In his writings, Martin Luther connected our gathering for eucharist to our going out to love and serve the world. He wrote, “When you have partaken of this sacrament, therefore, or desire to partake of it, you must in turn share the misfortunes of the fellowship. … Here your heart must go out in love and learn that this is a sacrament of love. As love and support are given you, you in turn must render love and support to Christ in his needy ones” (Luther’s Works 35:54).
On Sept. 10, “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday, the African Descent Lutheran Association’s Los Angeles chapter (ADLA – Los Angeles) led an initiative from the table to the community by going out into the community following worship to assemble and deliver hygiene kits to people living on Skid Row.
The 50-city-block area of downtown Los Angeles known as Skid Row has one of the largest populations of homeless people in the United States. The 2017 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count reports that there are 1,964 people living unsheltered on Skid Row, with another 2,669 people living in shelters. Of the 4,406 homeless people on Skid Row, 28 percent are chronically homeless, 10 percent are veterans and 62 percent are African American.
Consistent with ADLA’s national objective to focus on health and wellness, providing hygiene items helps people experiencing homelessness protect against disease and illness by staying clean. ADLA – Los Angeles’ initiative contributes to overall wellness by providing a ministry of presence, helping people know they are not alone.
Born out of a partnership with St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Los Angeles, ADLA – Los Angeles set the goal of distributing 500 hygiene kits to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On Sundays throughout the summer, ADLA – Los Angeles members were asked to donate specific items for the kits and to have dedicated time during worship to pray for the kits’ recipients. Members from several ELCA Los Angeles congregations—including St. Mark’s, Ascension, Community, First Lutheran and Holy Trinity—participated in the project. On “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday 2017, they exceeded their goal.
‘We have to see through different eyes’
According to ADLA – Los Angeles President Carolyn Foster, this ministry offers not only the tangible support of hygiene kits to people who are experiencing homelessness, it also allows those sharing kits and those receiving them to realize their common ground.
Foster reported that people who come to receive the kits see that the distributors are just like them. Likewise, those distributing the kits—mostly youth—are often blessed by their interactions with the people they meet. They realize how much they are supported by their own loved ones, Foster said, and they want to bring their friends to serve with them the next time.
One participant was so moved by his experience with the kit distribution that he got his employer involved, and his office collected items for the September effort. They have continued to collect beyond “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday, looking to support an additional distribution this year.
ADLA – Los Angeles hopes this effort will continue to grow. This year, instead of having just one annual distribution, there have already been three distributions—one in April and two in September—and the chapter is looking to hold an additional distribution in December. While the majority of the kits were distributed on Skid Row, they were also distributed in Long Beach, Calif. A third location is expected to be added by the end of the year.
Foster believes that participating in the kit distribution has affected her life. Meeting people living on Skid Row has helped her have more empathy and encouraged her to want to do more. “There but for the grace of God go I,” she said. “Any of the people we meet could be me, my family. If we’re going to go out representing Christ, we have to see through different eyes. The people we serve are regular people; they are God’s creation.”
As the ministry continues to grow, ADLA – Los Angeles will continue to live in to Luther’s call to leave the table in order to go share the love of Christ with those in their community.