Each year our Program Administrator at Bethany Lutheran Church and School, Naperville, Illinois, Donna Linnemeyer, writes a year end wrap-up of what went on in our parish. It is one of the feature articles in our special Christmas/New Year News and Notes that gets handed out at all the holiday services. This year she decided to write it from a different angle – “Who are we as a parish?” I share it with you because I am proud of what a good piece of lay theology it is. It is a reflection of what we preach and teach at Bethany. I share it also, as a model for a program for a confessional congregation.
Bethany Lutheran Church and School – Who are We? By Donna Linnemeyer
Who are We? We are a congregation of sinners who belong to a church that offers the pure word of God, teaches us about God’s law and gospel and sends us out into the world with the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life in Jesus Christ.
We are traditional Lutherans and take pride in our biblical heritage. We cherish our Catechism because it teaches us about God’s Word, and our faith and gives us instructions on how to live as Lutheran Christians. We don’t try to entice people to our church with new trends or feel-good sermons. The “good” in our sermons is the gospel which is delivered each week, along with the law that shows us our need for a savior. At Bethany we believe that Jesus’ body and blood are really present in Holy Communion. This sacred meal is shared by confirmed members of Bethany and other Missouri Synod Lutherans who also share the understanding of the real presence.
Who We Are – Teaching the Faith. At Bethany we study the Bible on Sunday morning and almost every other day of the week as well. We use the LifeLight bible studies to give us study and fellowship opportunities. Our men meet two Saturdays per month for study and breakfast. Our Lutheran Women’s Missionary League studies the Bible at their monthly meetings and our high school youth have bible studies at the local ice cream shop. Pastor Rossow has been teaching a Book of Concord/Lutheran Confessions study on Tuesday evenings for many years.
The children of our parish are taught about God weekly in Sunday School and daily in our Day School. We prepare our children for confirmation through bible study classes for sixth graders and catechism classes for seventh and eighth graders. We have organized fellowship activities for our kids starting in fourth grade. We also sponsor several scouting groups for our children.
Our Day School is our most important ministry, next to the preaching and teaching of God’s word. We have about 260 students in our grade school which includes children in preschool through grade eight. We are proud that our school has remained strong during this time of falling enrollments in parochial schools. We attribute this to God blessing us with a supportive congregation and a wonderful staff. Our teachers have outstanding credentials but, more importantly, are godly, devoted servants to this congregation and its children. Bethany has a high quality fine arts program and has a reputation as an outstanding volleyball school.
Who We Are – The Divine Service and Music. We love to praise God in song and so we have a glorious and active music program that allows for members of all ages to participate. We have children’s choirs in our day school and also for all children of the parish. We have a growing bell choir that plays regularly during worship. Our Proclaim choir welcomes members from high school age and upward. We have a brass group that adds a special sound to many of our worship services, especially on festival days. Bethany members add glory to our worship services with instrumental and vocal music at most of our services. Our members have been blessed with musical talents that range from the basic to the extraordinarily gifted and they are guided by our Cantor, assistant Cantor and our full-time band director.
At Bethany we celebrate the major festivals of the church year such as Christmas and Easter and we are also increasing our celebration of the other festivals throughout the church year. We are increasingly using the church year festivals as the vehicle for congregational fellowship. We have a special worship service on Epiphany and also come together for worship and celebration on Ascension. During Advent and Lent we worship together each Wednesday evening at 7:15 p.m. Soup Suppers during Lent help to ease our mealtime schedules and give us time to enjoy the company of our fellow members. This year we served Cookies and Milk before our Advent services to relax and share some seasonal sweets. This season’s Epiphany service is on Thursday, January 6 at 6:45, followed by an International Dessert reception.
