This month’s article is a draft of a Mission Mt. Vernon trip recap article that will go to my synod committee for editing and then off to the ELCA’s Living Lutheran magazine for possible publication. This is what I was up to in southern Illinois back in the beginning of September! --Pastor Micah
June 30 loomed large for two pastors on opposite ends of the Peoria, Illinois metro area. On the east side, Pastor Elise Rothfusz, Director of Evangelical Mission for the Central/Southern Illinois Synod, monitored the registrations for “Mission Mt. Vernon”, a synod-wide mission trip scheduled for Labor Day weekend. One county to the west of Peoria, Pastor Micah Garnett, chair of the synod’s New & Renewing Congregations Committee that planned the trip, waited anxiously for the registration headcount. Mission Mt. Vernon would be the first synod-wide mission trip in the synod’s history, at least as far as anyone could recall...but it had to get off the ground first. When the headcount was sent from one side of Peoria to the other, the trip had a grand total of two registrants, not including the four committee members who planned to attend. With the situation looking grim, creativity came into play. The registration deadline was extended to July 31. Additional itinerary options--day-trip and overnight--were added to the planned two-night stay.
Fast-forward to Saturday, August 31, when 35 volunteers, including Bishop John Roth, checked in at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Mt. Vernon, Ill. for the opening devotions of Mission Mt. Vernon. The out-of-town volunteers joined with members of the host congregation to create a workforce of 51 people for the first day’s activities, which began with service projects around Mt. Vernon, a community of 15,000 at the junction of Interstates 57 and 64 in southern Illinois. One group visited a senior living facility, Nature Trail Health Care Center, to share music and games with the residents, while another group cleaned up three city parks. The Prince of Peace building and grounds also began buzzing with activity on Saturday afternoon with work on landscaping and maintenance projects. The first day concluded with a discussion about community ministry, followed by the Evening Prayer service from Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
Sunday began with an education hour led by Pastor Rothfusz, worship at Prince of Peace, and a wonderful potluck lunch. After the meal, the group got right back to its high level of productivity with maintenance projects despite the departure of Saturday’s roughly 20 day-trip volunteers, bolstered by an experienced ten-member mission team from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Champaign, Ill. that has worked together on several Habitat for Humanity mission trips to El Salvador. Good Shepherd team member Dean Olson said that the team was excited to participate in a more local mission, and he further added, “Let us know where the next trip is, and we’ll be there.” As the to-do list dwindled on Sunday afternoon, Prince of Peace council president Merle Hollman remarked that the expanded workforce was able to complete more maintenance work in two days than the congregation could finish in several months. After dinner that night, the group packed “birthday bags” for a local foster care agency--a project powered by a Thrivent Action Team grant--before holding their closing worship service that had been planned for Monday at noon and then giving volunteers an option to head home early due to small crew required for the final day’s projects.
Although little work was left for the group on Monday, some of God’s most important work would take place through the hands of Prince of Peace member Linda Mlot as she gathered the remaining workers into a circle to pray after breakfast. She asked everyone to hold their neighbors’ hands, and then to go around the circle with each person sharing something they were thankful for as the weekend drew to a close. The outpouring of emotion and gratitude In that prayer circle made it clear that this work trip, planned by a synod committee to support and encourage a congregation facing difficult times, had become much more than that. The trip became the embodiment of what it truly means to be a synod: a group that is on the way together, as the word “synod” comes to us from the Greek prefix syn- (meaning “with or together”) combined with the word hodos (meaning “way, path, or road”). While the New & Renewing Congregations Committee is just beginning to process all that they learned from conducting the trip, one thing is certain: the Central/Southern Illinois Synod will be on the way together to another community next year.
Pastor Micah Garnett has been our Pastor since July 2016. He grew up in York, PA and graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. He enjoys worship, working with social services in Fulton County, writing hymns, and cycling.