Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Fellowship and diversity in ministry

June 26, 2012 08:13 AM

Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Baldwin has a simple ministry that thrives off of diversity: their monthly book club. It began a few years back as a time for people to discuss a book they had read. What they have gained is a window into other people’s lives and not just in the stories unfolding in the books.

Pastor Kit Robison is a member of the group, but does not claim full ownership. "It’s a group process. We shift who hosts each month and choose books together. It exhibits the best of fellowship ministry." It is a very organic ministry at Bethlehem. People don’t have to be prodded into helping and it is not led by an individual, but by the whole. Cooperation is a key component to the book club’s success. As many copies as are available are obtained from the local library and shared among the group until everyone has had a chance to read the book. They work with each other to make sure everyone has a chance to prepare.

As a group, they choose books based on what is on their own hearts and minds. They do not always read books that are labeled as Christian, but because they all share a Christian faith, it is a central element to their discussion. In their time together, they look for chances to see intersections of the sacred and secular.

The group also celebrates and welcomes diversity in its members. Some of the most enlightening times have been when someone was able to share a perspective from their own lives. While reading a novel about slavery, African American members and people from countries still engaged in slavery were able to share their point of view. When they read The Kite Runner, a historical novel set in Afghanistan, one of the members present was from the Middle East. Her voice in the discussion was able to help clarify points and challenge the assumptions of what life in the Middle East is like. Moments like these give the opportunity and privilege to learn from others with more direct experience.

Pastor Robison stresses that this ministry is an organic ministry and the people involved keep it going year after year. When asked how another community might start a ministry like this he says, "Find something that multiple people like doing and help them to gather and talk. Don’t put boundaries on the ministry." He continues to explain that what helps to make the book club work is that it is able to reach out to various people. He gives the example of a Fiber Arts Guild at his mother’s church. Instead of being a group only for one craft, it welcomes a broad group of people knitting, crocheting, doing needlepoint and so on. Replace book club or crafts with what fits your community’s interest.

He also says to be willing to try things and let things go that don’t work. Pr. Robison has tried to revive a book group among pastors, but after it lost its footing, he knew that ministry had come to its end. 

For Bethlehem, a simple idea continues to gather a range of people, connected in a common faith, and sharing their lives together. "We all like to know what good ministry is," says Pr. Robison. "Sometimes we need to not worry about the book club focusing on books with deep or grand spiritual value; we can still talk about what matters."



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