Who We Are – Enjoying Each Other’s Company. We members of Bethany really enjoy each other’s company and we relish our social time together. Each Sunday, volunteers prepare coffee and pastries to enjoy before and during our bible study hour. We have a big church and school picnic each year and have two large food and fun events with games and activities each year that are organized by our Evangelism/Assimilation and Member Care groups. A group of our school parents has started a wonderful tradition of planning a fundraising Auction that has grown in success each year. We are always ready to find new ways to socialize and last year we had our first Fish Fry during Lent. Aside from the organized fellowship events, our members build friendships with each other that grow stronger year after year.
Our high school youth have regular activities and participate in the excellent Higher Things conferences each year where they study, worship and have fun with other Lutheran teens. To raise money for their trip, they run our annual Garage Sale each June. This entire congregation pitches in with this project, donating goods, pricing, staffing and shopping at the sale. Our youth also do service projects for members and the community throughout the year.
Who We Are – Caring for Each Other and the Community. Bethany members care for each other through both organized programs and through subtle, one-on-one interactions. We make meals for each other during times of illness or sadness and find rides for those who need to get to church or the doctor. We rejoice in shared news of births and achievements and we mourn together when God takes one of us from this earthly life. We have gently placed members back on their feet and have also upheld and sustained members whose needs exceed their means for longer periods of time. Our Benevolent Fund takes in and distributes thousands of dollars each year from members who help other members anonymously. We also assist families with school tuition during difficult times.
Bethany church and school members also help those outside of our parish through food drives, coat drives and door offerings. Our school children fund special needs through their chapel offerings and our LWML ladies tend to the needs of the homeless. Bethany supports CareNet Pregnancy centers and Habitat for Humanity within the immediate community.
Who We Are – Growing the Kingdom. Bethany members have a heart for missions and we have helped to spread the Gospel to all corners of the world. See the map in this newsletter that shows the areas we touched this year. In past years we funded a church building in Russia and supported an orphanage in Madagascar. In addition to sending funds to Lutheran churches throughout the world, we have sent our own workers to teach church workers in parts of Africa. Bethany sent hymnals and our Cantor to the Congo this fall so that the people there could better use and understand the Lutheran Service Book. One of our most enjoyable mission efforts is to bring new members into our own congregation.
Each summer we focus our efforts on Vacation Bible School for our children and for the children in the community. This effort is financially supported in part by our Ladies Guild though their annual Crafters Paradise event. This past year our VBS week also included a Creation Camp for older children. Our hope is that they be equipped with clear biblical teachings in preparation for the barrage of secular teachings that might lie in their educational futures.
Who We Are – Doing Things in Good Order with Loads of Volunteers. We do things in good order at Bethany and continue to be governed by the structure that was set forth in the Constitution and Bylaws that were approved in 2005. We have a Voters Assembly that is the ultimate deliberative body in the congregation. Officers and board members oversee the spiritual and temporal matters of the congregation and all matters of importance are decided by the Assembly. At our most recent meeting, over 100 members attended a Sunday afternoon meeting, listening to reports, voting on issues and electing new leaders.
Our church has an outstanding staff and an outstanding roster of volunteers. Each weekend over 60 members volunteer as ushers, acolytes, Sunday School teachers, building openers, sacristans, communion preparation and clean up volunteers, welcome hosts, greeters, counters, coffee makers, snow shovelers, and more. That number increases when our choirs and musicians perform. During the week, our board members meet, our properties volunteers work, our Guild members make preparations, our classroom volunteers come in, our coaches get busy, the musicians practice, our prayer chain operates and more activities go on behind the scenes.
Who Are We? The members of Bethany range in age from newborns to our oldest member, Bertha Mengedoth, who turned 104 on August 1. We come from all walks of life and all areas of the world. We live in Naperville and in towns all across this metropolitan area. Many of our members drive great distances to attend a church that has traditional worship services and pure biblical teachings. Some of our members are new to the community and new to Bethany and some of our members have attended here since birth. To most of us, Bethany is our church home and we pray that we will always find God’s Word and the forgiveness of sins inside these familiar walls.