Community Faith Stories

What others have to say.
Singing

Bette moved to Portage to be close to her daughter and grandsons after her husband had died.  Looking for a church, she came to Prince of Peace for two reasons: “my daughter had friends who attended the church and it was a larger congregation.” She wanted a larger congregation where she could “just enjoy being in the pew, after many years of being involved as a reader or in choirs.”  She wanted to come to church and then just leave after service. However, she had always enjoyed singing and music.   Bette thought “that every song told a story.”  After the service one Sunday, Bette felt compelled to walk over and thank the choir for their beautiful music that morning.  She was invited to join them, but she turned them down.  One choir member, Mary Lou, sought Bette out several Sundays and “personally invited me to join the choir”, telling Bette that they were a friendly, welcoming group of people and would love to have her be part of them.  Bette finally decided to go to practice and give it a try. Bette found the group welcoming and very committed to their ministry of music, always showing up to practice and even taping on-line services during Covid. Friendships were formed which connected Bette with a welcoming community of people.  Today she “can’t imagine not being able to join them in sharing stories through their singing.” 

A Real Blessing

For as long as she could remember, Pam had been deeply concerned about people who didn’t have enough to eat. Pam remembered that Jesus had said,” Feed my lambs.”  Pam felt strongly that as a nation that had so much, no one should go hungry. During service one Sunday, an announcement was made about beginning a new food ministry.  Pam didn’t know what it involved but quickly signed up to help.  She became the “traffic control person, greeting each person that came, and finding out their food needs.”  Over time, as people returned every first or third Thursday each month, Pam took time to talk with them and get to know them.  She “found joy in them.”  Over time, Pam met many people of different ethnicities and cultures and “loved hearing all their stories.  The beauty of it, is the many relationships I’ve made.  It has humbled me and it has been a real blessing getting to know these people.” Pam is very thankful that her church started a food ministry and was able to support it with both funding and volunteers. 

Being Jesus

Growing up in two radically different faith traditions – one for school, Monday through Friday, and a different one on Sunday, Idy never felt connected to either of them. Neither tradition valued the input of girls or women. After marriage Idy and her husband continued to attend church but Idy still “couldn’t see, as a woman, that I could contribute to the church.” 
Idy began exploring other churches, looking for one that would allow her and her young daughter to fully contribute to the congregation. Then COVID happened. It was a scary time to think about going to a new church. 
After spending time looking online, Idy found Prince of Peace. Idy was glad that her family could “watch church” and get to know Pastor Rachel and the people. After a time, Idy felt it was safe to join a Zoom fellowship group. There, Idy met people who helped her understand that it was OK to discuss your faith, ask questions and, maybe, not always agree with each other. Idy said “in fellowship she saw grace given to each other” and it spoke to her.  
Idy realized that all people were welcome at Prince of Peace, and they didn’t just talk and analyze their faith but had learned to be Jesus. Idy said “she could see people being Jesus here” as they loved one another and supported the marginalized.
As Prince of Peace returned to an in-person Sunday worship, Idy and her family joined them. Today Idy feels that she has found a faith group where she can finally contribute fully. Idy now feels she is in a “safe place to experience God and is finally at home.”

Lee Banitt

Lee had always been part of a church family, as a child, teen, college student and then as a married adult.   After college, Lee worked as an industrial chemist, moving several times for jobs and eventually leaving industry to teach high school chemistry.  Each of the moves meant connecting with a new faith community for Lee and his family.

After ten years of teaching, he was tired and burnt out, unable to separate work life from home life.  Looking for a more balanced life he returned to Kalamazoo, alone at first, while his wife finished out the school year.  Coming back to Kalamazoo was like coming home.  He had lived here before and gone to church here before.  However, 15 years had passed and things had changed.

Waiting for his wife to join him, Lee visited area churches.  He was looking for a faith community that was active and could use his talents.  He needed a place where he could serve by working with youth, teaching, listening and helping.  Lee said,” I wasn’t like this as a teen, but now I needed to be in a place where I could serve.”  After his wife joined him, they decided to attend Prince of Peace because it was an active faith community that had many opportunities to serve.

 At first Lee found small ways to be involved, but when a member had to move, he was asked to become a co-leader educating middle school youth.  With his teaching skills that was a perfect place for him to serve. 

When a church council position opened, Lee was asked to step into that spot.  Even though Lee hadn’t been considering a council position, it was another opportunity to serve and grow.  He accepted the position. 

Lee said, “I’ve really enjoyed being on the council.  I’ve learned so much from the other council members.”   Now Lee can’t wait for retirement in a few years so he will have more time and can find other ways to serve.

