Lutherans in the Twin Cities

‘A time to rend, and a time to sew’

While most churches largely focus their capital campaigns on projects that stay within the church walls, Normandale Lutheran Church is in the fifth year of a mission and ministry campaign in which 70 percent of the dollars raised will go out into the world. The campaign designated funds be set aside specifically for an ethnic congregation, leading Normandale to a partnership with St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, a congregation with a large Latino membership.

The women of St. Paul’s sewing collective work on red vests for the ELCA churchwide assembly held in Minneapolis in August 2009.

The women of St. Paul’s sewing collective work on red vests for the ELCA churchwide assembly held in Minneapolis in August 2009.

Through the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Rev. Dale Howard, pastor of mission, outreach, and congregational care at Normandale Lutheran Church, located in Edina, Minnesota, connected with the Rev. Luisa Hansel, a pastor at St. Paul’s.

To help immigrant Latina women find a sense of community, Pastor Luisa had begun a sewing ministry in her congregation. The women learned basic sewing techniques and were then able to take home a small amount of income for their families.

Hansel says projects, like the women’s sewing group, are created in immigrant congregations as a way to unify people. “When immigrants come to the U.S., they don’t speak the language. They have no rights. Their self-esteem goes down,” she explained. However, through their sewing ministry the women are able to offer a skill, giving them a level of pride. “When they create beautiful things, people see that,” she said.

Impressed by the sewing ministry, Howard worked with the church council at Normandale to make this group the beneficiary of the congregation’s mission funding for an ethnic congregation. Through its partnership with Normandale, the women’s sewing ministry at St. Paul’s began to make baptismal cloaks and napkins. During each baptism at Normandale, the sewing group is recognized as the congregation’s baptismal partners.

The women learned basic sewing techniques and were then able to take home a small amount of income for their families.

The partnership with Normandale has not only given this group of immigrant women a small and steady stream of income, but also the confidence to bid on the much larger task of preparing several hundred vests for the volunteers at the ELCA churchwide assembly last summer.

The women of the sewing collective were given the patterns and an opportunity to bid out the project. They submitted the winning bid and quickly went to work fund-raising through a tamale sale to pay for the sewing machines and fabric necessary to take on the project. Since the vest project was the largest sewing job they’d ever undertaken, the team developed a plan to divide up the tasks in order to create the hundreds of vests needed for assembly volunteers.

Lynne Moratzka, a volunteer at the churchwide assembly, worked closely with the group of women. She said of the experience, “To work with these lovely, immigrant women was an honor and reminded me that all of us come from an immigrant experience. The challenges of language, earning an income, and finding our place and voice in America has not changed. Neither has the role of the churches in helping immigrants — thank goodness.”

Finding a connection

The partnership with Normandale has given the women in the sewing group at St. Paul’s opportunities that have enriched their lives. And Pastor Howard says the partnership has, in return, enriched the lives of Normandale’s members. Howard says mission-based relationships, such as that between Normandale and St. Paul’s, “allow us to see each other as fellow members of the body of Christ and help us understand we are part of the universal church.”

The partnership between the two congregations has done more than bring steady work to the Latina women of St. Paul’s and baptismal clothes to Normandale’s newest members. It also took these partner congregations to Peru, where they met with Pastor Dana Nelson, a missionary pastor from the United States who serves the Peruvian Lutheran Church.

“It was absolutely amazing to see the women who went to Peru with Luisa and observe her in seeing them,” Pastor Howard said. “All three groups enriched each other’s lives.”

Howard believes the connections among all three congregations mutually benefit each other. “Maybe through this connection we can do something together. There is an evangelist piece to this, as well — to Peru, to St. Paul’s, to the greater Edina community. This transforms lives.”

During the month of January, Normandale Lutheran will celebrate Christian mission and outreach. Hansel will be the guest preacher on January 24.

To learn more about opportunities to work with the women’s sewing group at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, contact Hansel at luisacreate@aol.com.

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