There was a time that Christ Lutheran Church in Harrisburg had multiple orchestras. A couple of years ago, I found boxes of music by John Phillip Sousa while cleaning out a closet. Along with the dusty arrangements were programs for fundraiser concerts and smorgasbords and pictures from the middle of the last century of the movers and shakers of Harrisburg in evening gowns and suits dining in the fellowship hall. Those church folk were deeply invested in their church and community. They had just completed an ambitious capital campaign and greatly expanded the size of the church, adding new offices for the pastors, vast halls, and classrooms. I’m certain few of them could imagine the next generation of the church would look so different, the Sousa marches packed away with the fine china and silverware.
Now those classrooms have been converted to a dental clinic, with beautiful new picture windows replacing the crumbling originals, thanks to the support of Derry Presbyterian Church. The pastor’s study is now a prenatal clinic for women without health insurance. The previous generation of the church invested in hope for the future of the church, but they could not imagine what that future would hold. So much changed in our culture, in our city, and in our neighborhood.
On our 130th anniversary, Christ Lutheran Church has about 2,000 fewer members than we did a century ago, yet the church continues to invest in hope and to be a place where our neighbors in the region’s most economically challenged community come to invest in their own hopes: for healing, for pathways to wellbeing. While thousands of members no longer fill our church rolls, every year 22,000 patients fill our clinics, hundreds of patients receive dental care, dozens of women meet with a doctor throughout their pregnancies.
Our dental clinic provides free emergent care, doing primarily extractions and fillings. A few years ago, a woman came to our church to see a dentist. She was in excruciating pain. She had severe cavities in most of her teeth, having never seen a dentist. She needed to have 20 teeth extracted. I told the dentist, “I’m glad we can help people with this kind of emergency care, but we should also help people keep their teeth.” This year Derry partnered with our church and the United Way to make improvements on the Dental Clinic so we could bring in Oral Hygiene Students from Harrisburg Area Community College to provide free teeth cleanings, so we are providing preventative care in addition to emergent care.
Because of our Health Ministries, and the partners like Derry Church who invest in hope by joining our mission, Christ Lutheran Church continues to be a spiritual home for many. Our mission provides us the opportunity to worship as well as the reason to worship. We see God’s healing taking place and we get together to praise God for God’s faithfulness and give thanks we get to be a part of it. Derry Church has not only invested in the missional work of our church but the spiritual and community life as well. The Derry Brass filled our beautiful sanctuary with vibrant music. The puppet ministry came and not only performed a great show but fed the congregation as well, serving up a full community event. In the audience that day was a family that had just arrived as refugees from Nigeria. The three young boys sat in the front row with huge smiles on their faces, smiles which were a result of Derry’s investment in hope.
Investing in God’s hope is a bold and brave investment to make, for God’s hopes are always far beyond our expectations and imaginations. God’s hopes are not for us alone but for the whole world. God’s hopes benefit the poor and the suffering most of all. As you invest in hope, the only certainty we have about the future in which we invest is that God will be a part of it and to God be the glory.