Verity Poisson

Moving to Portage in 2017, Verity’s family joined Prince of Peace.  Verity had come from a smaller faith community and had wonderful memories from her childhood church.  As a 10-year-old, Verity came to church because Mom brought her.  She was eager to begin making new memories at Prince of Peace. Verity began to connect with her new faith community through education classes and worship.

Then Covid happened, services went online and the actual gathering of people was rare. Verity didn’t mind online worship, but she really missed the personal connections she had begun making and the involvement in different activities, especially meeting with other youth.  

A few years later, with Covid less of a problem, people began to slowly return to in person gatherings. Verity was ready to return to church.  She was still looking to make personal connections and build memories. One of the things she had learned was that she “really liked to help” and being older, she was ready to try different activities.

Youth were again meeting to learn and do fun activities and she joined them. Years before Verity had assisted her mom setting up communion.  Now she felt confident she was ready to do it herself.  When the request went out to train to be a worship assistant, Verity decided to try it. Verity said she wasn’t nervous about trying this new activity because Pastor Rachel told her, “If you have any questions, look to me.”

Verity says she loves the activities she can now be a part of at Prince of Peace, allowing her to connect with people and make new memoires.  It is wonderful to have a church community that encourages you to try new things, but is there to offer help and support if needed.

Don Jones

Growing up in the church, Don attended Sunday School and eventually became a youth group leader. The year Don turned 17, he was given the opportunity to attend the Lutheran Outdoor Ministry church camp for 6 weeks.

At camp Don spent time as a counselor in training, then as a counselor and finally buddied up with Tony, a developmentally disabled 16-year-old fellow camper, trying to help him write his name.  During the last week of leadership training, Don was asked to figure out what does it mean to be faithful, what is Christian community, what does it mean to love your neighbor, what does God’s radical inclusiveness of grace really look like?

What started as a way to “get out of dodge” and have a little fun at summer camp, became a life changing experience that flipped Don upside down trying to understand how to connect with, be exposed to and be wrapped up in a group of people very different from himself.  This sent him on a journey that defined his life. The journey led Don to becoming a social worker in Kalamazoo and, with his wife, finding a faith community at Prince of Peace. 

Since that summer at camp Don has been looking for the people who aren’t seen or heard. Don said, “I gravitate to them and look for how we change each other.”  

What Don really cares about is having “opportunities to figure out who my neighbor is and to broaden my tent and to love my neighbor.”  At Prince of Peace Don found a faith community that was connecting to the neighborhood and world around them with programs like the Thursday food distribution, the refugee resettlement effort, the furniture program and the heat and rent fund.   

Don feels that Prince of Peace is working hard to figure out community - that radical inclusiveness of grace - that is open and welcoming to all people regardless of age, race, class, sexual orientation, ethnicity or geography.  Don says that he will “wither within days if I don’t have a faith community that gives me meaning and is relevant to the world and neighborhood around it”.  Don found that faith community at Prince of Peace.

Em Witteveen

Growing up Em attended church with her parents.  Her experience at the church never “felt quite right.”  There were some things they taught that she couldn’t wrap her mind around that “that was how Jesus wanted it to be.”  Some beliefs they taught you couldn’t question and some people weren’t welcome.

Leaving her parents church, Em found another faith community, but Em soon realized that faith community was failing.  Now Em was at a crossroad, wondering “Do I find another faith community and go through this all again?”

Later that year, Em and a friend went to PRIDE.  While wandering through PRIDE, Em came across a church who was handing out information that said “God Loves You.”  Em talked to the person handing out the postcards and asked, “Is this church actually welcoming to the LGBT community?  Does this church practice what they say when they say God Loves You?”  The woman told her “Yes, absolutely!”

Em decided one Sunday morning that she was going to visit the church – Prince of Peace.  That morning the rain was pouring down as Em pulled into the parking lot.  Em sat in her car for “probably twenty minutes” trying to decide to take a chance on going inside.  She finally decided to take a chance, walked in and sat at the very back.  When service was over, she hurried to leave and “pretty much beat the Pastor down the aisle and out.” However, it felt safe enough that Em decided to come back the next week and give it another try.

 Em says “It’s has been really amazing to see how invested God is in me.”  She wasn’t sure if she was meant to be in church, if she even believed in God when she came to Prince of Peace.  God showed her that “Yes you belong in my family, you belong here in this faith family and this is what I’m going to do with you here.”

Today Em works at Prince of Peace as a children, youth and family coordinator.  It has been “an amazing place to realize that, yes, God loves me and yes, I belong in the family of God.  And the people in this faith community believe it too.”  Em is really excited to keep going and see what God has planned for her next.

Alex Zimmerman

 As a boy Alex came to Prince of Peace with his family.  Not expecting to know anyone, Alex was happy to see his former Taekwondo instructor, Mike, who made a point greeting Alex and talking with him.

Coming to church and learning more about his faith, Alex began to wonder how he, as a kid, could help out and get more involved in the church community.

