IRONWOOD — Volunteers from Christ Lutheran Parish of Ironwood were out in full force Sunday morning working to improve their local community.
More than 100 volunteers lent their hands at a dozen sites throughout the Ironwood area for service activities through the "God's Work, Our Hands" project, a nationwide effort celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. More than 4 million members of nearly 10,000 congregations across the country were expected to participate in Sunday's efforts, according to the ELCA website.
Projects in Ironwood included planting of flowers, bulbs and other vegetation at Norrie Park and Aspirus Grand View Hospital; singing for patients and residents at AGV and Westgate Nursing, Rehabilitation and Assisted Living Community; cleaning up city of Ironwood property and removing plants and vegetation at two sites downtown; an Adopt-a-Highway clean-up on U.S. 2; cleaning up the Ironwood Township Hall and picking up trash along the highway in the township; and card- and quilt-making projects at three parish churches.
Christ Lutheran Parish includes Salem, Zion, St. Paul and St. John's Lutheran churches.
Partly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60s offered great conditions for the outdoor projects. "It's a beautiful day to be out," said Judy Holst, of Ironwood, who was planting vegetation at the hospital with about 15 other volunteers.
Holst and other volunteers said some of the greenery they were planting had been pulled out of the ground at another volunteer site downtown, where CLP members were clearing city of Ironwood property on Aurora Street. She said she liked the idea of reusing something that otherwise would've been thrown away.
The project was well-received when pitched by the parish's pastors, the Rev. Kurt Kovanen and the Rev. Mary Beth Kovanen, according to Karen Damgard, of Ironwood. "Everybody eagerly agreed," said Damgard, one of eight volunteers removing plants along a sidewalk near the corner of Norfolk Street and McLeod Avenue. She said it "feels really good" to be just one small part of such a large effort to do good across the country.
Damgard and Heidi Ofstad, of Saxon, Wis ., were "key planners" of local efforts, Kurt Kovanen said.
Indoor events went off without a hitch as well, with at least 15 parishioners visiting Westgate to sing uplifting songs to residents. Gale Hellier, of Ironwood, lead the group while playing the guitar and singing songs like "Jesus Loves Me," "This is the Day the Lord Has Made" and "You Are My Sunshine." A group of about 20 residents listened to several songs in the dining room, with many singing along. Parishioners then took their concert to the halls, walking around and singing so residents in their rooms could hear too.
Other indoor projects will have effects locally and around the world, Mary Beth Kovanen said. Handmade cards will be sent to homebound parishioners of CLP, and some quilted lap robes volunteers worked on Sunday will be donated to local nursing homes. Other quilts will go to Lutheran World Relief, a nonprofit organization that works to end poverty, injustice and human suffering across the globe.
A parish-wide picnic was held at Depot Park in Ironwood Sunday afternoon for volunteers and church members to celebrate their work.
A group effort
The variety of events ensured that many people were able to participate. "We had a nice blend of different kinds of things," Mary Beth Kovanen said, adding the indoor activities allowed people with some physical limitations to contribute.
The activities also allowed for socialization between members of the different churches. Damgard said the best part for her was "just working with people that maybe we don't even know that well. We're just mixing up the congregations and working together, just making it a fun thing."
Kovanen said it felt great to see so many parishioners willing to help out. "We knew there'd be good participation," she said. "From the beginning of the idea, people throughout the parish said 'This is exciting.' Everybody wanted to be a part of it." More than 100 people signed up to help prior to the event, Kovanen said, with more jumping right in after church Sunday morning.
Nationwide projects are expected to continue through next Sunday, Kovanen said, since some churches had their traditional "Rally Sunday" set for Sept. 8. "Rally Sunday" is a tradition that some ELCA churches hold where they begin all their religious education and Sunday school programming the same day after a summer break.
"We're excited to hear through the media of other efforts," Kovanen said. She said it was interesting to see other pastors share their plans for their communities through a Facebook group for ELCA pastors, and she's looking forward to hear news of what types of service projects other congregations worked on.
Furthering the mission
The tagline, "God's Work, Our Hands," is trying to get across the message of the church, Mary Beth Kovanen said. She said the project offers a good way for parishioners to put that message to work.
"Kurt and I spoke to the congregations (Sunday) about how Christ has no hands but ours, no feet but ours, as we go about into the world making Christ known," she said. "The way we do that is through our own personal witness and work. This is just a way for perhaps somewhat shy Lutherans to have a way to show that we care and that we're in the community for good."
"We want to be out in the community knowing we're doing good," Kurt Kovanen said. "We just want to do God's work in the community."
All in all, the efforts were successful. "I think it went very well," Mary Beth Kovanen said. "In fact, one person said 'We should do this more often!'"
She said it's possible the parish will do something like this more often, and said if they do, maybe the effort will grow with more volunteers. "I know that there are faithful Christians throughout the community that are doing God's work with their hands as well," Mary Beth Kovanen said.
For the pastor, the most rewarding part was seeing everyone's "enthusiasm and excitement," she said. "Hopefully it's embraced by the community as well, and they know that we really care about the greater Ironwood-Hurley area and that we're glad to be a part of this community."