95 Years of Social Justice
SERVING GOD THROUGH SERVING OUR NEIGHBOR
St. Paul Lutheran Church of Teaneck & Social Justice
Celebrating 95 years of our congregation!
Our congregation has sponsored refugees immigrating to our country, helping them with housing, acclimating to life here, finding a job, clothing, English, food, etc:
In the 1950’s, Miklos and Attilla – 2 brothers from Hungary who came after the Hungarian uprising.
In the 1970’s, Mr. and Mrs. Ban and their daughter, from Viet Nam, via Thailand.
In 1992, we partnered with Grace Lutheran Church of Teaneck to sponsor the Melkumov family from Russia, housing them in our parsonage for 7 months while we were without a pastor, till they moved to an apartment.
We have served our needy neighbors since the 1980’s through Family Promise of Bergen County (formerly the Inter-Religious Fellowship for the Homeless of Bergen County) through many of its volunteer programs:
Emergency Family Shelter
Peter’s Place Shelter
Providing Lunch for Summer Camp “Lots-Of-Fun”
Stocking Pantries of Transitional Apartments
Hygiene and Cleaning Supplies
Sold House Pins
Invited Clients to Congregational Meals
In the early 1960’s, the large Sunday School used a “Hi Neighbor” series to learn about people in another country each week, and emphasizing our responsibility as their neighbor, in response to the question asked to Jesus, “But who is my neighbor?” Sunday School children put coins into a special box during their own birthday week, to raise money to help children overseas.
In the 1970’s, our church nationwide and here in Teaneck began a greater emphasis on the work of the church at large, and we began a dedicated support of the World Hunger Drive in our monthly offerings at that time. Since the head of Lutheran World Relief was a member in our congregation since 1950, our congregation had learned of relief and development work even before this emphasis.
Throughout the decades, our Church Women’s Group (Lutheran Church Women = “LCW”; then Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America = “WELCA”) studied, discussed and acted on Justice Issues. They packed up and donated many hygiene kits and school kits for Lutheran World Relief to distribute to people in the poorest countries of the world. Our congregation continues this effort in some years, organized by the Social Ministries Committee.
In 1973, our Church Council voted to open our facilities to the Teaneck Alternative High School for its classes and home base throughout its inaugural year. While having a pre-school in the building was one thing, an alternative high school was perceived as more controversial, and much discussion and debate ensued. The motion passed narrowly at a special congregation meeting. This began a special ministry of the congregation of opening our facilities to groups that may not be welcome elsewhere. During the 1980’s these included people with HIV/AIDS through NJ Buddies, a Transgender group, and we were only the second congregation in the state to welcome Narcotics Anonymous.
We have been collecting food for the Center for Food Action at least since the 1980’s. This organization has grown to provide additional assistance to our needy neighbors on top of the food, such as connecting them with numerous government assistance programs, health care, and other help, but our food donations are still so vital to the wellbeing of its clients. Over the last decade or more, we have especially focused on this for “Souperbowl Sunday” and July “Can-Can Sundays”, besides collecting all year.
Beginning in 1985, we welcomed NJ Buddies to use our facilities for their office, training site and fundraising activities. This unique organization was set up to educate and train families and friends of people living with HIV/AIDS to be caregivers. We preceded this with educational opportunities for the congregation and pre-school to learn about HIV/AIDS, including how it is, and is not, spread. From the start, our Pastor Bruce Davidson was the group’s most active spiritual advisor, and a number of our congregation members participated in the training to be “buddies”. While the organization has moved on to its own headquarters, we continue to support and participate in their events, food pantry and other efforts.
In the 1980’s, the Social Ministries Committee first invited the congregation to participate in letterwriting – first on behalf of Prisoners of Conscience through Amnesty International, then in solidarity with hungry people through Bread for the World, and finally through ELCA Advocacy opportunities. We continue letterwriting to our elected officials today.
Social Statements – Throughout the years our congregation has studied, discussed, and made official comments on proposed ELCA Social Statements, before they were voted on by Churchwide Assemblies – a practice we hope to continue into the future.
In 1988, we collected 200 pounds of clothing for the World Church Appeal!
