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In September 2017, Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) student and Northern Illinois Synod candidate for rostered ministry Bob Stark began his placement as a student and licensed pastoral leader at First Lutheran Church, Mt. Carroll.

The first week of his time as First’s “Parson” (title unique to First Lutheran), a member invited him to go with her over to the Mt. Carroll Methodist Church for a “free lunch.” It turned out that this “free lunch” (yes, there is such a thing) was part of an ecumenical ministry called The Table, which itself was a ministry of the Great River Outreach (GRO), a non-profit organization that seeks to provide services that improve the lives of the residents of Carroll County. Bob soon found himself on the Board of GRO, because he felt the Holy Spirit guiding him to be part of the work GRO was doing. Joining the leadership of GRO fit with Bob’s longtime motto, learned at a class at a previous congregation “Find where God is working and join in.”

Bob realized early on in his work as a seminary student and pastor leader in the congregation that many people that he encountered around and about in the community were hungry for community and fellowship. He saw an opportunity for the leaders of GRO to not only provide mid-day meals, but also to find ways to “feed” people in other ways. He began seeking a place to provide services beyond lunch in Mt. Carroll. However, the doors did not open in Mt. Carroll. He realized that perhaps Mt. Carroll was not the location the Holy Spirit had in mind for the community center he envisioned. Rather, he looked just a little to the west, to the city of Savanna, that did have open storefronts on its Main Street, and it was there that the doors did open.

Fellow members of the Board of GRO immediately joined in this vision, and so the dream of this community center, eventually named “Bridges of Carroll County” became a reality, although the health restrictions implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic delayed it being able to fully serve the community as imagined. However, Bridges of Carroll County is now open and is fulfilling its original vision, to be a safe place for all to gather to build “life giving relationships.”  In addition to being a place where people can come and hang out, the center offers life skill workshops, with Tuesday workshops being practical “how to” classes, such a cooking, job seeking and health classes and Thursday being arts and crafts. The series is called “Fit for Life Workshops and Discovering the Arts Series.”

During the health emergency, work continued to go on, and members of the GRO continued to imagine ways to serve the community. And the Holy Spirit continued to open doors, literally, as additional storefront became available, and two more ministries were planned and implemented. “Classy Closet” is the Great River Outreach's nonprofit alternative to inexpensive, high quality clothing. Along with Bridges of Carroll County and the Table, Classy Closet makes up the Great River Resource Center on Main Street. “The Table” space on Main Street is still being refurbished, but it will be open as soon as that is done. 

The first question anyone asks when considering a new ministry is “How are you going to pay for it?” That is a good question, and one that will need answering. In the case of Bridges and the expanding ministries, it was a combination of asking for help and inviting people to be part of something bigger that they could do themselves. Between donations and grants, Bridges, Classy Closet and The Table are paid for. To watch the progress and the “asks,” go to the GRO Facebook page

Not to forget, (now) Pastor Bob is still serving at First Lutheran, Mt. Carroll.  Members of that congregation have become part of this outreach ministry in various ways: offering children’s music classes at Bridges; preparing to teach knitting as one of Bridge’s classes; and being excited about the opportunities that now are available. Remember, “Find out where God is working and join in!”