Congregational Spotlight: Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, New Prague
Written by Dylan Novacek, Content Specialist
“How do we be faithful as a community on what God has called us to be,” asked Pastor Ben Hilding of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. “We are seeking to be faithful in the resurrected life. Working with Beacon has helped us build a bigger picture for our congregation.”
In New Prague, Minnesota, a town of just over 8,000 people, there are four collaborating congregations of Beacon who all strive for the same goal: see that all people have a home. When the building the congregations used to host families in Beacon’s shelter program closed, Holy Trinity became their new hosting site for Families Moving Forward
“All of New Prague understands this as a collaborative. We do this together,” Pastor Ben said as he placed a spotlight on a community of people and congregations who give back. Sitting down with key volunteers Mary Eagen, Jen Sayler, and George Winn served as an example of the power faith communities have.
“When the shelter suddenly closed, we didn’t want to give up,” said Mary.
“We hope to make people aware of the problem. People think we don’t have homeless people in town, but I see them all the time,” added George, who was an instrumental part of of finding the building they initially used for hosting. “There is no reason why we can’t keep going. It is effective for the community, and I think there is a good future for home here.”
Through collaborating with Beacon and welcoming shelter guests into their congregation, Holy Trinity experiences how volunteering together can become a collaborative and transformative experience. Jen, who works as a high school teacher, has used this as an opportunity to connect her students with a good cause.
“I thought it would be impactful for my students. Doing this builds bridges as kids work up close and personal with these families. They suddenly aren’t ‘those people’ anymore. I hate that phrase,” Jen paused, and considered the impact of the collaborative’s work. “They are people. And together we are taking away the stigma of homelessness.”
It’s not just her students who experience the impact of volunteering. For Jen, she has countless stand out experiences working with Beacon.
“One night, a mother needed me to watch her baby,” Jen reflected on one of the most impactful volunteer experiences she had. “Holding and rocking the baby, I prayed for their whole family. I knew I had spent my night in the best way possible. I didn’t just help this family. They helped me.”
“More people need to have these experiences,” Mary added. “We are so lucky to welcome these guests into our church. I’ve been a part of this congregation for over 50 years. These are the most exciting times.”
For Mary, her work with the shelter families has grown in ways she didn’t expect. She started by doing laundry for the shelter, which led to preparing snacks, which would lead to her connecting with the guests.
“It all spiraled from there,” she jokes. “A guest came to me and asked if I knew how to play mancala. He pushed the board across the table, and we played! I only won twice though,” Mary laughed, lighting up as she recalled stories of working with shelter guests. “These are people just like me, not a statistic.”
Experiences like Mary’s and Jen’s impact many and fuel their passion for this work.
“I just love how this congregation can see a need and get passionate,” added Jen. “I would say that the attitude here is very, ‘how can we help’ and active.”
“For a lot of people in this congregation, they’ve made this their cause,” George added. “People keep coming back to volunteer. They keep giving.”
As Beacon is seeking to point the way for supportive housing in Scott and Carver counties, the support from congregations such as Holy Trinity is essential. At Beacon’s Congregation Convening in January, members of Holy Trinity attended with pride to support the collaborative’s future goals. The gift of home has become a cause that resonates with their faith.
“As a pastor, it’s my job to make sure our work reflects scripture. It wasn’t by accident that we first hosted families here the week before Christmas,” Pastor Ben spoke to the fact that they were telling the story of the Traveler during Christmas services. “Instead of only consulting Bible commentaries, we also talked to these families. It is important that people of faith make these connections.”
Through working with Beacon, this congregation has been able to connect on a deeper level and live out their faith in a more excellent way. From working with neighboring congregations, opening their doors, and connecting with families that are just like their own.
While the idea of home is different for many, there is always a common thread that connects us. The key volunteers sat and took a moment to consider what home meant to them.
“Home is safety and comfort,” Jen said.
“A natural place to go,” George added.
“And family,” chimed in Mary.
Pastor Ben concluded, “home is a sense of belonging.”
Want to have meaningful shelter experiences like Holy Trinity Lutheran Church? Contact Deb at DRodgers@beaconinterfaith.org to learn more about hosting!