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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.