The Missouri District of the LCMS
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District Mission Emphasis for 2012-2015:

660 Mason Ridge Center Drive
Suite 100
St. Louis, MO 63141
Ph: 314.590.6200
Fax: 314.590.6201

Bethlehem Lutheran Church

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A virgin birth? God's Son dying on a cross to pay for our sins? God raising His Son from the dead on Easter? The world says these things are impossible. Our God said, "Why not?" People said the rotted out housing of Hyde Park, St. Louis, could not be rejuvenated, but God said, "Why not!" The world said people could not flourish in that neighborhood, but God said, "Why not?"

Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Salisbury Park, North St. Louis, exudes creative ministry. When a ministry, community program, Bible study, etc. …
begins, it is with the needs of the community in mind and how best to reach them with the Gospel.

They are working on opening a charter school with a Christian after-school program. This is not feasible for many, but was the right path for them to pursue. After three years of waiting, they will know soon if they have permission and can start in the fall. The community is excited about the possibility of the school. Others are wondering if it's possible to keep the two entities separate: a public charter school and a Christian after-school program. Rev. John Schmidtke is confident.

The current after-school program, Bethlehem Bible Outreach, or BBO, has had an amazing, positive impact on the community. There are 80-90 children who come every Wednesday and learn about God. For more than half, that's their church for the week. They don't come on Sunday, and no one else in their house goes to church either. In January, they discussed "resolutions," including New Year's resolutions they had made, resolutions they make to God, and also God's resolutions, or promises, to them.

On Thursdays, there is a Bible meeting with worship, Bible study and lots of prayer: a great time of Christian celebration for the congregation.

A new ministry at Bethlehem is its monthly marriage meeting. DCC, Deeply Connected Couples, allows participants lots of interaction where communication is fostered between and within the couples. This is not a pre-packaged program, rather they discuss things the couples face and try to get conversations started, but they keep it short, so the couples keep talking outside the meeting. When Rev. Schmidtke came to Bethlehem in 1989, he and his wife were the only young couple. Now there are a dozen attending this class, some engaged, some married, some not, but all wanting to get instruction about God's idea of marriage. One example of a lesson is GFP: Guard, Focus, Pray. Guarding eyes and ears from things that are not God-pleasing. Focusing on your spouse. Praying with and for each other.

Sports has been an incredible blessing to Bethlehem and the community. Basketball is used as outreach. The four teams include a grade school team, a seventh and eighth grade team, and two high school teams. As the athletes go up the ladder, they eventually have to be in church every Sunday to be on the team. Most team members come because they know the church has a gym, they have heard about the team from others, or possibly they got in trouble at their school and can't play there, but still want to participate in sports. Before every practice there is a Bible study and every week during the season, which runs November through March, they are in church, learning about salvation.

Every year, there are about 10 confirmations or baptisms of high school students, plus a few parents. All three coaches were once athletes themselves. This ongoing ministry brings people to Christ and creates leaders.

Better Living Communities is a housing project the congregation worked with to help redevelop the neighborhood and build new low income housing units, including single-family homes and renovated apartments. This is not a project most churches would undertake, but renovation and restoration is what this community needed.

Some members of the congregation recently went on a mission trip to Uganda.

Worship at Bethlehem could be described as creative. While it is distinctively Lutheran, it is done a little differently than in many other Lutheran churches.

Sometimes creativity comes by way of editing materials to fit what the community needs. For example, VBS curriculum is adapted to fit the urban setting. Whatever the project or resource, it is used to make sure the ultimate goal is being met, and that is people meeting Christ.

Bethlehem has been blessed with the partnership it has with sister churches in the area. The congregations get to trade ideas and sometimes worship with each other.

Rev. Schmidtke encourages churches to be creative. "It doesn't cost a lot of money," he said, "but it's an investment in people. Small congregations can be creative, if they are committed."

Schmidtke continues, "You have to have the courage to think outside-the-box, and not just for the sake of being creative, but to ask, ‘Where are the people at? How are you going to meet them? What is important and meaningful to them but will also impart Christ?'"