Corps participant Coretta Hedstrom plays with a child at Little Blessings Day Care and Preschool at Trinity Lutheran Church, Boston.

National Work

Shaped by Service

Lutheran Young Adult Corps participants are living and serving in Boston this year.

Lutheran Young Adult Corps participants navigate the Boston subway. Top: Corps participant Coretta Hedstrom plays with a child at Little Blessings Day Care and Preschool at Trinity Lutheran Church, Boston.

One gray and rainy October morning, four young women dodged puddles as they hurried through Boston Common toward First Lutheran Church of Boston.

“Good morning!” they called in unison to parish administrator John Lindemann as they passed by the church office and proceeded to the basement, where they set up their laptops on a long folding table in their makeshift office.

Within minutes, they were absorbed in their various tasks for the day. Sarabeth Marcello of Minneapolis worked on a weekly newsletter for the church’s campus ministry and young adults group, while the other three — Laura Grundeman of Naples, Fla.; Rachel McCloskey of Steubenville, Ohio; and Coretta Hedstrom of Lakefield, Minn. — planned a children’s Christmas program.

At First Lutheran Church, Boston, participants strategize together.

Coming Together in Service

Although these four are from different places, for 10 months they are living and serving together in Boston through The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) Lutheran Young Adult Corps. The program provides young adults (ages 18–26) with long-term service opportunities in urban ministry settings around the country. Those interested can choose between the 10-week summer program and the 10-month gap year.

The program currently has “houses” of four participants in three different cities: St. Louis, New Orleans (which shares its participants with Baton Rouge) and Boston.

Nik Locker, who serves as city coordinator for the Boston house, first heard about the program several years ago, when it was called the Lutheran Youth Corps. The program went through a period of transition before being relaunched as the Lutheran Young Adult Corps in 2016.

Despite changes in the program, Locker didn’t give up on the idea of having participants serve in his city. He called the LCMS Youth Ministry office and said, “Boston is very interested. What would it take to get Lutheran Young Adult Corps here?

City coordinator Nik Locker enjoys a taste test of shortbread cookies made by Lutheran Young Adult Corps participants Coretta Hedstrom and Rachel McCloskey.

“We’re a small [Lutheran] community with finite resources. We share people and opportunities,” Locker explained, noting that there are only two LCMS congregations within Boston’s city limits. Having the four participants, he said, enables them to expand their ministry in new ways.

For instance, Marcello and Grundeman are working on a proposal to turn a storage room into a campus ministry room at First Lutheran Church.

“It wasn’t in the plan, but they were open to it,” Grundeman said. “Being able to create a project like that has been really cool.”

Although First Lutheran Church is their home base, the participants divide their time between several different local organizations. Each afternoon, Grundeman, McCloskey and Hedstrom take the T — Boston’s subway system — to Little Blessings Day Care and Preschool at Trinity Lutheran Church, where they carry an electric keyboard from room to room and lead kids in Christian songs.

They also spend time at a local homeless ministry and New England Seafarers Mission — which assists cruise ship workers with sending money to their home countries, receiving mail and running errands when the ship is in port.

After only a few months, Locker noted that the participants have brought “a consistency” to the relationships with some of these other organizations that they usually only work with sporadically.

Participants play with children at Little Blessings Day Care and Preschool.

Living and Learning

Although corps participants often work long hours, the program isn’t only about work. It also gives them the chance to explore a new city — something the four take advantage of regularly — while getting a taste of church work and learning important life skills.

For Hedstrom, moving to Boston has “been a big adjustment.” At 19, she’s the youngest member of the house, and this is the first time she’s lived away from home.

“I’m trying to eat healthy … and do all the things that keep me functioning normally,” she said, after a short soliloquy on the benefits of the baby kale she found at the grocery store. “No one tells me to go to bed, so setting my own boundaries has been great for me.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Marcello, Grundeman and McCloskey have had more experience living on their own. Marcello and Grundeman lived away from home in college, and McCloskey just finished another gap-year program learning Spanish in Costa Rica. But the thing that has really stood out to them is how few Christians there are in Boston.

“I had no idea coming into this that it was so secular here,” Marcello said. “It’s super awesome that we get to work in a place that really does need it.”

Along the way, Locker and others have been available to offer advice on things like cooking, cleaning and taking the T. Plus, the women said they are still drawing on lessons taught at orientation in August, specifically the refresher course on Luther’s Small Catechism and the session on what to do when approached by a homeless person.

“God is stretching me in so many different ways,” Hedstrom said of her experience in Boston. “We get to learn so many different things.”

Thriving, Not Just Surviving

Back in their shared apartment, the four women chat and laugh over pizza before settling down for their weekly Bible study.

At the end of the day, they are eager to share the joys they’ve experienced in their various assignments — from seeing a particularly rambunctious child start repeating Christian songs at day care to sharing the Gospel with a man on the subway who asked about their corps T-shirts.

Julianna Shults, LCMS Youth Ministry’s program manager for the corps, said she’s been pleased to see how the participants “mesh so well.”

“We’re not looking for a specific set of gifts or a certain level of experience,” Shults said of the participant selection process. “We want to know: Are they strong in their faith? Can they be flexible? Do they have a servant heart? Are they going to live well with others? Because that’s part of this too. Those are the kinds of things that tell us that if we put them into this challenging position, they are going to thrive.”

Sarabeth Marcello (center) answers a question during Bible study at their shared apartment in Boston.

And they are thriving in the Boston house, thanks to the support of Locker, First Lutheran Church and the greater Lutheran community.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed and appreciated a lot is that so many people are so excited that we’re here,” McCloskey said. “They say, ‘We’ve been waiting for you, Lutheran Young Adult Corps folks!’ And they pray for us. It’s been great.”

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Pray with Us

Lord of all, You lead us on paths unknown to many places for service. Bless the work of the Lutheran Young Adult Corps as they share Your love in Christ throughout this nation. Protect those who serve, and grant them manifold and varied opportunities to love with the love of Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.

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