The Importance of Community in a Church’s Vocation

By Naomi Meints ’25 from an interview with Pastor Shellie Knight

I recently interviewed Pastor Shellie Knight about her time at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Freeport, Illinois. Shellie, a pastor with a background in rural ministry, described the experiences of being in this small but diverse city, and putting down new roots with this community. We discussed the importance of connecting with others, and how the Nourishing Vocation Project has helped the church to strengthen their connections. Pastor Shellie emphasized how, both within the congregation and outside of it, community is part of one’s vocation.

Pastor Shellie talked about community focus as being core to her mission at Prince of Peace Lutheran. She described Freeport as a small city, but a diverse and lively one in the middle of this rural section of Illinois. She spoke incredibly highly of the connections people have been able to make through this church, and especially using the Nourishing Vocation Project resources. This appears in various ways, from small Bible studies to large services. She described the Nourishing Vocation Project as a “perfect fit,” and described the different ways different programs have helped congregants. Recent services have pulled quite impressive numbers, and have been conducted in innovative ways. She seemed particularly proud of the ways children have been incorporated into services, being encouraged to create arts and crafts ahead of time and bring their own creativity and joy into the children’s portions of the services. Additionally, small and personal conversations have stemmed from Bible studies, where people have been able to open up and reflect on a much deeper level with their fellow congregants.

Specifically, Pastor Shellie encourages people to explore their values and identities through these activities. One thing she noted of particular importance is baptismal calling. This means the church’s understanding of the Sacrament of Baptism informs how we think about our vocation today. We even discussed the choice to move the baptismal font from the back of the sanctuary to the front. This serves as a symbolic shift from viewing baptism as a singular event, to rather an ongoing act of mercy and renewal in our lives. It is as important now as ever!

We all have this call to more conversation and education around it.

Pastor Shellie Knight

Pastor Shellie described a baptismal vocation like this: “I am a child of God. As a child of God, something happened at my baptism. Something continues to happen, because it’s living water. Now that has been poured over us and steeped into our being, how do I live out my baptismal promises, our baptismal vocation? It’s a call, right? We all have this call to more conversation and education around it. I like to be around people, but I am realizing God is actually placing those gifts of your spirit upon you, and you’re living in the location of compassion and mercy and healing. So it’s been really exciting to see everyone’s understanding of vocation expand, and people really enrich their vocabulary and their articulation about who they are and who God has created them to be.”

These values that the church programs emphasize extend far beyond the walls of the church Prince of Peace Lutheran. Pastor Shellie spoke with much joy about the charity and outreach programs that have been thriving in the Freeport community. Unfortunately, the community struggles with poverty, high crime rates, and homelessness. This means Pastor Shellie sees a particular calling to help out those in the community who are affected by these realities. She spoke highly of their involvement with a local women’s shelter, where they help women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. They also assist with local homeless shelters and resale non-profits. She placed particular priority on the church focusing on children’s charities in the area, as the congregation is passionate about helping the disadvantaged youth in the community. Regarding community outreach, Pastor Shellie said: “Bringing it back to a community ministry, we’re acting on God’s mission that has already been created, and we are a part of that and are able to pull them back and reflect on that work together to again use spiritual practice to ground us in. Why? What? How? Who? We know those kinds of questions, and to make sure that it’s grounded in the mission of our faith community. So we’re not all just kind of out there doing our own thing, but are realizing this is a faith community participating in God’s mission in Freeport, in Northern Illinois, in God’s global desire on purpose for good”. 

We’re acting on God’s mission that has already been created, and we are a part of that

Pastor Shellie Knight

Ultimately, we know that Prince of Peace Lutheran Church understands well how, both within the congregation and outside of it, community is part of one’s vocation. If you’re curious to hear more about this church and other thriving congregations, sign up for the 2024 Conference for Worship, Theology, and the Arts: Nourishing Vocation happening at St. Olaf College July 29-31!