A Neighborly Church (August 2022 Newsletter Article)

By Peter Harrits
Pastor, Learn

Centered in the love of God in Jesus Christ, in our vision statement we describe Shepherd of the Valley as a community that understands itself to be gathered, loved, and sent. While large in size, we are (or, more truthfully, we aspire to be) a neighborly church – the kind of place where you and all people are welcomed in your particularity, treated with gracious respect, and challenged to grow in life and faith.

This vision springs forth from the twin commandments to love God and love others that Pastor Lindsey wrote about last month and you hear preached about regularly from the pulpit. While hearing the words is one thing, living into them is another. Neighborliness doesn’t happen by accident; it requires intentionality and effort – something we’ve seen in full force during our recent weeks of Vacation Bible School.

While the icy hallways, foreboding forest, and castle ruins got all the attention – not to forget a certain dragon named Shiver – the real magic on display at the North Castle was the heart and soul that 118 volunteers and the congregation at-large put into the 298 children who attended. While many of the campers and their families are already members of Shepherd of the Valley, a significant number are friends of friends and neighbors from our surrounding area who know us to be a safe, fun-filled, and faith-growing place.

Whatever their background or current age and stage, meeting kids where they were and as they were was one of the key priorities of our staff and volunteers. Behind the scenes, the Children, Youth, and Family team worked tirelessly to tailor stories and activities to the interests and abilities of kindergarteners through pre-teens and to respect the all-important bonds of friendship when forming groups. Nurses were on hand to provide medical care, snacks were modified to adjust dietary concerns, and members of our Special Needs Team were able to consult with families ahead of time and identify resources to provide appropriate types of support as needed. In the thoughtfulness that went into each of those decisions — and so many more — one can see our values on full display.

And you know what? People notice that neighborliness at play.

  • One mom said, “I was absolutely blown away by what I saw when I picked up my daughter…She was so excited every day about ‘church camp’ (as she calls it), and what’s even more amazing is that she would talk about the Bible stories she learned and how they related to the theme of the day. She’s only 6, and you all made the message so clear that she was able to understand it and even repeat it!”
  • Another shared, “My son can be pretty shy and quiet, and not want to participate in things. But his group leader made him feel so good that he was singing and dancing and participating in all the activities. It may seem small but that was certainly a highlight. My son had wonderful things to say about his days at VBS and his group leader was a big part of that.”
  • Finally, one family wrote, “(We) just thought you’d all enjoy seeing the carry-over from camp this week. We were at the library and our daughter HAD to build a castle with a dance party for the kids. We really enjoyed everything put on by the church this year and appreciate your hard work so much…Thanks for making SOTV a fun and safe place to teach her about God and life.”

Love God. Love others. Be neighborly. When we are at our best, this is what we do. And as somebody who is still relatively new here, I give thanks to God for the many ways in which you do them (or aspire to do them) so well.