For two decades, God’s Spirit has been moving the 16 congregations of the ELCA in Racine, Wisconsin toward greater unity. A number of efforts surfaced and resurfaced, leaving our congregations much less competitive, but still missionally independent.
In December of 2010, Racine clergy met with Steven Bouman to discuss a visioning process intended to help Racine ELCA congregations face the reality of diminishing congregations and financial resources. Guided by Greater Milwaukee Synod Mission Director Sandra Chrostowski, most of the Racine ELCA congregations participated in a 2011 visioning process that sought to match congregation and community needs to current congregational strengths and to seek congregational partnerships to address those needs. That process was called “RAMS,” for Racine Area Mission Strategy.
In the fall of 2011, Atonement, Emmaus/Emaús, Our Savior’s, and St. Andrew decided that there was sufficient commonality of mission to proceed with an exploration of a “profound partnership.” Shortly thereafter, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer decided to enter the partnership, but withdrew by decision of its church council in October, 2013. (As a direct result of the RAMS process, four other congregations decided to form two two-point parishes, sharing common clergy to help them meet current financial realities.)
Perhaps the common denominator within our congregations is a strong missional focus.
- Atonement took a recent risk in the creation of a satellite congregation, Atonement West, in an area where our city is expected to grow substantially in the next decade.
- Emmaus had spent more than a decade reaching out to neighborhood children, particularly the Latino community; and had, by God’s grace, created a thriving Latino congregation under the direction of Jhon Freddy Correa.
- Our Savior’s has for many years made inroads into its neighborhood and built a ministry with neighborhood youth, many of whom are African-American children.
- St. Andrew, blessed with Dr. David Rhoads, has been a leader of the Green Movement among congregations.
All but one of our congregations have participated in the innovative and highly successful ELCA Neighborhood Camp in Racine. This acclaimed five-week program provides free camp in neighborhood churches for hundreds of children each summer. The program, which found its birth at Emmaus, makes an enormous difference in the lives of children and, in addition to the younger children whom it has now served for twelve years, has recently expanded to serve middle school youth.
Our next step was to create a covenant, which each congregation approved at their annual meetings early in 2012. That covenant called each congregation to understand themselves as powerfully bound for mission in Racine and beyond. The covenant commits our congregations to several core values.
- Foremost, we are called to put mission first. Nothing, no matter how dearly loved, can prevent us from God’s call to participate in God’s work in the world.
- Second, we affirm that while place is of tremendous importance, buildings must not be idolized.
- We also commit ourselves to caring for the environment and stewardship of God’s world.
- Finally, we agree to work against the sin and evil of racism.
We then identify nine areas of mission which we intend to serve within our congregations. We have not yet fully lived into any of these core beliefs, but they exist to guide our actions as we move forward.
In February, 2012, we created a mission council with lay and clergy representatives from each congregation. We then began the process of getting to know each other, working with one another and visioning what a deeper partnership might look like.
We did a number of joint worship services, including Good Friday (2012 and 2013), Easter Vigil (2012 and 2013), Pentecost (2012), and a fall festival worship service (2012 and 2013). We worked on beginning to merge some Christian Education efforts, and have had a number of common youth events. We put on a large two-day fall festival which brought hundreds of people together from our congregations and beyond.
As 2012 wore on, we realized that while FaithWorks had accomplished some good things, it was not yet “profound.” Our unity was not yet worthy of the dream that God had placed in our hearts. We created a process that we believe has the potential to create that profound partnership for mission.
First, we decided to hold joint Lenten services in each congregation, where our members would be able to share a meal and get a sense of each other’s worshiping body, ministries and buildings. Each congregation presented a brief video to share the essence of their mission and ministry.
As of May of 2013, each congregation was to create a plan for profound partnership. They were to write the plan not only for themselves, but to include each of the other congregations in their plan. Those plans would then be posited with a task force created by the mission council. That task force is to create a plan for a “profound missional partnership.” We believe that final plan will recommend substantial, missionally focused change for each of our current congregations. This re-imagining and visioning will no doubt include changes in structure, staffing, building use, worship styles and locations, as well as programming and lay leadership and training. In the midst of the many proposed changes, special care will be taken to listen to and to walk with those who may be experiencing grief or loss in the process.
On September 22, 2013, the congregations of Emmaus (English) and St. Andrew voted to begin worshiping together. Joint worship services began on Reformation Sunday, alternatively at Emmaus during odd-numbered months and at St. Andrew during even-numbered months. Our Savior’s and Atonement (East) similarly voted on November 24, 2013 to begin worshiping together at Atonement starting January 5, 2014.
At the November, 2015 meeting of the FaithWorks Mission Council, Pastor Mary Janz reported that there would be no future funding from the ELCA and that decisions had to be made regarding the future of FaithWorks. Facing the reality that FaithWorks funds would be depleted by the following month, members of the Mission Council voted to suspend the existing structure of FaithWorks, including the annual covenant, financial support by member congregations, monthly meetings and the stipends paid to a Champion and Communications Director. At the same time, strong sentiment was expressed about the desire to continue to be in relationship with one another and to not abandon the richness of joint worship services, fellowship and shared opportunities for service in mission together in Racine.
The members of the FaithWorks Mission Council celebrate the seeds planted by the hard work and dedication of so many during the past four years, and it is our prayer that all that we celebrate will truly take root and continue to grow and flourish