In the small town of Mattawa, Wash., members of Grace Lutheran Church and Iglesias de Dios Vivo (Church of the Living God), a Pentecostal Latino congregation, gathered on Sept. 14 at the local fire station to serve a meal to firefighters, police officers and emergency medical service workers as part of the ELCA’s “God’s work. Our hands.” day of service.
These two congregations, although different in faith, language and size, share worship space in Grace’s building and come together to do God’s work in the community quite often.
Ginny Krekling, interim pastor of Grace, is focused on finding ways for the 20-member congregation to be a bigger part of the community. “Mattawa is an interesting community. It’s all agriculture and is 98 percent Hispanic,” she said. “We are really having a great time learning who the community is and finding ways to support them.”
Living God worships around 140 people each week, with services all in Spanish. Through this congregation, Grace can reach into the community more successfully and Living God has started to serve its neighbors more than ever before.
“This partnership has helped our congregation see the community in a different way,” Krekling said. “I think they have begun to see the differences as something to celebrate. It’s helping us to see us all as God’s children.”
The several children who attend Living God did their part for “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday by making a unity chain for the first responders. They also helped bake cookies, made pictures and wrote letters to the responders.
When asked about the importance of joining Grace for “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday, Genesis Rodriguez, the daughter of Living God’s pastor and the church’s music teacher, said, “Even though we have [the first responders] in our prayers every day, I think they should know that we are with them and we are going to be here for them through obstacles.”
And the gesture of gratitude from the two congregations resonated with the first responders. “It feels good to be appreciated,” said Matt Hyndman, a volunteer firefighter in the county. “There aren’t many times when people stop to say thank you.”
Community of service
Three hours away from Mattawa and a few days earlier on Sept. 11, members of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church donned bright yellow “God’s work. Our hands.” T-shirts as they prepared for their day of service.
“Holy Trinity is a group of people who are diverse in various ways,” said Deanna Wildermuth, a pastor of Holy Trinity. “We are committed to being a presence on Mercer Island, both in terms of a community of faith and also in terms of engagement with the community itself and how we can partner with youth and family services, for example.”
Members of Holy Trinity spent that Sunday afternoon with their Muslim and Jewish neighbors, cooking and serving a meal for more than 50 homeless people who were residing in a tent city on the grounds of Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue. The tent cities move every 60 to 90 days and usually find a home on the grounds of a local church.
“Holy Trinity picked this event for ‘God’s work. Our hands’ Sunday because 9/11 is a touchstone date for a lot of people where there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what faith groups may or may not represent around terrorism or lack of understanding for each other,” said Kathy Fisher, the congregation’s director of intergenerational ministry programs. “It seemed like a great opportunity to help homeless people and work with our brothers and sisters who all believe in a God.”
In the kitchen at Temple B’nai Torah, dozens of chicken kebabs were prepared for the grills, cookies were baked and dozens of vegetables were chopped for a salad. Men and women of different denominations, ages and races worked together to prepare dinner for their sisters and brothers living in tents right outside the back door.
“We recognize when we are together in an interfaith event that we hold more in common than we do in differences,” Wildermuth said. “And especially in events like this—the prepping, sharing and eating of food unites us because it’s common, even if we are cooking meals that aren’t familiar to us.”
Together We Build, an interfaith coalition of Christians, Jews and Muslims, also helped during the service day. Formed shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, the organization seeks to come together in their communities to make a difference.
As the buffet table was set outside, tent city residents and volunteers gathered to say grace and share a meal.
White Eagle Arai, a tent city resident since May, feels like this is home and that they are a community. To her, the hot meal was uplifting and encouraging. “It’s been spiritually very inspiring for me to be in this environment tonight. I am very grateful,” she said.
For Fisher, “God’s work. Our hands.” is not just a day. “It’s something we are doing every day,” she said. “We are representing who we are no matter where we go, whether we are Jewish, Lutheran or Muslim. The God that we worship expects us to take care of each other and to be around our fellow man and to help out.”