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Love and care for called workers

It all started with a phone call from the church president to the pastor: “What if we remodeled the parsonage to fit your daughter’s needs?”

In early 2020, Steve Schmidt, pastor at St. John’s, Oak Creek, Wis., and his wife, Margo, had decided to sell their home. The house they purchased when they moved to Wisconsin in 2013 was not going to meet the long-term needs of their 20-year-old daughter Sonja, who has quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Schmidt explains, “Sonja is unable to stand or walk independently, and her fluctuating muscle tone affects every movement of her body. She cannot speak and relies on a communication device to express herself. She needs assistance with everything, from eating and toileting to getting into bed at night.”

The Schmidts started to investigate building a custom house that would give Sonja freedom of mobility and needed support where necessary. Such a move would cause its own problems, though; the family would strain their budget and probably have to move farther away from their church.

Eric Fleischman, an architect and
St. John’s member, with Sonja. Eric designed one of the chief features of the “Sonja Project”—the Sonja Express, a rail system attached to a medical lift device that allows Sonja to walk through various areas of the house safely and under her own power.

At the same time, St. John’s was wrestling with its own housing issue. Its longtime staff minister had announced his retirement and would be vacating the parsonage. While the decision had been made to call a second pastor, the congregation had no way of knowing when that call would be filled or if the 65-year-old parsonage would meet a new pastor’s needs.

The congregation had several options. It could offer the use of the parsonage to a new pastor, repurpose the parsonage for classroom and office space, or do something more drastic like demolishing the parsonage altogether.

Then congregational president Dennis Walder had the idea to remodel the parsonage. “Actually the parsonage remodel project—called the ‘Sonja Project’—was more of an answer rather than an idea from St. John’s,” he says. “God always has a plan. This was very evident as all the pieces came together for our ministry work.”

Schmidt was immediately excited. “The thought of living in Oak Creek, right next to the church, in a space designed for Sonja’s needs, was beyond anything we dreamed possible. But that’s how God is—providing in unexpected ways.”

The congregation approved the plan, and work began in October 2020. A four-bedroom house was transformed into a three-bedroom accessible house with an exercise area for therapy work, widened doorways, an open concept kitchen and bathroom, and many other updates.

Love and care sidebar“The response from many members using God’s gifts was overwhelming from the initial stages to the moving day,” says Walder. “Our members were engaged from the rafters to the basement floor during this transformation.” Members also contributed financially as part of a three-year capital campaign.

The Schmidt family moved into their new home on the last day of January 2021. “Living in the remodeled parsonage has made our day-to-day lives easier,” says Schmidt. “We are very humbled by the love and labor that our congregation extended to us; it just makes us want to serve them with the same love they have shown us.”

Volume 108, Number 8
Issue: August 2021

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