For the past ten years, Historic Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Reading, PA hosts eight monthly meetings a year for a mental health support group called “I Can.” The late Pr. Jeanne Beadle, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Deaf Church, invited the group to meet at Trinity when they lost access to their former meeting space. Since then, Trinity’s Deaf and hearing congregations have welcomed guests from “I Can.”
“I Can” group members are adults with cognitive disabilities, addiction, or mental health challenges. For this ministry, Trinity Church partners with the Greater Reading Mental Health Alliance. Some Alliance coordinators attend each meeting. The group has grown from about ten people per month to an average of 70 adults.
“I Can” gatherings are not therapy sessions but rather opportunities for social interaction, fellowship and spiritual nourishment. Trinity Deaf Ministry Coordinator Dee Horst heads a team of volunteers who lead the group’s activities. Members and staff from Trinity and nearby churches lead Bible study, prepare and serve a homemade hot lunch, and call Bingo games.
Each meeting begins with Bible study led by Pr. Mary Wolfe of Hope Lutheran Church or Common Ground Recovery Ministry Associate Ricardo Riqueza. These Bible studies stimulate thoughtful dialogue and discussion among the group members. “It really is a wonderful ministry,” says Pr. Mary, “providing community and a spiritually uplifting experience for folks who are often left out of such gathering spaces.”
Ricardo says: “I am touched by how much the I Can members contribute to the Bible study. The members are eager to participate, which proves to me that to dive into God’s word there is no requirement of a formal education, which most members lack. I Can is teaching me to listen to people stigmatized by society and to appreciate their contribution in serious studies of God’s word for God’s glory.”
Church members prepare and serve a home-cooked hot lunch for the “I Can” guests. Volunteer Sue Shellong donates food and prepares the meal each month. Sue says: “The church is a sanctuary for those who attend.” She continues: “It is so fulfilling to see the attendees each month at the meetings. One gets to know them and hear their stories.”
Sue, a retired nurse, periodically invites representatives from local health services, community agencies and job placement firms to share information at the “I Can” meetings. Connecting members to beneficial nearby services enriches their lives and spreads the benefits of the “I Can” ministry beyond Trinity’s walls.
Trinity member Janet Clemmer faithfully organizes the Bingo games after lunch. Janet says the “I Can” guests are respectful, thankful and helpful. “I feel happy to share time with folks who enjoy the activity,” she says. “It feels good to make people happy.” Bingo game winners receive prizes of personal care items or kitchen supplies. Janet loves to see “I Can” members sharing prizes with each other when they win more than one game.
Trinity sexton Dave Troche comes to church on his day off to support this ministry of hospitality. “I have enjoyed working with the group,” says Dave. “I even recognize some of the faces from my community and high school. I feel it is so important for them to find each other in friendship in their own community.”
Additional volunteers have made extraordinary efforts for “I Can” members. This year for the “I Can” Christmas party, the Covenant Prayer Shawl knitters and crocheters made over 140 winter scarves. In recent years, volunteers have prepared and shared kits with personal care items such as soaps, toothpaste and washcloths. Local Lutheran pastor Robin Henry made dozens of colorful soft fleece pillows.
The “I Can” ministry serves the body, mind and spirit of people with mental health issues, cognitive disabilities, or addiction. Church staff and members volunteer together, united in this holy purpose to minister to those in need and extend love in the name of Jesus. This ministry is not without challenges, but its coordinators have found solutions when problems arise. Trinity is grateful for the grant support from the NEPA Synod for this ministry. The Holy Spirit has guided us to God’s work with our hands in the “I Can” ministry.
To learn more about the “I Can” ministry at Trinity – Reading, contact Dee Horst at (610) 374-4861 ext. 29 or firstname.lastname@example.org.