Our congregation started providing Walk In Dinners in the 1980’s, and have been providing two, and now three each year ever since, first through the Inter-Religious Fellowship for the Homeless of Bergen County, and now through Family Promise of Bergen County (same organization, new name). The numbers of participants has grown, starting in the 60’s to the 150’s today, but our meals continue to be delicious!
In the late1980’s, we first co-hosted a week of the Inter-Religious Fellowship for the Homeless of Bergen County’s Emergency Family Shelter, with the Teaneck Presbyterian Church. We continued co-hosting each year with various other congregations or organizations, and now help supply volunteers for this Family Shelter when it is housed at St. Anastasia’s Roman Catholic Church in Teaneck three weeks each year, through Family Promise of Bergen County.
During the early 1990’s, we collected Christmas presents in answer to letters to Santa Claus written by the children in the Lutheran Home for Children in Jersey City, and our youth group accompanied Santa for the delivery. None of the children even seemed to notice the year a woman played the role of Santa Claus. These children had been removed from their homes for their own safety, sometimes with only the clothes they were wearing. Receiving presents that were all theirs was a very special gift, but nothing compared to the gift they gave to us all by their genuine reactions! Later, we started a quilting group to make quilts for the children in the Lutheran Home for Children. We also gave summer camp scholarships, and invited the children to visit us for a picnic.
Environment – We have encouraged recycling and other means to protect God’s creation since at least the 1990’s.
In 1999, our local Women of the ELCA group sponsored a series of three Anti-Racism Workshops, presented by one pastor and one layperson. That pastor later became our congregation’s pastor in 2006 – Pastor Gary LeCroy.
In 2000-2001 we helped sponsor a Missionary family serving St. Andrew’s Congregation in Cairo, Egypt: Pastor David & Karla Grafton, and their children Andrew, Rebekah and Danielle. Our relationship included regular correspondence and our donations to their work.
Following the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001, we gathered together for a special evening service, and collected donations for both the Red Cross and the ELCA Disaster Relief Fund. In less than 24 hours we collected $2,200 and a van full of water, blankets and food.
In 2002, we voted at our Congregational Meeting to become a Reconciling In Christ Congregation (“RIC”), officially declaring that we encourage and expect the full participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. We preceded this vote with discussion and question and answer opportunities following services. It was noted at that time this would be a way to show on our outside, what we already were on our inside - putting into writing what we had been living ever since hosting NJ Buddies, First Tuesday Group, and the Transgender Group. We continue to declare this welcome today, both through our word and action, and officially welcome it most years with an official Welcoming Sunday/Reconciling in Christ Sunday.
In the early 2000’s our quilting group made quilts for Lutheran World Relief to give to people around the world facing disaster. How wonderful to receive a handmade personal gift like this at a time of having lost one’s home and livelihood – to feel the care of others far away!
Have served and sold Fair Trade coffee since 2004, and sold Fair Trade chocolate since 2003, while promoting fair trade choices at the grocery store whenever possible, to encourage human rights and to protect workers, children and the environment from damaging practices encouraged by other forms of trade. In the mid-2010’s we were part of Fair Trade Teaneck Steering Committee, promoting fair trade options around town and encouraging faith communities to celebrate an annual Fair Trade Sabbath.
In summer 2005, the Social Ministries Committee led the Summer Courtyard Vespers Services while we were without a pastor, followed by a weekly video and discussion on a variety of social justice issues.
Immigrant Detention Center in Elizabeth – We have been learning about the plight of the immigrants held in the Detention Center in Elizabeth since 2005. In time we participated in the annual October gathering, “Yearning to Breathe Free”, hosted vigils in front of the building, invited guest speakers to our services, and collected letterwriting materials and postage for “Stamp Out Despair”, to enable detainees to communicate with family and friends. While we had heard of some improvements in the past, now the detainees are kept in four county prisons across the state, including in Bergen County, where they are at risk from the rest of the prison population. 2020 has added Covid 19 exposure to the risks they face in prison.
In 2007 Social Ministries Committee presented “Stewards of Our Soles”, encouraging congregation members to honor God’s amazing gift of the human body by increasing our physical activity. We walked as a group following church service, and on our own throughout the week.
In March 2007 we first used Eco-Palms for Palm Sunday – palms that are harvested in an environmentally sustainable way by people paid a fair price. We were featured in The Record and The County Seat newspapers.
