‘People of every age and race are here’

While many churches focus their attention on music and sermons for Sunday morning, Trinity English Lutheran Church in downtown Fort Wayne has a different philosophy: Paying more attention to what’s happening in the community Monday through Saturday.

Located in the green-steepled brownstone building at 450 W. Washington Blvd., Trinity English is no stranger to its surroundings, and while its building is traditional, its mindset is not.

In the last few years, the church staff has increased efforts to be involved in Fort Wayne’s growing urban center, contributing to the conversation on numerous issues facing the people of northeast Indiana—from hosting dialogues on race to offering casual “You Talk & I Listen” sessions at Lunch on the Plaza.

Trinity English opens its doors to the public from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Pastor Gary Erdos is Trinity English’s fifth senior pastor in 144 years whose passion to serve everyone he comes into contact with helps drive the church’s mission.

“I’m interested in what it means to be a church-type person who’s interested in the world around us—our city, and the people in it,” Erdos says. “If I could ask for one thing from you it would be this: come and be with us, and help us be with our city.”

If you look at how active Trinity English has become, you will see that Erdos is serious about that.

Seeing the change

Since 1846, Trinity English has developed a large church with a loyal congregation that fills its pews each Sunday for a wide range of services.

Those services are complete with compelling messages and music in an ornate sanctuary surrounded by colorful stained-glass windows and architecture that stretches to the sky.

But once Sunday ends, Monday begins, and the church’s work continues, says Rebecca Karcher, Director of Communication and Community Engagement.

“Whatever it is that we are supposed to be doing on Sunday morning, we ought to be doing during the week including meeting, sharing, supporting, and loving our neighbors,” Karcher says. “We do that in a variety of ways and with a variety of people all week long.”

Erdos, left, and Karcher, right, review the church's magazine "Thinking Out Loud."To those who work at the church, the recent changes in community involvement are evident in their daily work.

Laura Friend, a Receptionist and Administrative Assistant at Trinity English, has worked there since 2015 and noticed an obvious shift in the church’s outreach.

"I used to be a little bored and looking for things to do,” Friend says. “Now, I feel so good when I leave work each day. We are helping people in the community and not just our congregation.”

Community members gather at Trinity English for discussions on race in Fort Wayne.

Throughout the week, Trinity English assists community members with food and clothing needs, as well as offering a listening ear or spiritual guidance to many locals.

“People of every age and race are here in the building,” Friend says. “We have dozens of volunteers that assist us. Everyone works together in helping others. I want people to know we are here for them.”

On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., the church even opens its sanctuary to the public for personal meditation, a time of peace, or to look at the unique architecture.

Friend says this has been a successful part of the church’s outreach that has brought people of all ages and backgrounds to the safety and serenity of Trinity English.

Another successful program is the church’s “Dialogue on Race” series, which was conducted in partnership with Fort Wayne UNITED this spring.

From March to May, hundreds of people came together over the course of 10 weeks to have an honest talk about how they experience life in northeast Indiana based on the color of their skin.

These meetings inspired new friendships, new ways of seeing other people in the community, and a new level of awareness for many.

Trinity English offers mentoring opportunities for local students.

The church’s publication, a magazine called “Thinking Out Loud,” has also contributed to the conversation, as well, by speaking candidly about difficult topics like race and depression.

The magazine is filled with original content created by people in the church and community, which addresses topics that are often overlooked in a typical church setting.

A variety of programs

Along with addressing serious conversations in the community, Trinity English also offers enrichment opportunities in the arts.

Its E3 program offers professional, high-quality music and arts experiences for students, from age five to 12th grade. Through it, students are able to participate in choir, drums, drama, painting, and a community dinner with their families.

Trinity English has other summer programs, like Shining Lights, a weeklong fine arts experience each June for ages 8-14, too.

They also participate in Wellspring’s Summer Day Camp program for children ages 4-17, which offers educational and recreational activities, crafts, art, dance, music, and yoga sessions along with weekly field trips.

Children participate in arts and crafts programs at Trinity English.

Another way to connect with Trinity English this summer is during the Downtown Improvement District’s popular Lunch on the Plaza food truck events on Thursdays, June through August from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

If you attend, you’ll find one of the church’s pastors sitting at Freimann Square with a banner that simply says: “You Talk & I Listen.”

The idea is that anyone is welcome to sit in a chair and have a conversation about anything that is on their mind.

Erdos says that this event aimed at bridging the gap between the church and public was very successful in 2017 with many people eager to talk.

To Karcher, it’s another example of Trinity’s proactive approach to city involvement and investing in the West Central neighborhood.

“We don't wait for folks to find us,” Karcher says. “We actively and intentionally seek to find them.”

Pastor Gary Erdos, right, listens to citizens at Lunch on the Plaza.

Getting involved in City Ministry

In addition to providing growth and enrichment opportunities, Trinity English also rallies volunteers and donations in downtown Fort Wayne.

Its City Ministry engages the church to listen, pray, and support the public alongside local faith-based organizations and urban agencies addressing the needs of those without permanent shelter, medical care, food, clothing, and case management.

The church uses its holiday Angel Ministry to share donations with local agencies and individuals in the community, as well. Last year, the Angel ministry exceeded its goal and raised $13,565.30 for the Rescue Mission to get new beds.

For those looking to get involved, Trinity English is always accepting volunteers for its City Ministry programs to help sort clothing, assist in the food pantry, deliver donations, lead devotionals, and much more.

Donation needs include canned fruits and vegetables, canned meat and chicken, feminine hygiene products, cereal, peanut butter, powdered milk, batteries, light bulbs, paper products, soap, detergent, and toiletries.

To Karcher and others at Trinity English, getting involved in these programs is an opportunity to live out their faith.

“Trinity English has a responsibility to the people of Fort Wayne in that we need to be who we say we are,” Karcher says. “If we say we are followers of Jesus, then we better act like it. We need to live out our belief in equality, inclusion, joy, and service.”

For a growing number of local residents, her words ring true, not only in the halls of Trinity English, but also throughout the streets of Fort Wayne.

Read more articles by Stephen J. Bailey.

Stephen J. Bailey is a Fort Wayne native and the owner of PH Digital that was founded in 2006. Based out of the Anthony Wayne Building in downtown Fort Wayne, he specializes in web development, SEO development, social media management, and digital marketing campaigns with numerous companies in northeast Indiana. Stephen loves road trips, sushi, his pups, and spending time on our three rivers.
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