panel participating in Life-giving relationships conversation

Life-giving relationships with God

The theme of the assembly was Vital Congregations. Throughout the assembly, there were many examples of vitality in the North Carolina Synod. One of the ways in which a congregation can be vital is by breaking the molds and challenging stereotypes for what it means to be a Lutheran church. Deacon Tammy Jones West introduced Pastor Jennifer Shimota Krushas and two of her congregation members, Joy Joseph and Eileen Roberts, from Emmanuel, High Point.

When the question, “How do you know that your congregation cares about the faith of its youth?” was posed, Joy Joesph took the microphone and shared that one of the many ways she knows she is loved is by the incredible generosity of her congregation in sending her to Lutheridge, LYO (Lutheran Youth Organization), TEC (Teens Encounter Christ), and other opportunities for faith formation. To add to this, Eileen Roberts said that as she has worked with youth for the last 15 years, she has grown to feel like a grandmotherly figure to them. She has seen people like Joy grow from the acolyte position into an assisting minister.

When Jones West asked where they see Jesus, Roberts emphasized the importance of community in church and at Emmanuel in particular. She went on to say that “we are about God’s work and are called to serve each other and beyond,” and that Emmanuel is taking steps to move beyond just the four walls of their church. They work with programs like Backpack Beginnings to help to feed children when they do not have access to the school breakfasts and lunches. Not only does it serve the community, but it brings the church closer together by encouraging volunteers from all generations. Emmanuel is also in the process of becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation, and this involved intergenerational discussions.

Pastor Jennifer Shimota Krushas shared that one of the faith practices that needed to be addressed was Vacation Bible School. She explained that one summer, 25 volunteers and lots of their preparation was not enough to change the declining attendance. In a meeting to reexamine the summer programming, a woman proposed that “the Church is changing, maybe VBS is changing, too.” In response, they decided to shift VBS from a one-week program to five “Wednesdays of Wonder.” This change reignited the attendance and brought people of all ages to be creative, worship, study, and play in community with one another.

Continuing the theme of thinking outside the box as a church, Eileen Roberts explained the complexity of obtaining citizenship for some of the members at Emmanuel. It is an expensive, long, and emotionally taxing experience for everyone involved. Shimota Krushas shared that even this citizenship process has brought members together across the generations.

Deacon Tammy Jones West thanked Pastor Shimota Krushas, Joy Joesph, and Eileen Roberts for representing their congregation and sharing some of the ways in which they are fostering spiritual engagement across the generations.

Story and Photo:  Sage Rufsvold is a graduate student in the Communication Studies program at UNC Greensboro.