Featured Stories, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Serving, simply and sustainably

Volunteerism isn’t just for retirees anymore. Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC), which includes people ages 21 and over, is a faith-based organization experiencing growth. A difficult job market for new college graduates may be one factor in the growing interest in volunteering. Another is the community organizing background of the current occupant of the White House, who has a stated commitment to volunteerism.

Kyle Broadnax’s LVC placement is Kaleidoscope, an after-school ministry started by Messiah and Our Saviour’s Lutheran churches in Minneapolis. Here Broadnax shares laughs with a participant. Photos provided by Lutheran Volunteers Corps

LVC looks for people with skills and a passion to share them, says Susanne Waldorf, LVC’s city coordinator in the Twin Cities.

Twenty-two LVC members are working in the Twin Cities in a variety of settings. They’re motivated by the struggles of this world: poverty, illness, racism, injustice and other oppressions. Their commitment lies in building community, working for social justice, and engaging in a simple, sustainable lifestyle.

This year, Waldorf noted, there are 124 LVC members nationally, serving in 13 cities. The goal for next year is 150 volunteers in 16 cities.

Volunteers sign on for a one-year commitment. The minimum age is 21, but there’s no upper age limit. People of all ages are welcomed into the program. Volunteers live together in low- to middle-income, racially diverse neighborhoods. Many work in the neighborhood where they live.

Organizations where the volunteers work pay for housing, utilities, food, travel, and transportation as well as medical insurance. Volunteers receive a personal stipend of $100 per month and two weeks of vacation. The volunteers generally live together in households of four to seven people.

LVC grew out of a practical need by the congregation’s social ministry program.

As city coordinator for the Twin Cities, Waldorf works out of an office in Christ English Lutheran Church on the north side of Minneapolis. Susanne was a volunteer in 2001-2003, serving one year in Wilmington, Delaware, and a second year in Washington, D.C. Her responsibilities here include program planning for volunteers, retreats, and spiritual development. She also seeks to build relationships with organizations interested in LVC. In addition, she works with a local support committee, plans fund-raisers, organizes social events and outings for volunteers, and stocks pantries for LVC households.

The Lutheran Volunteer Corps connects volunteers with agencies that serve the public good

LVC was founded in 1979 at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, D.C. That congregation had a homeless shelter but couldn’t afford to pay staff to increase the shelter capacity. So, LVC grew out of a practical need by the congregation’s social ministry program. It is now an independent organization governed by a national board of directors. It is a member of Lutheran Services in America and an affiliated social ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as well as being a Reconciling in Christ member.

Funding for LVC comes from contributions by individuals, congregations, and organizations receiving a volunteer placement.

Joint Religious Legislative Coalition advocacy associate Rachel Herzfeldt-Kamprath, second from right, convinced her LVC housemates Kristen Freed, Lauren Fulner, and Margaret Zimmerman to participate in her placement agency’s Day on the Hill.

Volunteer households commit to creating a spiritually-centered activity together once a month. They discuss and learn from one another’s spiritual experiences, challenges, and questions. While half of the volunteers come from Lutheran backgrounds, the remainder come from other Christian denominations, as well as Buddhism and Judaism. Some do not identify with a particular tradition. Religious affiliation is not a requirement for participation or in selecting placements.

What kind of impact has the LVC experience had on its participants?

Here are some reactions:

Elizabeth Lienesch, a current volunteer with TakeAction Minnesota, said, “Before I started Lutheran Volunteer Corps, I believed I held a set of values that were inherent to me, that were permanent and unchanging. LVC has shown me that I was wrong. Values, I have learned, need to be practiced, worked on, lived out. Living simply in intentional community and working for structural change has challenged, strengthened, and changed the way I see the world and my relationships with other people.”

Ben Masters, a current volunteer with Open Arms of Minnesota, explained, “Intentional community is the heart of my LVC experience, where ‘showing up’ and knowing love are interconnected. When I show up for dinner, or to do my chores, or for a conversation — when I’m present, not holding back — love as a kind of trust, and as a kind of grace, can flourish. Sometimes, in the discipline of being fully present, there are moments when love bursts on the scene and letting another person shine becomes the most natural thing I can do. Because at a basic level I have known love for my housemates. I can continue to show up having faith that intentional community is worth the difficulties and uncertainties that also accompany community life.”

LVCer Michelle Oyakawa, works as a congregational organizer with ISAIAH, an ecumenical community organization in Minnesota.

Rebecca Westermeyer, a LVC alumna currently with Lutheran Community Foundation, added: “I remember my dad saying to me during my LVC year something to the effect of, ‘It’ll be interesting to see years from now what learnings you take away from this year.’ Eleven years later I’m still learning and benefiting from my year as an LVC volunteer. It planted seeds of questioning and wrestling with how to work for justice, live simply, build community, and grow in faith. The questioning and wrestling continues, as do the roots of my commitment. And I do have LVC to thank for that.”

An LVC board member in the Twin Cities, Karmi Mattson, observed, “Serving on LVC’s Board of Directors has been a way for me to continue my service to the organization at a higher level and in a different way than I have in the past. It’s a great way to give back to the organization and ensure that it continues its mission to unite people of faith to work for peace with justice. It’s a way to be involved with strategic decisions about LVC’s future.

“We are always looking for new board members, particularly those who represent congregations with whom LVC is in relationship — be it as a congregation that provides direct support to our volunteers in an LVC city, or as a congregation in a non-LVC city that provides financial support to the LVC program. We seek board members with skills in any of the following areas: administrative, financial, theological, fund-raising, program, legal, personnel management or human relations, organizational development, computer technology, and public relations.”

Persons or congregations interested in board service should contact Karmi Anna Mattson, LVC’s vice president and chairperson of the board development and nominations committee, at LVCKarmi @yahoo.com or 612/382-9494. Additional information about LVC is available from Susanne Waldorf at 612/529-2945 or e-mail to TwinCities@Lutheran VolunteerCorps.org. The Web site contains added information at www.LutheranVolunteerCorps.org.

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