By Linda Buskirk
St. John the Evangelist is a voice calling out, and the people of Elkhart are hearing it. The Episcopal community of St. John has a rich history, dating back to 1873. In more recent times, when other historic Elkhart churches headed out to the suburbs, St. John’s stayed downtown.
That was a very deliberate decision, made by the people of the parish after obedient listening to each other and to the community beyond.
The decision to stay, made in 2012, was courageous because it meant reinvesting significant dollars in a leaking roof and repairing the damage it caused. A capital campaign in Elkhart County, which led the state in unemployment after the 2008 economic downturn, might seem impossible to outsiders. But the people of St. John journeyed on, unified in their belief that the parish is called to do ministry in the downtown location.
This consensus grew from a parish wide listening project that continued beyond the decision to stay. Leadership wanted input and ideas about what needed to be done, besides replace the roof, to keep parish ministries strong and relevant to those they served.
The Vestry conducted a parish-wide survey that resulted in a list of projects that went beyond repair to make the church structure more welcoming and accessible yet secure. Upgrading the kitchen to commercial grade and expanding space for the food pantry were deemed essential in order to grow St. John’s feeding ministry to its financially struggling neighbors.
A task force of parishioners stepped forward to coordinate a capital campaign fundraising effort. Transparent communication and a pay-as-we-go construction policy assured parishioners that they knew what was happening and that debt would be avoided.
The campaign kicked off in May of 2012 with a target of raising $350,000 in pledges to be paid over three to five years. By the end of the summer, $412,000 in gifts and pledges were secured! Work soon began on the roof, followed by electrical and other system upgrades. Soon this year, renovations to the kitchen will begin.
Father Dan Repp, Rector of St. John’s, explains that in Benedictine fashion, being faithful to the stability of location and conducting obedient listening have allowed a conversion of life experience for the parish. Here are some examples:
Parishioners have come together with their own elbow grease to paint rooms, rip up smelly carpet and refurnish space that had been rendered unusable due to water damage.
More parishioners are volunteering for the food pantry. They are finding new ways to reach outward into the community with ice cream socials and cookouts for the neighborhood. Meanwhile, more recipients of these ministries are now attending services – one large family recently joined the church as members.
New events and worship experiences are occurring – including a service featuring blue grass music.
A “Vision Ministry” was started during the listening process and continues today to help articulate the ways St. John’s ministry strengths, resources and location could impact lives in the name of Christ in the future.
In our Diocesan Congregational Development Institute, we learn that the Benedictine “Conversion of Life” concept is evidenced in a congregation when its members find God on their journey together to new places and when they are open to transformation. The people of St. John the Evangelist Elkhart have found God on their journey in the same place they’ve always been! They became open to transformation after they listened to God’s call and found ways to capitalize on their strengths, reinvigorate their ministries and transform lives.
If you’d like to learn more about their journey, please give Father Dan Repp a call (574-295-1725).