Since 2010, we have co-hosted the Transgender Day of Remembrance Candle light Vigil Ceremony together with Pathways Transgender Group. Each year we honor transgender people and their allies who were killed over the past year, and look ahead to a day such ceremonies will no longer be necessary.
For at least the last seven years, our congregation has supported the NJ Synod’s Peace Ministry of the Bosnia International Servant Trip, bringing together children of that war-torn country of different backgrounds for a day of fun and learning – for many, the only chance they get to interact. Young adults and teachers are also trained in ways to continue this effort for peace. Wayne Olsen has usually represented our congregation on this trip, Pastor Gary LeCroy and his nephew, Jake, joined him in 2018, and Barbara Bernstengel joined him in 2019.
Most years our congregation raises donations to support the ELCA’s churchwide ministries of Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, World Hunger, Good Gifts as well as its special several year emphases such as HIV/AIDS or Malaria. Often, we promote one of these throughout Lent or Advent, or as a special need arises. For 12 months throughout 2017-2018, we held up the ELCA World Hunger Program for a special emphasis 12 months in a row, so we could all learn more about the breadth of the special work it does. In 2019, we added writing out Christmas cards for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to give to immigrant detainees in our own country.
Over the last few years, we have celebrated ELCA God’s Work Our Hands Sunday in a variety of ways, including a clothing collection for Straight & Narrow addictions healing ministry in Paterson, collecting donations for Center for Food Action outside a supermarket, and a picnic for residents of Wanaque Nursing Home.
We support Grace Lutheran Church’s Haiti Pack-a-thon with several volunteers each year. So many nourishing lunches are packed for students of a school in Haiti that that congregation supports.
In 2012-2015, we participated in the ELCA’s four-year fight against malaria in 14 African nations. The fight is still ongoing, but this nation-wide effort exceeded its $15,000,000 goal.
From 2014-2017, we hosted several Iftar Dinners to celebrate breaking Ramadan fast, and one Thanksgiving Dinner, with Peace Island Institute. We were so thankful for this chance to fellowship again with our Muslim neighbors. In 2001 we had visited the Muslim Mosque in Teaneck for discussion and to interact. Over the years our congregation has also invited members of the mosque to speak to our adult or youth Sunday school classes.
In 2016, we distributed “Mail In Voting” request forms, for the congregation to bring to people who find it difficult or inconvenient to get out to vote. For many years announcements during service have included encouragement to vote in local and national elections.
In 2016 and 2017, we took residents of Brightside Manor out to the movies for a fun social outing.
Thrivent's Feed Northeast 2018 Competition in which our chosen charity became one of only three recipients of a $500 grant by being among the first to collect at least 500 individual food items for a food pantry during the month of October. Our final tally of items was 681!! Both the food and the grant were donated to the Center for Food Action.
Collections for the ELCA World Hunger's Good Gifts Program have boosted our World Hunger giving. In 2015, our Lenten Campaign provided water purification tablets and cisterns in Africa. In 2016-2018, our Advent Campaigns, through God's Global Barnyard, donated three Family Farms as well as many individual animals, seeds and gardening tools. We also participated in the Bishop's Challenge, which ran between the 2018-2019 assemblies, to donate cows.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Our 2016 Lenten campaign raised money to help Syrian refugees.
Our 2019 Advent Campaign was for the refugees coming into America, being caged and families being separated.
In 2016 we participated in A Billion Acts of Green, joining our worldwide family in protecting planet Earth and securing a sustainable future by pledging to do something to improve our environment.
2020 has been an unusual year in many ways. The need for donations to support people in need has grown by leaps and bounds due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Video of police killing unarmed people of color has brought the sin of Racism to the forefront of our consciousness and consciences. Our congregation is asking God to guide us to discern our role to help transform our society. We are reading and discussing a book to get started. Since our congregation has moved out of our building, into first one and then another Lutheran congregation’s building, then on to the internet via “Zoom”, and in the nicer weather temporarily in our parking lot while still on Zoom, we have continued with most of our Social Ministries plans, but in new and different ways. A new congregational relationship with “Never Alone Again” in Teaneck and its weekly food/baby supplies give-away started this year, and the congregation has been donating diapers, wipes and other items. The Congregation of St. Paul continues to serve God through serving our neighbors near and far.