Thrift Store Ministry Helps Spark Congregational Renewal

Source: Living Lutheran

“Jesus told us we have a responsibility to our neighbors—feed the hungry, clothe the naked and be a place of shelter,” said Tom Houston, a lay minister of Emanuel Lutheran Church in Worcester, Massachusetts.

It was with that scriptural admonition in mind the congregation launched Emanuel’s Closet. Houston said, “We want to be more of a factor in our community, and Emanuel’s Closet is a starting point.”

Emanuel’s Closet is a thrift store ministry of Emanuel Lutheran Church that uses one of the congregation’s older properties as a shop to reach out to the community. Organized over 125 years ago by Swedish immigrants, the church had a membership of over 1,000 during its heyday, but it has since dwindled to approximately 120, roughly one-tenth of what it was.

“Our church, like so many, had been really struggling last year, and for a few years leading up to that,” said Sarahbeth Persiani, a member of Emanuel who volunteers at Emanuel’s Closet. “We’d been losing members, losing interest, and we were in conversations about selling our building and maybe joining up with another congregation.”

Realizing the pandemic had caused economic hardship for many families, the idea of a thrift shop became a way for members of the community to receive access to high quality secondhand or gently used items at significantly reduced prices. Jackets, for example, only cost $6 each regardless of the brands such as NorthFace, Columbia, or Polo Ralph Lauren.

Persiani explained, the store “hasn’t solved all of our financial problems but has helped significantly to bring the congregation closer together to work on a tangible and common goal.”

As word spread about the congregation’s efforts, donations of merchandise poured in from the congregation, racks and fixtures arrived courtesy of a recently closed local boutique.

“We want to be more of a factor in our community, and Emanuel’s Closet is a starting point.”

“Emanuel’s Closet has helped bring our congregation together to focus on Christ’s commandment to reach out to our neighbors and be of assistance,” said Houston, who has served at Emanuel for just over two years following a 40-year career in food sales. “We have a lot of return customers from the neighborhood who wait to see the helium balloons we put out each time we open, and we have folks come down on buses from the inner parts of the city. Customers and others have told us we’re filling a need.”

Source: Living Lutheran