Editor’s note: When a congregation in Ralston, Neb., asked themselves how to serve those around them, they had to look no further than their own parking lot. This article about their Parking Lot Ministry was adapted from a post in the Nebraska Synod e-newsletter that was written by Erin Judy, director of faith formation at Messiah Lutheran Church.

Messiah Lutheran Church resides in the middle of Ralston, a “small town” in the big city of Omaha, Neb. While we’ve always been good about reaching out to our community, the demographics in Ralston have changed drastically since we opened our doors in the mid-1950s. Feeling a little out of touch with the changing neighborhood, we’ve strived to reach out and listen to our neighbors. One of the ways we’ve begun to do this is the Parking Lot Ministry.

Messiah is fortunate to have an elementary and middle school right across the street. For years parents have parked in our lot to wait for their kids after school, but we’ve never engaged with them—until now. Volunteers with the Parking Lot Ministry go out on Monday afternoons to give the students and parents bottles of water, snacks and smiles just to show that we care and to share a little cheer.

Our goal isn’t to get them to attend worship, although that would be great. It’s more about building relationships with those who drive past the building but have never come through the front doors. For Messiah, this ministry is about listening to those outside our doors. As we build relationships, listen and gain trust, we can then ask our neighbors how we can help when we see and hear the needs in their lives.

“Well, that’s the Messiah way!”

When the ministry began in March 2022, there was naturally a little hesitance from those we were serving. Knocking on people’s car windows and talking to their kids wasn’t something people expected. But with time—and the reassurance from volunteers that “No, we aren’t asking you for anything” or “We aren’t kicking you out of our lot”—there has been so much joy. Students, parents and little siblings have now come to expect Messiah’s Monday pick-me-ups and are thankful that we are brightening their afternoon. Volunteers also get back just as much as they give to this ministry. One middle-school girl, for example, gave two volunteers crocheted crosses and letters of appreciation.

Often people insist on making a monetary donation. One volunteer gave a man some snacks and he tried to pay her. When she told him he didn’t have to pay for anything, he laughed and said, “Well, that’s not the American way.” She replied, “Well, that’s the Messiah way!”

We hope to bring more of this joy to others who use our parking lot and building and to those in the neighborhood. We are also looking at ways to expand this ministry and bring God’s love to the schools around our community. Building relationships and serving those around us make Messiah vital to the community and to the mission of the church.

To hear more about the Parking Lot Ministry from volunteers, check out this video.

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