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The Journal Gazette

  • Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette Lewis King, newly ordained pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and his wife, Joy, lead a Bible study from his barber chair.

Sunday, June 10, 2018 1:00 am

Local religious organizations a cut above

City offers many opportunities to worship, help out


Last Christmas, Lewis A. King and his helpers gave away 300 laundry baskets filled with food and other necessities to Fort Wayne's needy from his King's Barber Shop at Pontiac and Warsaw streets in southeast Fort Wayne.

King, 44, has been cutting hair for 25 years. And even longer than that, he said, he's felt called to minister to his community – and, not infrequently, his customers.

“I waited until I knew it was not something I wanted to do but the Lord wanted me to do,” said King, who was formally ordained as a minister of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod last month.

Now, as a pastor, he plans to continue holding weekly Bible studies from his barber's chair, while mission-minded supporters from several Fort Wayne Lutheran churches plan clothing giveaways and cookouts with free food for neighbors.

They meet them while going door to door dressed in neon-green T-shirts seeking to find and fill people's needs.

In some communities, Lewis' willingness to act on his Christian convictions and rally others might be seen as unusual. But not in Fort Wayne, known as a City of Churches and a place with many vibrant religious communities.

Hardly a human need is not served by groups or individuals inspired by faith, said Tony Henry, a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church, which has for decades operated a soup kitchen feeding the hungry.

“When it comes to meeting needs and social justice issues, we're really working together fairly well,” said Henry, a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which administers a fund providing financial assistance for rent and utility bills.

He estimates the annual aid at $50,000. 

People of faith help the homeless through the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission's emergency housing programs and through supporting the personal convictions of Sally Segerson, known as “Miss Sally” to many of those who come to her “Dinner and Duds” giveaways on the streets in Fort Wayne.

Local affiliates of the national nonprofit Habitat for Humanity work with local church groups to build affordable homes, while a local faith-inspired group, A Mother's Hope, is starting a residence for homeless mothers-to-be in north Fort Wayne.

The Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic assists clients with civil matters, including foreclosures and immigration. 

RemedyLIVE, a Fort Wayne internet broadcaster, addresses teen mental health and suicide prevention from a Christian perspective – and has an international reach.

“Certainly there is the theological mandate of the church to reach out to the community and be the body of Christ in the community, and we have a long history of being an influence in our community,” said the Rev. Roger Reece, executive pastor of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County, which has 140 Roman Catholic and Protestant affiliates and a 74-year history.

The group sponsors food banks in neighborhood churches and pairs members of churches with public schools to help students through its Rising Stars program.

A Baby's Closet assists with baby supplies, and the Let's Grow initiative works with the Foellinger Foundation to provide grants to nearly 30 church-related early childhood development and child-care centers.

“We find we are better when we work together,” Reece said.

Lately, he added, Fort Wayne's religious community increasingly includes members of non-Christian faiths.

The Association of Religious Data Archives, according to its 2010 statistics, the latest data available, places just over 4,000 people as having “other” religions.

That number has likely grown since 2010 – partly because of local religious communities' resettlement activities that are aimed at refugees and those seeking asylum. 

Fort Wayne now has at least four Buddhist temples, including the Indiana Buddhist Temple of Hoagland. Hindus worship at Omkaar Temple at 14745 Yellow River Road.

Sikhs from Dashmesh Gurdwara participated in 2016's Three Rivers Festival parade.

Muslims from Myanmar, formerly Burma, now have a mosque and education and community center, Masjid Noor Ul-Islam at 2121 Seddlemeyer Ave., one of at least four mosques and prayer rooms that cater to Muslims from various national and faith backgrounds.

Ye Win of Fort Wayne, an organizer of the new mosque, said it is the first built inside or outside his homeland, where Muslims are violently persecuted.

“To us, we are thankful because the United States is respecting different faiths and different communities and, ... we are able to do all these things in our faith and (practice) our beliefs because of the religious freedom,” he said.

Whatever or wherever the need, it's not unrealistic to count on Fort Wayne's religious residents to respond, Reece said.

“The church has played a major role in the formation of Fort Wayne from the very beginning,” he said.

“The church sets the moral tone for the community.”