Lutheran churches consolidate to form new congregation
On Feb. 5, the congregations of Hope Lutheran and Bethlehem Lutheran churches voted to consolidate their ministries to form a new congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) later this year.
Bethlehem became a congregation in 1885 and Hope in 1909, but neither congregation was located in Cleveland Heights until the early 1950s. By the early 2000s, four Evangelical Lutheran congregations existed in Cleveland Heights, each having its roots in a different predecessor body, and merged into the ELCA in 1888.
These congregations shared different ministry covenants for 20 years, looking toward the day when they might consolidate into one. Along the way, First English and Grace Lutheran churches closed in 2002 and 2015, respectively.
In the last two years, the congregations of Hope and Bethlehem worked to determine what their future should hold, including a variety of meetings on building use and purpose, combined finances, and a shared vision for ministry.
It was decided that the Bethlehem site would offer the better location, based on size, condition, accessibility (once a limited-use elevator is added) and visibility. The new congregation will be located at 3740 Mayfield Road, near Severance Town Center. The new congregation will call both Reverends Donald King and Jessica Shields, the current pastors of Hope and Bethlehem, co-pastors. King has served in the Heights since 1999 and Shields since 2007.
Many of the current outreach ministries will remain in the new congregation, such as Hope’s annual Christian Day Camp in late June, and Bethlehem’s Novemberfest, a Swedish foods and crafts fair. The merged congregation plans to continue a Reconciling in Christ ministry (in which the LGBT community is expressly welcomed), 12-step meetings, Black History Month commemorations, the Baby Gym and Baby Shop, and active participation in nearby Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries. Additional programming will include a monthly community meal, a Crest/Maple Roads Block Party, and further partnering with the Centers for Family and Children.
The congregation has yet to be named. Everyone involved is invited to suggest a name for this new Lutheran ministry, and later this spring the entire slate of names will be presented for a vote. The plan is to narrow the list to seven, then three, and finally to the winning name. On Oct. 29, the 500th anniversary of The Reformation, Shields and King will be formally installed as the new pastors at a special service presided over by Bishop Abraham Allende of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, ELCA. The entire Heights community will be invited to attend.
Donald King is pastor of Hope Lutheran Church on North Taylor Road, and an active participant in the Heights InterFaith Community. He has served at Hope since 1999, and has lived in Cleveland Heights since 1985.