“I’m a Lutheran” is a monthly profile featuring ELCA members around the world. The profiles showcase ELCA members in all their diversity, connecting one another through individual faith stories as Lutherans. Sentence prompts are provided to each person featured. If you’d like to nominate someone for “I’m a Lutheran,” email megan.brandsrud@elca.org.

Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish, New York City
Administrative director of Trinity’s Services and Food for the Homeless

I believe in forgiveness. There is nothing scarier or harder to give and receive. But there’s also nothing more freeing.

Winning an episode of “Chopped” that featured soup kitchen employees and volunteers was so inspiring. To hear the stories of the other contestants and the good work they are doing was beyond words. There is so much goodness in the world still.

I think the future of the church is headed toward radical inclusivity. The kind of inclusivity that is there in our language and ideas but isn’t there in practice. I wish it were here now, everywhere, but I’m mindful to be grateful for where it’s available like it is at Trinity Lower East Side. I’m so thankful for all the people working to “decolonize” and open our church. The story and life of Jesus has always been one about fighting oppression and lifting voices that aren’t being heard.

I pray for healing. I want so badly for our own hearts to be at peace—our own communities, cities, countries to be at peace with ourselves.

People are surprised that I can sew. It’s a skill that not many people have, but it’s so essential. It grew out of a need to hem my pants. I’ve always been short so it’s quite practical for me. Then again, so is cooking. I eat food and wear clothes so I figured I better know how to make both!

My favorite part of being choir director at Trinity Lower East Side is the experimenting we get to do with music. We have a congregation and a choir that is so open to new ideas, new styles of music and new ways music can be integrated into worship.

I think the connection between music and faith is that music is a way to hear God speaking through us. All types of music or sometimes a voice, an instrument, a beat, can awaken the spirit of God.

I get the most joy from music. I studied musical theater in college and moved to New York from California with my husband to pursue theater. And while our plans have shifted, music and theater are still huge parts of our lives and there’s no better town than New York to experience it.

An issue I’m fighting for is addressing food insecurity. So many working families need help but don’t ask for it. If you ask someone if they need help with food, they may say no, thinking they ate food this week and they’re good. But if you ask them how many meals they skip to make their paycheck last, it can become much more clear that they need assistance. Or another example: a college student “couch surfing” for the past two semesters doesn’t identify as homeless, but ultimately that student is and can receive so much help. Helping people acknowledge and name their situation is so important.

Working at a nonprofit and serving community members is hard work! We have about 30 to 50 families who come in for pantry bags every weekday. Keeping up with food that is healthy and fresh for them is challenging. We also provide connections to other services to help lift people out of their current situation. Between that and the soup kitchen, we stay busy! Did I mention I also do fundraising? (Visit safhnyc.org for information on how to help.)

One thing I wish people understood about the homeless population is that there are so many levels to homelessness. For most people, I think there are two types of “homeless person.” Either an Andy Griffith Show “hobo with a heart of gold” living on a train car type of homeless person, or the drug-addicted, mentally ill unstable man with a cardboard sign type of homeless person.

But most of the homeless people we help have some kind of home, such as a shelter or group home. And because of that assistance, they may get clothing, grooming assistance and can look like anyone else on the street. There is such a misunderstanding of what being homeless looks like in 2017.

I share my faith through service at my job. I also take any chance to talk about how I’m part of an organization that helps so many people in a loving and safe environment. New York City may be full of inclusive places, but I know that’s not the reality across the country. Offering that to others and spreading the message of inclusivity is so important.

My background in acting and theater plays a role in my current job because it’s kept me on my toes. The idea that “the show must go on” is 100 percent behind what we do. Just in our soup kitchen, we have to feed 200, sometimes more than 300 people per day. Many don’t have other sources of food.

I struggle with patience. I know most people would say that they think I have it in spades, but it doesn’t come easily for me. It’s definitely a constant journey for me, not a destination.

I’m a Lutheran and I’m here to serve.

Megan Brandsrud
Brandsrud is an associate editor of Living Lutheran.

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