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Leading in an Urban Community

I recently interviewed Rev. Dr. Dan Czaplewski about leading in the urban community of Milwaukee. Over the last 30-40 years 55 Lutheran churches have closed in Milwaukee. Today, Mt. Calvary is a vibrant church and school a few blocks from the location of the 2016 riots in Milwaukee. Here’s part one of two offerings.

Dan, what drew you to Mount Calvary?

I’m a city guy. I love it. I was a teacher here years ago. Pastor Neitzel back then is the reason I became a pastor. Ruth, his widow, passed away at 102. I just gave her Communion the week before. It’s a wonderful church with people that love Jesus. 

What are the challenges of leading a congregation in an urban community?

I’d call them tensions. Maintaining tensions. Tensions that are never resolved. We’re an older congregation. You need to love the people in the church to death. They reward you for that but you have to be out in the community, too. Our church won’t be viable if it’s not making the community a better place. There’s a Kingdom responsibility.

What do you mean by making the community better?

If our church was gone, people outside our church would know they lost something valuable. We serve with Word and deed. I lead with prayer. 

I started intentionally listening when I first arrived, asking small groups of people in the church: “What do you expect?” We have spiritually savvy people. They’re invested. They’re asking questions about how our church sustains itself beyond their lifetimes. Not just “take care of me.”

I listened to community leaders, too…anyone that would talk to me. What do you know about Mount Calvary? What would you like to see in our neighborhood? What are the greatest needs? Community leaders asked for help with crime, jobs, constructive work for teenagers to learn skills and self esteem. 

Our community is diverse, mostly African American. Today in every aspect of our church we have African American members actively involved.

Next Week: We talk about racial injustice and Mt. Calvary’s Community Development Program.

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