“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Matthew 26:35

We had a wonderful meeting on Thursday, March 20. Ten faithful from The Lutheran Church of the Covenant and Hope United Methodist Church in neighboring Bedford gathered around a table in the Parish Hall overflow room to plan our first combined community meal.

The meal had been a ministry of Maple Heights United Methodist Church, next door to Covenant, for a few months before the congregation merged with two others to form Hope. Although they no longer worshipped there, they continued to do the meal ministry out of the building even though the facility was for sale.

The expected sale cast a shadow of uncertainty on the future of the people’s ability to continue the ministry in the Maple Heights area.  That prompted some of their members to approach some of our parishioners back in January to ask if we would be willing to host the meal, which is offered on the last Thursday of each month. My response was a resounding YES! However, I wanted it to be a full partnership, not just open our doors and let someone else do the work.

We are blessed with a beautiful facility, which is well-maintained and cared for, and which I fervently feel needs to be a blessing shared with the surrounding neighborhood. One of my goals since I arrived at Covenant nearly five years ago is to have to congregation develop an outward focus – to see and act upon opportunities for service in and around the community. The meal ministry fit perfectly with that vision.

Joint Palm Sunday Procession 2012
Joint Palm Sunday Procession 2012

Collaborative ministry across denominational lines is nothing new to the people of Covenant and Maple Heights UMC. Just before they closed, we held a joint worship to celebrate our years together. I had the privilege of preaching at that service. I recalled in my sermon of that day, May 26, 2013:

We from The Lutheran Church of the Covenant give thanks to God for the many years that we have shared as neighbors, sharing many things in many ways over that time – Bible studies, special festival celebrations [I remember specifically the festive Pentecost celebration we experienced just three years ago], our United Hand Bell choir, our common driveway. We have been wonderful neighbors to each other. 

Norm Braun
Norm Braun

This latest ecumenical venture also calls to mind a meeting I had back in December with Norm Braun just four days before he died. Norm was a wonderfully fascinating and passionate 95-year old pillar of our parish, who had been faithfully active in social ministry most of his life. At that luncheon meeting at his home, we discussed two issues that he felt our Board of Evangelism should take on in the coming year – hunger and immigration reform. To the end, Norm focused on the last, the lost and the least of God’s children. Little did he know then (or perhaps he did!) how soon his wish would become reality.

So next Thursday, when we open the doors to feed the hungry in our community, I will think of my dear friend Norm, as I often do. But this time it will be a much more vivid and tangible memory.

I will also recall the joyful times shared with our former next door neighbors, who now worship just a few miles further down the road. It will give new meaning to me of the words of Jesus in John’s gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” [John 12:24]

Norm Braun and Maple Heights UMC have died. But the seeds they planted are now bearing fruit. And for that I say, “Thanks be to God!”

Published by pastorallende

Retired Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Social justice and immigration reform advocate. Micah 6:8. Fluent in English and Spanish. I enjoy music and sports.


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