As he approached his teenage years, Mike asked Alex if he would be interested in helping with the technology equipment.  Excited to help, Alex started by “pushing the white button” on the PowerPoint when Mike motioned to him.  Gradually Alex was given additional duties, with Mike and other adults patiently showing him what to do. “I made plenty of mistakes at first”, shared Alex, “but gradually, I got faster and better.”  Over time Alex learned to run all of the audio-visual equipment.  What he enjoys doing most is running the live stream service, shared Alex, as he can “help people who can’t come to church in person to be able to be part of church.”

As he continues to grow in his faith, Alex has found more ways to be involved.  “I like to do as much as I can to help and find ways to serve in my community,” Alex shared.  As a high school student, Alex joined the youth group and found it was a good way to get to know other teens and build relationships.  Now when Alex meets youth who aren’t involved, he invites them to join the youth group.  Recently he agreed to be the youth representative on the church council.  Alex said that “he is here because he wants to be here, learning more about his faith, building relationships and increasing his involvement in his community.

The welcoming and mentoring of adults in our congregation made Alex welcome and able to participate in new experiences.  Thank you for being a community that encourages and mentors young people.

Paul MacNellis

Through his work career and time in the army and national guard, Paul had gained organizational skills and learned he had a heart for service.  Looking for a faith community, Paul and his wife came to Prince of Peace, which proved to be a “very comfortable fit for him,” said Paul, due to the church’s involvement within the community.

Knowing the church’s community involvement, Samaritas, (Lutheran Social Services), gave a presentation to Prince of Peace asking the congregation to adopt a refugee family.  Although many in the congregation thought it was a great idea, Paul shared, “I was vocal at that point and said no!  Why are we spending our resources and time taking care of refugee families when there are so many people in Kalamazoo that need that kind of help too?  I thought it wasn’t a good idea.” 

In the weeks following the meeting, Paul thought and prayed about it.  “At some point Jesus gave me the thought, that as a citizen of the world and a Christian in particular, of course we will take care of refugees.  We’ll take care of our local people in due time, also,” shared Paul.

As part of the refugee ministry, Paul began collecting furniture for one family, which soon became three families. The furniture collection went so well “that we had more than enough,” said Paul, “and I told Samaritas to call us if they had a furniture need.”  Over the next couple of years, we continued helping other refugees and our neighbors.  Paul shared that “our biggest challenge was when three hundred fifty Afghan refugees came to Kalamazoo over a year’s time.  We quickly reached out to our members and the surrounding community in order to furnish households for them.  The response was beyond all expectations.”

 Today, Paul shared, “I have met many wonderful people who are grateful for the assistance provided by the furniture ministry.  Being able to help both refugees and our local community makes me feel good.  It fulfills me.”  

Through your generosity,  Prince of Peace is able to the support both our local and global communities through the furniture ministry.

Tim Kana'an

Growing up with a Christian mother and a Muslim father, Tim learned about two different faith traditions.  He learned Christian traditions from his mother and grandparents who took him to church periodically and celebrated Christian holidays.  His father taught him Muslim traditions, and when Tim was a teenager, his father took him to Palestine to meet his relatives and learn about their culture.  Tim’s parents always expected that he would choose his own faith direction as an adult, and as a young father, Tim chose to raise his children in the Chirstian faith. 

After a divorce and a new marriage, Tim and his wife began looking for a church for their blended family.  Visiting many churches, Tim was looking for one that felt right for him.  Tim said, “being a rather quiet and reserved person, I needed to observe the places I visited, but often I felt overwhelmed by faith communities where groups of people converged on me.”  Also, some faith communities had strict rules on who could or could not fully take part in the community and Tim was uncomfortable with those ideas.  Thinking of his own Arab heritage, he was looking for a faith community that was accepting of all people.

After a lot of searching, Tim and his family visited Prince of Peace.  “The people felt welcoming, but not intrusive,” said Tim, “and they met me where I was at.”  Watching the congregation’s involvement in social justice programs such as English as a Second Language and the Refugee Ministry, Tim shared, “I realized it didn’t matter if you were a Christian, Muslim, Jew or a non-believer because the people of this church believe in a just world for everyone.”   Tim also liked that all people could fully participate in all activities, whether they were members or not.

 As time passed, “People took time to get to know him,” Tim shared, “and he felt welcomed and accepted.”  Eventually the non-judgmental attitude of the congregation empowered Tim to openly “share his story of his Arab Palestinian background and the story of the people of Palestine who are near and dear to his heart.”  “The people of Prince of Peace were willing to listen, care and learn about the situation in Palestine,” Tim said.  “I felt listened to and people thanked me for sharing my story.”

Thank you for being a congregation that takes the time to listen to everyone’s story and is willing to work for a just world.