. And in a polarized climate, a maternity home brings people around what they’re for, rather than what they’re against.
“Very often, if you do not address the topics sensitively enough, you can come across as very anti-this or anti-that,” she continued. “What we always want to stress is what we’re for: We’re for life, we’re for family, we’re for grace and helping people. Meeting people where they are. That’s what Jesus does for us. If we can model that … shower them with love and grace, it breaks down those walls, those polarizing things that [tear] us apart.”
Along with nine other Northern Illinois churches, Calvary Lutheran Church in Elgin, Ill., volunteered as a potential partner for the maternity home project. Though Redeeming Life’s expansion is ultimately going to Immanuel Lutheran Church in East Dundee, Calvary is excited that the sponsoring congregation is only an 11-minute drive away. They plan to connect the maternity home’s mothers (and babies) with their own life ministry project: Swaddling Clothes.
Providing First Article Gifts
Sunday morning services of 160, with 90 in Bible study and Sunday school, bring a lot of foot traffic past a small room — almost a large closet — in the church’s basement, where clothes hang neatly on racks, labeled by size. The largest clothes available are size 5T.
Swaddling Clothes of Elgin, Ill., is one of about 20 sites located across 11 states; Calvary, in the Chicago area, is the second site in Illinois. It offers free clothes and diapers one Saturday a month. What began as a mission driven by one passionate couple now runs through the work of 16 volunteers.
Swaddling Clothes is important to both the community and the church. “Little children,” 1 John 3:18 reminds us, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Though this ministry cannot — and should not — be measured in numerical success in the pews, as the Rev. Mark Bestul of Calvary reminded his congregation before the project began, it is an important outreach of First Article gifts.
“First Article realities [have] been lost in this generation and society,” Bestul explained. “Salvation is our eternal hope, but that doesn’t mean our body isn’t important. … Having this closet [is] a visual aid — that this is what it means to confess the First Article, that the daily life needs of individuals are important. … Faith is for the whole man: not just the spirit, but the body.” That they will now have the opportunity to clothe the children of the residents of the soon-to-be neighboring maternity home is a blessing Calvary looks forward to both giving and receiving.
Sharing the Word of God
“Ministries build on each other,” Trinche said. Another life project, called Breakfast with Baby, was started through the joint effort of two congregations. Moms in need come to the breakfast and are connected with a church family. Because so many of these moms are from the Hispanic community, St. Paul Lutheran Church in Mount Prospect now has a Spanish-speaking vicar and a house church of 120 members.
The church also received an award from their community for the project. “Church in general is considered to be something that’s almost a private club,” Trinche said of the way that society too often does not look kindly on the church. “This is something that shows the church has love and care for people regardless of whether they’re members. … [It’s a] great opportunity to invite people in to share the love of Christ, [to] connect them to that Word and Sacrament.”
President Buss added how the maternity home project has already blessed the district. “We’re having the conversations, seeing the congregations connect with us. … People have been enormously generous in amazing ways, both individuals and congregations.” Buss noted that there have been many challenges, “both with the pandemic and the life issues that weigh heavily on us.” But as the church, “we do good in the name of Jesus … we get to share the Word of life, we get to share Jesus, Law and Gospel; that’s what makes the church the church.”
- Learn more about LCMS Life Ministry at lcms.org/life.
- Through the 1 John 3 Initiative Million Dollar Life Match, the LCMS will offer $1 million in matching grants to LCMS congregations involved in beginning-of-life mercy work in their communities. Learn more by visiting lcms.org/life-grant or by emailing LifeMinistry@lcms.org.
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