Feed the Hungry

Conversion at St. John the Evangelist, Elkhart

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).

My Friend Cosmo

By: Jeff Norris

Cosmo is a dog.  His owner is Anthony.  Cosmo lives with Father Phelps in the apartment attached to Good Shepherd Episcopal Church because Anthony can’t have pets at his apartment.  Cosmo lives his life as most dogs, he is just a little spoiled and he is well loved.  Cosmo knows secrets!  I know that seems like a strange thing to say but let me tell you what I saw.

It was a very warm and muggy Sunday evening in East Chicago Indiana.  Evening prayer was finished and we were finishing up serving dinner in the church basement.  I guess I must have looked a little haggard because Father Phelps asked me to come upstairs and cool off.  No one was waiting to be served and things were winding down so I decided I wouldn’t be missed and joined Father upstairs.  I sat down and watched as Father was giving Popsicles (a real treat) to the children from the neighborhood.  Well it wasn’t just the children there were some adults too.  It’s funny how when an adult gets a treat like that they can light up just like the children do, I had to chuckle to myself at that.  I did catch a thread of the conversation and quickly realized the adult whose eyes had just lit up was someone who is way down on his luck and my chuckle left me as I thought about where I was and what I was doing there.  I was once “down on my luck” and spent the night at a mission.  They fed me and gave me a safe place to sleep that night.  Before I had been sleeping on the streets and doing what I thought was necessary to survive.  Seeing that man get the Popsicle and some encouraging words took me back over thirty years ago to a mission in Florida.  Wow, I hadn’t remembered that for a long time, but this visit tonight is stirring memories and emotions that I have not wanted to deal with.  I am starting to get sad and then out comes Cosmo!  He came right up to me and demanded to be petted, any sad thoughts quickly departed as Cosmo got my attention.  I petted, I patted and scratched I even got a few doggy kisses, and all was right with the world again.

Now there is not much that can distract children away from Popsicles on a hot muggy Midwest July evening, but Cosmo can!  A small boy came in and as soon as he saw Cosmo thoughts of a Popsicle was gone.  He fell down to his knees and hugged Cosmo like he was a long lost friend.  This boys face lit up like fireworks at the fair.  Some more children came in and of course had to greet and pet Cosmo, but as they left the first boy remained with Cosmo.  Father Phelps and I continued our conversation as much as we could amongst the parade of visitors.  But I was glad for those breaks because it gave me time to watch Cosmo and the boy.  He was telling Cosmo all his secrets!  He would talk, then get quiet and whisper in Cosmos ears and I knew I was witnessing something special, something magical.  The boy in a very poor some would say bad area had someone to share his inner most thoughts with.  We can only guess at what he was saying to the dog, but he was very serious and very intent on telling him things.  And Cosmo was just the kind of listener he needed, no judgment, no advice, no interruptions just listening.  All to soon it was over, I returned to the kitchen, Cosmo went for a nap and the young boy went to play water balloons with the other children and of course Anthony. 

I know this may sound silly or superfluous to you, but I know what I witnessed was special.  I wish I could ask Cosmo about it but I guess all I would get would be a wag of his tail and a kiss on the face.  I guess that’s ok because that young mans secrets are safe with Cosmo.