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by Lisa Lee, Co-chair of the Mission and Outreach Committee, and the Rev. Bryan Owens, Rector,
St. Luke’s, Baton Rouge

This year the parish church of St. Luke in Baton Rouge is responding to God’s call to more regularly and intentionally reach out into the community with God’s love. To stay on track, we formed a mission and outreach committee to provide leadership and direction. Following our Baptismal Covenant promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves,” the St. Luke’s Mission and Outreach Committee discerns God’s call to serve in the community and to invite people of all ages to contribute their time, talent, and treasure outside the parish.

Church is more than just a physical place or an hour of worship on Sunday. Church also happens when we follow Christ out into the world to actively and intentionally love our neighbors. The deacon ends mass saying: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” That’s a powerful reminder that when worship ends, the service begins – outside the comfort and security of the sanctuary, the chapel, or the sacristy.

Fulfilling the promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons challenges us to minister to people’s needs in concrete ways. When we feed the hungry or give a care package to a homeless person on the street, we are recognizing and serving Christ in them, and showing them the respect and dignity they deserve as persons created in the image of God. Those are holy moments when the presence of God’s Kingdom becomes more tangible and real.

St. Luke’s now offers at least one and sometimes two outreach opportunities each month. Some of the many activities we have done include: preparing and serving meals at homeless shelters, installing life-saving fire alarms in homes of low income families, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, working in food pantries helping low income senior citizens, assembling bags of laundry detergent for homeless veterans to wash their clothes, and revitalizing a school for at-risk youth.

Some of the activities remaining on our 2018 calendar include: distributing “blessing bags” to homeless people living on the street, preparing and delivering Thanksgiving meals to homebound individuals, “adopting” low-income seniors and children for Christmas, and assembling holiday care packages for maritime workers away from their families at Christmas. In September, we’ll start planning for 2019!

At St. Luke’s, we’re seeing our outreach efforts make a difference in the lives of both those we serve as well as our members. Here’s what St. Luke’s member Tyler deFrancis wrote in response to the question, “How has your involvement in outreach touched your life?”

“With everything our area has been going on in our local area and around the country for the past two years, I was tired of just sitting on the sidelines and complaining about everything, I felt like I had to personally do something to make my city a better place. I knew I wanted to do something but I wasn’t sure where to start. This is why I jumped at the chance to join the committee when Fr Bryan asked me. I have always felt like I was a sympathetic person towards others, but on reflecting realized it was personally towards people I already knew or giving the occasional donation when called to do so. Being involved in outreach ministries has pushed me to actively help ALL people regardless of whether or not I know them. “

Tyler also notes how increased outreach opportunities have the potential to attract new persons who might not otherwise get involved in church life: “At this time

many non-Christians like to point to the way some Christians act towards others as a way to justify not joining the church. I think the more positive things they see us doing the more likely we will be able to bring them into the church, especially the younger generations. “

If you’re thinking about doing more with outreach in your church, it doesn’t take much to get started. Find a charitable organization in your area and ask how your church can help. Maybe start with a donation drive by collecting items for a local food pantry. Ask around to see if any parishioners have experience serving the community. And be intentional about personally inviting members of your church to participate.

As we seek to faithfully follow the One who came not to be served but to serve, reaching out beyond ourselves to the least of these in our community, our hope is that God’s love and grace will work through St. Luke’s and all of the churches in our diocese to make a difference in the lives of others.