Stewardship Two – Location Asset for Ministry
October 30, 2022
“If we were a mission minded people coming to this area, this would be a strategic location for mission and ministry.” This is my take on the report of the Self Study Committee about 1974.
When I was called as associate pastor to the Church of Peace in 1991 I was about half way through a doctoral program at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas. Church of Peace was amazingly supportive in my studies. Thank you. This was before Facetime, so the plan was to attend classes on campus in Texas and then come home and write big papers. The nudge to do this degree program in the first place was to understand the dynamics of Tongan people coming to California and their engagement with the church. I saw a parallel with the experience of German 1848ers a century before and the Church of Peace. So I did a big paper called the History and Heritage of the Church of Peace – there are copies in the safe. I completed the degree in 1995.
In that paper we did a timeline of the church, then approaching our 100th Anniversary. There were also a number of structured interviews with longtime members of the church with German family roots.
Some elements that jump out from the timeline:
- Rolf was here some 45 years!
- The original worship language of the church was German.
- We had two world wars with Germans on the other side.
- We had a vote on whether to stay in this location or move in 1975.
The vote about moving. The oral tradition is that at a congregational meeting in 1969, soon after Rev. Ken Kuenning and his young family had arrived in town from Ohio, the Association Minister, Rev. Erston Butterworth, opined that it did not matter much what the church did, it would be dead in about 5 years anyway. It was probably more nuanced, but thank goodness Rev. Kuenning and the then young adults who had been on the search committee took that as a challenge rather than a death sentence.
In 1971 the Self Study Committee was formed to chart out a future for the church. One of the items on the table at that juncture was whether to stay at this location of 12th and 12th or move to another part of the city. The neighborhood was changing from a white working class neighborhood. Other churches were moving to new locations. And the Church of Peace was deferring maintenance. The joke was that no one wanted even to replace a light bulb, because we would be out of here soon.
The vote came in 1975, and the vote was to remain at 12th and 12th. When a decision was reached it was interpreted to mean:
- We will quit deferring maintenance; that is when the elevette was installed and we put in a parking lot.
- We will reboot our program to focus on outreach and mission. The decision was a focus on the future.
- It would be easy to say, “and the rest is history.”
But the interviews provide a more rounded perspective.
Interviews: Two of the interviews from 1993 were with a father and son, Harvey Martensen and Bob Martensen – father and grandfather of Karen Young.
Harvey Martensen had moved to the area for work in 1928 with his family from Burlington, Iowa, and he was a steamfitter, a highly skilled worker. He was elected union steward and proud of his affiliation. His uncle Glen Martensen was an Evangelical Pastor, so part of Harvey’s reason for coming to the neighborhood was the location of a vital Evangelical and Reformed Church. He did not drive a car, and was an enthusiastic walker and lived to 92 years of age.
His son Bob Martensen was a veteran of WW eye eye – as Lawrence Welk would say. He was equally loyal to his church, served in a number of administrative roles but most important, probably, was that he taught an adult Sunday School Class – which in church speak means that he was an opinion former. And he had a sly sense of humor. He was known as one who thought that a decision ought to be made about the location of the church. Kinda “fish our cut bait.” I am not sure that he said it out loud, but I always got the impression that when the ballots were passed out he marked “move.” But from the day of the vote till he passed away in 2009 there was not a more loyal or more present member.
Rev. Kuenning said of our church, “We can disagree without being disagreeable.” To me this is key evidence of that.
(Not all churches have that knack. I served as an interim at a church in Sparta, Wisconsin, who had a close vote about whether to repair or rebuild their handsome downtown brick structure after a big fire. The insurance settlement made either route possible. They voted to rebuild – I thought the building was wonderful! (I admired their modern little boilers.) They said their church had never been very strong since, since the loosing side left the church. So apparently they managed the aftermath of the vote with some rancor.) So our ability to actually reach an important decision, and disagree without being disagreeable, is an important asset.
Reboot mission. One could say that we were an ethnic/language church from about the first third of our existence; then a neighborhood/family church for the second third, and then for this last third a mission outreach church.
Rev. Kuenning and others got training on how to move forward. He was a pioneer in church based community organizing, and led in establishing the Community Caring Conference and Quad Cities Interfaith. And these groups provided grass roots training. The key idea of this is to build relationship with neighbors to determine together as partners the path ahead. It sounds simple, but too many want to be the leader and not bother with the relationships, and it either fails or does not thrive. And we have had a spirit of giving as well as taking, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of recognition. We have avoided visions of getting ahead at the expense of others.
We have received support from our denomination, and we have been supportive.
There has been a life cycle to particular programs.
- Saturday school.
- Summer Work Camps.
- Summer Food Program.
- Book Nook.
- Nesting an African Immigrant Church
That said, our English Language Learners program in partnership with Spring Forward Learning Center and World Relief; our Saturday Food Pantry Program with Churches United and Riverbend Food Bank; and our partnership with The Community Caring Conference remain vital elements for our mission and ministry. It is important to have “partners” and not “users.”
And Peace Pals and ministry with persons in prison are areas I need to know more about. And newer.
The specific mission and ministry programs can evolve, and come and go while the strategic nature of our location remains. At one point a church member asked why we did not exert similar effort with ALL Rock Island schools as we did with Hawthorne/Irving/The Academy I said, “Because we can see our school from our front door when the leaves have fallen. I pray God will nudge other churches to partner with the schools they can see from their doors.” There is something to be said for proximity.
And having had the experience of religious, language and cultural roots in Germany, the recognized bad guys in two wars in a century has given many of us a sense of irony and what it is like to be identified with the other team through no personal fault of our own. I always loved the photo of the church basketball team from about 1913 where girls wore dark middy tops and bloomers edged in white and had a team pennant that read “Germans.” (That would be pre-WWI.) Many of us have a sympathy for new immigrants, non-English speakers, and distained groups.
The report of the Self-Study Committee of the 1970s seems very forward-looking. We do have a strategic location and proximity to need. And in addition we have
- a capacity to “disagree without being disagreeable,”
- we have denominational identification and loyalty,
- we have a capacity to frame and make important decisions,
- a way of understanding those decisions in forward looking terms,
- a sympathy for distained groups, and
- a certain patience to do some work before taking action. The committee was established in 1971, a report made in 1974 and the critical decision was made in 1975. I do not think this present train will take four years to reach the station, but it will take some time.
All of these qualities recognize a trust we have in each other to go along with our trust in God and God’s goodness. Thanks be to God.
Amen and amen.