Three small New York congregations sponsored a simultaneous “Harvesters for Christ” event in May — the first time more than one congregation has sponsored more than one team of Harvesters trainers in the eight-year history of the outreach-equipping program that has involved more than 100 Synod congregations over the years.
But, “even more important than the historical significance,” says Harvesters Director Al Tormoehlen, “their example sets a model for other small congregations that could well band together and sponsor other Harvesters equipping sessions.”
Harvesters teams are trained volunteers — active or retired church workers and lay people “with a passion for the lost,” as Tormoehlen puts it. “They are available to work with congregations, presenting as many as 12 modules over a three- to four-week period to help those congregations enhance their outreach potential.”
Harvesters teams receive their training at an annual session in St. Louis. This year’s training event is set for later this month. Congregations hosting Harvesters teams usually agree to provide for the “room, board, travel assistance, and supplies” of teams serving them.
A grant from the Marvin M. Schwan Charitable Foundation also supports the Harvesters program.
The three New York congregations — about 15 miles from each other and within half an hour’s drive of Rochester, in the Synod’s Eastern District — are St. Mark Lutheran Church, Mendon; St. Mark, West Henrietta; and Epiphany, Avon.
Rev. Brian Smith, pastor of St. Mark, Mendon, told Reporter that representatives of all three churches have been “meeting regularly” as follow-up to the training event, “pursuing further evangelism training.”
“From the Harvesters,” Smith said, “we’ve learned that we have already been equipped with the Gospel to carry out the work of being evangelists. What we didn’t know was how God was using us with our own particular gifts and abilities. We also learned about our spiritual gifts as providing an opportunity for the rubber of faith to meet the road of Christian living.”
Smith also said the Harvesters training helped members appreciate “side-door efforts” such as church-sponsored booths at local civic events “as a genuine part of our ministry and mission, especially as we work to make them intentional outreach opportunities.”
“The three weeks of training and discussions highlighted many ways the three churches could reach out to and serve their communities,” said Dick Krause, a member of the Mendon congregation and an event organizer. “It was successful in networking the three churches and providing encouragement for serving.”
“I see a renewed enthusiasm among members for canvassing and outreach in our area as a result of the ‘Harvesters’ experience,” said Clayton Zuber, a student in the Synod’s Distance Education Leading to Ordination program who assists with pastoral duties at Epiphany, Avon. “It definitely gave some of our members a jump start.”
Rev. Larry Gerdes of St. Mark, West Henrietta, compared the experience to a “spiritual buffet” strengthening the congregations for outreach.
To mark the end of the May 7-27 Harvesters training, the three churches joined together May 29 for a “Harvest Celebration” at an area farm — with hay rides, an open-air worship service with bales of hay as pews, and a potluck meal. More than 60 members of the churches received certificates to signify that they had completed the Harvesters training.
For more information about Harvesters for Christ — about serving as an outreach-training team or a sponsoring congregation — click here or contact Tormoehlen at (800) 248-1930, Ext. 1287 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted July 18, 2005