When I came to New Life in 2012, I spoke with every person involved with the new start mission church at that point. One thing was clear: this community cared about the larger community. This was--and is--a community that cared about living their faith out among their neighbors. When New Life participants spoke about church and their faith, what made them come alive was talking about Grace Food Pantry, and helping some one in need move, and other acts of service. It was clear that this was a part of the founding fabric of this mission, and that it would continue to be part of the New Life story.
We focused our service locally- to our actual neighbors- in Dripping Springs. I wanted us all to get to know our neighbors, and find local agencies with which to partner, and find out the needs of this local area. We focused our outreach efforts into three areas where the passions of New Life members met the needs of this community: Earth, Art and Food. Caring for creation, offering avenues for artistic gathering and expression in this growing area, and showing God’s love through serving, cooking, and sharing food. At that time in our life as a community, we had to focus our efforts outward, and activities that were outside these three areas were cut out, as were those that were primarily inward-serving and social. (The photos here show our first big community service planning Sunday together in Summer of 2012!)
We started to do community service Sundays on the second Sunday of each month. We would go out together into the community, and serve our neighbors, together, as part of our worship service those Sundays. We sang at nursing homes, put on a youth art show in our space, picked up trash along the highway, served lunch for our local sheriff’s department, and more. We didn’t have a sermon those days - our work was the message.
Community Service Sundays have continued to evolve. We focused on getting out into the community - trying to have fewer activities that were at the church - like packing care packages, and actually leaving our space together. We didn’t limit ourselves to just second Sundays of the month, since sometimes holidays fell on those days, and were open to other times of the month. We grew! We had to continue to plan projects that offered opportunities for all ages and larger groups. We developed great relationships with local agencies, and those have deepened over the years and allowed our service to deepen as well. We have ongoing projects that don’t happen on Sundays - Partners in Reading Success (PIRS) at DS Elementary, Adopt-A-Highway cleanups, and weekly Café y Fruta ministry with day laborers downtown. Also, our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) began a tradition of “God’s Work, Our Hands” Sundays once a year in September— similar to what we had been doing monthly, so of course we joined in on that nationwide effort.
The mission of New Life Lutheran Church is:
“Sharing God’s love outwardly in our community and outside in God’s creation.”
This year as we begin to plan our calendar for the 2017-18 school year, we met with the co-chairs of each of the communities, and me, the pastor. We had traditionally done our planning as a large group after worship in August - but we’ve gotten big enough to make that difficult, thanks be to God! We agreed together to combine two of our outreach teams into one: Art and Food will become our Neighbors Outreach team, and we’ll have two teams with Earth Outreach being the other. This aligns us more closely with our current mission: to share God’s love out in our community and out in nature.The two teams will each continue to have two chairs - Mary Ann DiCola and Julie Gutierrez will chair the Neighbor Team, and Michael Meinecke and Donna McCord will continue to lead the Earth Team. They’ll plan projects, and recruit others to help lead.
We are also going to try moving to doing Sunday service projects every other month. We now have many non-Sunday service projects, so we need to spread our volunteers and energy around. We will continue to deepen relationships with our great local agency partners. EARTH team areas and partner agencies: Texas Department of Transportation (Adopt-A-Highway), local cemeteries (including Puryear), and local parks (City of Dripping Springs), our New Life land stewardship and community garden teams, etc. NEIGHBOR team areas and partners: Dripping Springs Elementary (PIRS), Upbring’s New Life Children’s Center in Canyon Lake, Hays Co. Fire Department, the Cottages senior living, Stonebridge Nursing Home, Helping Hands food pantry, Thirsty Thursday (with the City of DS), etc. We’ve got an excellent slate of Sunday service projects and other projects in store for this year. We’ve got a new checklist for planning projects. Stay tuned for a great year of continuing to know and serve our neighbors. Thanks be to God for this outwardly-focused community that actively lives out its faith.