Church #15. Meet Katya Ouchakof. She is a co-pastor at Lake Edge Lutheran Church in Madison, Wisconsin. With an average worshiping attendance of 200 people, Lake Edge is a community that dares to embody the Gospel or the Good News of Jesus Christ!
Along with the congregation, Ouchakof and her co-pastor, Stephen Marsh, have established a welcoming presence in the community. It’s obvious on the what we believe page of the Lake Edge website to see that the Gospel is core to their identity.
Words like acceptance, diversity and love are valued. For 20 years, they have been a Reconciling in Christ congregation with a heart for social justice ministry. Reaching out to those who have been marginalized is the work Lake Edge has been called to do.
They have even caught national attention as people from Westboro Baptist Church have showed up to picket in front of their church. These picketers, one cold Sunday morning, shouted hateful and destructive messages to those who crossed their threshold to attend worship.
But Lake Edge remained calm. In fact, one member decided to show the picketers some hospitality. He went out in the cold to bring them some hot coffee. Moving forward from this experience, Lake Edge decided to expand their social justice ministry.
Of late, they have been “building bridges” with Christ the Solid Rock, an African American Baptist church located in the same neighborhood. Their first step in getting to know each other was to worship together. Right from the start Ouchakof says, “It’s been a natural connection!”
One win-win ministry move was to read and discuss several books together including “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and “America’s Original Sin” by Jim Wallis. Attendance never dwindled during these book studies.
What they learned was the need for conversation about race on both sides of the table. As people of God, we sometimes struggle to understand each other. Social justice ministry at Lake Edge has thrown the door open wide. It’s become the frontline work for their church.
Why does social justice ministry matter? It matters because of what it says in Amos 5 about what God does not want:
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals. I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.”
But answers what God does want:
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Reaching out to those who are marginalized is the work of the church. It’s hard work. But work that we must do. That is what it means to embody the Gospel.