We are Easter people who believe in the resurrection hope of Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we have hope beyond the grave. We know that death is not the end. In Christ’s death, there is life, and we have hope in that new life. In this world there are places we see glimpses of this resurrection hope of Jesus.
In New Orleans, there is a Lutheran congregation shining this resurrection hope of Jesus in their community. Founded in 1888, Bethlehem is a remarkable church with a rich history of service that goes deep into the community. Bethlehem is a beacon of light on a hill in a weary world.
In Talks at the Desk: Our Black Church, Ep. 3 that premiered in February 2022, Pr. Ben Groth describes Bethlehem by saying, “We’re not one of the big fancy churches on a big fancy avenue. You know, we’re a small, scrappy church trying to do a lot with, with not very much in resources.” That being said, Bethlehem is absolutely a transformational church to its community. Bethlehem is a church that doesn’t just talk-the-talk, they live their faith out loud and have showed up for their community in some pretty amazing ways. This faith community models what it looks like to trust in the Holy Spirit, follow Jesus, and be in partnership with God.
It’s incredible how the simple question of “what if?” can turn a church fish-fry into a story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. This small “scrappy church” has begun a community meal that is currently serving about 600 free, no-questions-asked, hot meals four times each week. In the video, Bethlehem’s Council vice president, Brandon Blake, says,
“We just don’t want to be the brick church on the corner of Dryades and Washington. We want to be, a lighthouse, a beacon, you know, somewhere where you can go for assistance somewhere where someone can help you in some way.”
In this episode, you can see how the Spirit is pouring out through Bethlehem as they not only feed the community but have also taken a leap of faith and are now building affordable homes. What’s miraculous about this story is that they purchased the land and waited patiently and with hope in the Spirit, discerning how God intended for it to be used.
Nicolette Peñaranda, Program Director for ELCA African Descent Ministries and Interactive Learning Creative Expressions Manager for the 2024 Gathering, shares that “Bethlehem is a special place that is doing something that none else has done in our tradition.” This is a church that is committed to loving one’s neighbor. Take note, this small congregation that is understaffed and under-paid is finding inspiring ways of pouring their heart, soul, and funds into the community in ways that do not directly benefit them. This is a church that is not focused inward, but rather on the ways God is calling them to abundantly love their surrounding community.
In the video, Blake sums it up like this:
“What is better than to serve others? What, shows your true heart more than you being there for someone else? Not just yourself, not just, you know, the person next to you or your neighbor, but being there for as many people as you can. And in many ways is, you know, it always doesn’t translate to giving out meals. It might be giving someone a ride or just go and drop off a meal to someone, or, you know, just trying to be involved because, you know, we’re not islands, we’re not alone in this life. You know, we may come in and go out by ourselves, but there’s a lot of contact and, you know, involvement in the middle. So you know, you gotta be open to that.”
Thank you, Bethlehem, for being a beacon of light and hope in the city of New Orleans.
Originally premiered by the ELCA in a four-part series of “Talks at the Desk” during Black History Month on February 17, 2022.