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Moving Faithfully Forward: Where Ministry Clarity Meets Pandemic Response


January 2020 was business as usual for Trinity Lutheran Church in Cherokee, Iowa. Like most other churches, they were busy receiving Word and Sacrament, teaching the faith and caring for their community.

This growing congregation even had a little extra on the table. Due to their need for expansion, they were moving through LCEF‘s Ministry Clarity process to develop their plan for ministry and a vision for carrying it out. Then, of course …

March 2020 happened. The process “was interrupted with COVID,” said Rev. Jonathan Riggert, pastor at Trinity.

But this “interruption” was certainly not a screeching halt. Far from it.

“Instead of pausing, our LCEF leaders —Mark Frith, Dan Gilbert —worked with us. Via Zoom, we continued our congregational process with our vision and ministry clarity teams,” shared Riggert.

“Those teams would continue to meet in person through the COVID time. [The process] brought to light new possibilities for how the church and community could best serve members and Cherokee alike. A four-part ministry plan was formed and approved by the congregation. It will serve as the basis for our continued church and community focus alongside Word and Sacrament ministry.”

Forward with purpose

Riggert explained that they called LCEF into this process because they wanted to be entirely intentional every step of the way. “Instead of just building to build, we wanted true purpose and understanding of the whys and the blessings that ages could enjoy,” he noted.

Since much of this planning was taking place alongside the height of the pandemic, the church wasn’t just in ministry planning mode —they were in full-on pandemic response mode, too.

“Their impact in the community was quite notable during the pandemic,” said Carole White, LCEF district vice president for the LCMS Iowa West District. “Early on, back in March 2020, [Riggert] and a team of 7-8 people met every Monday night to discuss how their congregation could help the people in their community. I marvel at what they did. I’m sure their activities inspired unity and purpose in their mission to serve their community.”

Meeting physical and spiritual needs

First, the church wanted to make sure that people had access to worship, even though they wouldn’t attend in person.

“Like many churches, we quickly developed more technological and online resources for worship and communication,” mentioned Riggert. “Many of those things were in the plans, but COVID sped up the need and the process to implement online opportunities.”

The church had started a local food pantry pre-COVID to enhance and publicize it more in their community, as many families needed the extra help. They added grocery delivery, pharmacy errands and more to the services they provided. Riggert also quickly assembled the local church leaders to meet weekly and discuss state and local advisements, how churches respond and what kinds of opportunities exist.

Returning to the plan, returning to normal

When it came time to open doors again, Trinity did so safely even while many others remained closed.

“Because so many other churches closed through COVID, community members from other churches longed for a place to worship, and we were able to offer that,” said Riggert. “Since that time, many have come to love our LCMS doctrine, style and Christ fully proclaimed. Many have since become members of this church family through that.”

Now that life is returning to normal, planning mode is once again in full swing at Trinity. And just as LCEF was with them before and during the pandemic, they are staying close at hand as the next phase of ministry planning takes place and takes shape.

“We made use of LCEF’s free resources, which gave us a broad view of opportunity and things to think through,” Riggert shared. “We’ve formed a campus committee and a financial committee to do much of the ’behind the scenes’ work. Through the LCEF resources … it has been a blessing not to have to start from scratch or reinvent the wheel along the way. We are currently on track to have an architectural schematic design by August [2021]. We are meeting soon to present and, Lord-willing, approve an LCEF-led capital campaign to begin in the fall. It’s a blessing that LCEF isn’t some public corporation. They understand LCMS churches and their culture, and more than that, they align with all we believe, teach and confess.”

Riggert added: LCEF’s “willingness to partner together” and turn opportunities into “realities and blessings” has helped make this whole process smoother, even during a time of unrest as experienced in 2020.

Faith to further the mission

No matter what happens next, Trinity is ready for it. This tight-knit congregation is prepared to meet the next challenge, even as they expand their ministry opportunities. They do it all in faith and with great hope for the future.

“No matter the age or generation [in the congregation], there is a connectedness amongst all and opportunities for all to continue growing in their faith,” Riggert said. “In whatever opportunities are had regarding church and ministry, there is strong support and response from members across the board to further the mission and vision the Lord has given His people here for the sake of those to be nourished in faith, and for the sake of the community around us and those yet to be reached with the Gospel.”