The definition of “Lutheran resource” has grown with the faith.  

At the turn of the 20th century, such a “resource” may have been a manual or worship pamphlet. Audio recordings and film reels soon entered the mix. Over the years, rapidly evolving media has served to further expand the definition. 

“For the longest time, ELCA resource centers were just thought of as libraries—places to stash some books, videotapes and DVDs, and in the beginning it may have been very much like that,” said Elizabeth A. Caywood, a deacon who serves as coordinator of ELCA resource centers. 

As a result, resource centers are key partners in helping leaders, synods and congregations find and evaluate materials, she explained. 

Caywood and her peers in the Association of Lutheran Resource Centers (ALRC) wear multiple hats. In addition to managing vast and varied resources for everything from music to lists of subject matter experts, they remember quite a lot. 

“There’s a quote that applies,” she said. “A resource center director is a ‘powerful search engine with a heart.’ You have to be able to think fast on your feet, listen well for what is not being said, as well as what’s being said. … It truly is across-the-board in terms of what kinds of ways we help.” 

While staffers’ backgrounds include everything from parish ministry to technological fields, the directors have one thing in common: a devotion to shepherding information. 

“It is a ministry,” Caywood said. “We care about people. We care about the church. [The ALRC] is a wonderful network of people who give of themselves, above and beyond.” 

The ultimate focus is service, she added. It’s common to be asked for advice in selecting program curriculum. Obscure requests with few details are a fun challenge and are often posed to the ALRC member listserv. Typically, the answer can be found by reaching out to resource center peers. 

“It is a ministry,” Caywood said. “We care about people. We care about the church. [The ALRC] is a wonderful network of people who give of themselves, above and beyond.”

Directors sometimes see the centers, found in many of the ELCA’s synods, as one of the church’s “best-kept secrets.” 

From “library” to “community center” 

The Lutheran resource center concept predates the ELCA. Some were organized in the 1980s, briefly before the church was formed or soon after. Others were established more recently. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod Resource Center in Pittsburgh, where Caywood is director, was founded in 2009. 

Association members believe the seeds for Lutheran resource centers were sown by North Carolina pastors in the early 1950s. They wanted to screen the 1953 feature film Martin Luther, but it came on several movie reels, making it cost-prohibitive for a single congregation to purchase. So in 1955 the pastors pooled funds, and the film became the first item in the Heilig Resource Center, which is still in existence.  

“Fast-forward to today: While most of our centers function with some sort of library component, the libraries that are doing well in different communities are not just libraries,” Caywood said. “They’re more like community centers.”  

Many centers evaluate the theological and doctrinal content of resources congregations might consider for use in worship or curriculum. Likewise, churches can consult with a center to preview materials before making a purchase.  

Policies vary between independent resource centers. “Each synod [with a resource center] runs it in the way that works best for them in their context,” Caywood said. “If someone would call any given resource center, that [staff person] would be more than willing to try and assist them with whatever they need.” 

For many, resource centers continue to be a well-used service. Like local libraries thriving in the virtual age, the centers have become a main contact for those they serve, Caywood said.  

Her resource center was remodeled to make it an active learning center and hospitality space, with collaborative technology. The center hosts informational events in person and streamed to congregations online. 

“Sharing resources with a Lutheran flavor” 

The ALRC includes 12 member organizations, and its efforts include maximizing information, resources and efforts. It describes itself as a “diverse relational network, sharing resources with a Lutheran flavor.” 

One center loans out its collection of global instruments. Several offer technological tools to connect congregations virtually and maximize access to speakers and information. All offer staff with expertise in particular disciplines, like youth ministry and stewardship. 

A justification sometimes used for potentially defunding resource centers has been that the same functions can be accomplished via the internet, Caywood added. But while the web boasts voluminous content and open access, she said it lacks trustworthy evaluation. 

“People can’t necessarily guarantee what they find is theologically sound or comes from a distinctly Lutheran perspective,” Caywood said. “In my heart of hearts, that’s what drives me to keep this network of centers alive.”   

See a list of ELCA resource centers. Follow the Association of Lutheran Resource Centers on Facebook.

Karris Golden
Karris Golden is a professional writer-editor and a member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Cedar Falls, Iowa. She lives in rural northeast Iowa with her daughter, Zoey Golden Neessen.

Read more about: