Our History, Mission and Objectives
Concordia Lutheran Church, a small, urban congregation of some 60 families, enacts its faith in Jesus Christ through vital ministries directed not only to our members, but also to the community around us. Concordia Lutheran Church created the ministry of Concordia Avondale Campus out of its belief that the vitality of the Christian community is rooted in its outreach to the larger community through education and service. Our congregation first responded to community need over 25 years ago with a core philosophy to support working families through high-quality programs—regardless of a family’s income.
This ministry started in 1981 when three single mothers from a north-side Chicago community approached the church with a request for help with childcare. They had little money and few childcare options. Even though they were not members, the church responded, its members got involved, and together they created the Concordia Child Care Center in Chicago’s North Center community.
Since opening, we have served more than 2,000 low-income and working families with full-day preschool, after school, and full-day summer camp programs. But in the mid-1990’s, the center had long wait lists and we began searching for a way to serve additional working families. Community leaders proposed that Concordia Church acquire the former St. Veronica’s Parish School and Rectory in the neighboring Avondale community located approximately 1½ miles southwest of our church. This was a wonderful opportunity to expand the congregation’s ministry of witness through service. Avondale is a community in need, facing significant levels of poverty, educational underachievement, linguistic isolation, limited social services, high teen gang activity, an extreme shortage of child care and no community-active Lutheran churches.
Concordia Avondale Campus, incorporated with its own 501(c)3 status as a community service organization, was formed in 2002 by Concordia Lutheran Church. Renovation of the Catholic school was completed in 2006 and Concordia opened programs for school age and preschool children and further expanded childcare programs for infants and toddlers. Seeking to serve a primarily Hispanic community with diverse challenges, Concordia has also expanded program offerings to include teen youth, adult education and senior activities. In August of 2006, Concordia offered its first ESL classes for community residents in partnership with Truman College. Over 60 participants are enrolled, many of them women with young children.
With our ministry expanding to meet the needs for witness, education, and service for more low-income and working poor families in Chicago’s north side communities, we created a new mission statement to “create involved communities where all our neighbors can gather, learn, and grow.” We created this new mission statement with the intent to serve all the generations that make up a Chicago community. Through educational child care and preschool, teen and youth programs, adult education, exercise, and other activities, we seek to provide opportunities for empowerment and education so that all our neighbors have the chance to achieve their highest potential.
Our Programs and Whom We Serve
Today, between our two sites Concordia Avondale Campus serves more than 300 children through our licensed child care and after-school programs. Our community directed ministry serves neighbors in the neighboring communities of Lakeview, North Center, Avondale and Logan Square in Chicago. Programs offered at two locations bring affordable sliding fee childcare, preschool and school age programs that provide necessary support for working single parent and low-income households. Newly developing community programs seek to address the challenges of community residents who face barriers of language skills in English, High School equivalency, computer and job related skills, health and wellness challenges and social isolation. Working in partnership with Truman College, classes in ESL and GED are now offered both daytime and evenings. Neighbors are engaged in offering community programs to neighbors in such diverse activities as exercise, art instruction, computer skills and dance. Concordia seek to serve as a hub for community engagement—a catalyst for neighbor involvement.
The families we serve are diverse in many ways. More than 70% of the families we serve benefit from our sliding tuition scale; 45% are low-income. At our Whipple site, 70% of our children are minorities and almost half of the children come from single-parent families. Since opening our community programs we are already providing 70 adults with free English as a second language classes in conjunction with Truman College; 25 youth with after school activities, such as gymnastics, martial arts, and Homework Club; 30 adults and seniors with fitness and exercise activities and social and craft activities.
Concordia’s Evangelical Witness
Through all of our programs, we live our mission to “create involved communities where all our neighbors can gather, learn, and grow.” The article Identifying and Tending a School’s Tasks in the March 2005 issue of Lutheran Partners, Marlene Lund noted the importance of the relationship between church and educational programs when she said, “Families with no or little church history are looking for connections. When Jesus went out into the streets he first fed, healed, and ministered to the community… Our schools become the outreach arm of the congregation to the community…”
Our programs, grounded in the Church’s mission, help us serve single-parent and working-poor families, increase our witness to the community, and lay the foundation for stronger connections between Avondale residents and the Lutheran Church. Concordia Avondale Campus is enabling Concordia Lutheran Church to build its spiritual community by engaging people in developing and growing the programs for their community. Through community investments we have increased the witness of our congregation and have seen a significant increase in our membership, as well as the involvement of our members in the church’s ministries.
