For Lt. Wayne Strayer, corps officer at the Ottawa, Ill., Corps, ministry is all about building relationships.
“It’s my philosophy to treat everyone like family,” he said. Since he arrived in Ottawa last June, regular Sunday attendance has more than doubled, weekly programs have resumed after pausing during the pandemic, and new programs have started.
One big factor contributing to the corps’ growth is a strong focus on pastoral care and corps engagement in Pathway of Hope (POH).
The corps’ POH initiative serves dozens of families at a time, many of whom are referred by family services. Caseworker Rachelle May walks with families toward reaching their goals on the path toward improved stability and sufficiency. Working closely with other agencies, she helps families resource their needs, including helping them obtain food, clothing, housing and assistance with bills; referring them to mental health services; and providing emotional support in family situations involving court proceedings.
One way she’s helping families build a community of support is through a new monthly activity called Family Connections. POH families, both those who have completed the initiative and those currently working toward their goals, come together for an evening of fun and education. Led by volunteers from the local community college, activities include skill-building and helpful tips for parents such as cooking or how to stretch their grocery budgets while the children enjoy games and activities.
POH families are further connected to the corps through pastoral care with Lt. Wayne and the warmth and acceptance of corps members.
“I have an open door policy,” said the lieutenant. “I provide as much pastoral care as the families invite.”
Corps members not only enthusiastically welcome POH families who come to Sunday services but also provide transportation to church, women’s ministries and Bible study each week. A network of support has developed in which people check on one another and let each other know they care. One corps member even donated furniture when a POH family obtained housing, helping to make it a home.
“The longtime corps members are really the backbone,” concluded the lieutenant. “Investing time and energy into building relationships with people shows them that we care about them. When they see that we’re not just giving them a handout and sending them away, that we’re willing to listen and talk with them, then they start to feel welcomed and want to come back.”