By expanding into the neighboring Avondale community, we have seen our ministries grow in several ways: increased service to more children and families in need, new expanded programs reaching out to seniors and adult neighbors, a Lutheran witness in a community underserved by the ELCA, an increase in Concordia’s membership, and more opportunities for members and visitors to actively participate in our mission. Concordia Avondale Campus is enabling Concordia Lutheran Church to build its spiritual community by engaging people in developing and growing the programs for their community.
The Challenge of Witness in Service
From the initial conception of its community ministry within Concordia Avondale Campus and the original Con-cordia Child Care Center, Concordia Church understood that these programs would not be a religious educational ministry for her own members, but would be an outreach community ministry to non-church members serving families at risk. The church’s witness of outreach is grounded in her service to the larger community of neighbors in which she lives. The majority of children served are not members of our congregation (95%) and are not Lutheran, though most (85%) identify themselves with the Christian faith.
Because our community ministry serves primarily non-church members, Concordia Lutheran Church has developed an evangelical strategy that includes religious education, Lutheran witness and pastoral ministry opportunities to the community neighbors and families that attend our programs. The spiritual life of our students, parents and staff is integral to our community ministry, and we seek to educate and witness to God’s redeeming love in Christ to those we serve while respecting that they are not first members of our congregation or faith. We create opportunities to participate in the worship and educational life of our congregation and bring to bear the pastoral and healing gifts of our ministry to the community of our campus. The church council formed the Church & Campus Relations Committee to intentionally witness to the parents and neighbors participating in our programs in the Avondale community. Specific congregational ministry activities include:
- Quarterly church worship services for campus staff and families
- Sunday School Classes for Preschool through Elementary. (We have over 25 children enrolled in Sunday School with 6 families coming through our community programs)
- Junior Youth Group for 5th through 8th grade with activities that include community service projects, Bible study classes and a youth retreat.
- Confirmation Class for 9th and 10th grade students with a curriculum that includes Luther’s Small Catechism and church service projects.
- Creation of a Chapel room at the Whipple campus with Advent & Lent weekday services offered for staff, parents & community
- Bible meditation services offered by the parish nurse
- Personal invitations and church information sent to new parents who enroll
- Monthly classroom visits by the pastor to children and teachers
Marketing of Concordia Church programs and membership opportunities is a strong component in our strategy. We not only communicate the larger role of Concordia Church in the creation and ongoing oversight of the Campus ministry, but we make the ministries of the congregational available as well. This witness includes:
- Pastoral care ministry of the pastor extended to staff and families of Concordia Avondale Campus
- Parish nurse ministry integrating health & wellness with the healing ministry of the church offering education and personal counseling support to families
- Annual Campus & Church Street Fair hosted jointly by parents, staff and church members
- Campus teachers installation service at Sunday worship each Fall
- Welcome receptions hosted by the church to promote awareness of church services for Lent, Holy week and Easter
- Monthly church newsletter sent to parents & staff
- Parents and staff attend church fundraisers
Support for Lutheran Witness
One of our council members first described Concordia’s quixotic mission as the upended story of Jonah trying to swallow the whale. Certainly, with an average weekly attendance of 65 members and barely enough resources to keep an aging church facility open, the commitment to acquire a vacant facility four times larger and open community programs to serve over five times as many children and families as there are members seemed an impossible and foolhardy mission. Members pledged seed funds that amounted to essentially doubling the congregation’s annual contributions. We mortgaged the existing facilities. Fundraising efforts were directed to community businesses, Chicago foundations and program grants through city, state and federal agencies.
Significant for the successful telling of this story: Concordia received support for its witness through Lutheran partners. St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Chicago closed its doors and contributed some of its assets to help develop our community ministry as an expression of their own witness. Early capital and program development support was received through the Aigner Foundation, the Mission Investment Fund of the ELCA, the Metropolitan Chicago Synod Fund for Mission, and the Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation. Programs to support the families at the Campus and to reach out to community residents with offerings for teens, ESL and GED classes and seniors have been supported through Advocate Charitable Foundation, Chicagoland Lutheran Educational Foundation, ELCA Foundation—Lutheran Services for the Elderly Foundation Fund, and St. Mark Lutheran Church Foundation in Mount Prospect. We are mindful that this community ministry of Concordia is the ministry of the church—the whole church.