HUDSON — The Rev. Beth A. Olson has learned in her career that God is always willing to match a congregation’s enthusiasm.
“If I had an elevator speech, that would be it,” said Olson, pastor of St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Hudson. She also is author of the newly published book from CSS Publishing Co., “Becoming a Makeover Congregation: A Story of Hope, Renewal & Possibility.”
Olson will be signing books from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the church in Hudson. On Nov. 16, she will sign books from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School in Waverly.
Olson based the book on one of the congregations she served in the Northeastern Iowa Synod of the ELCA, Messiah Lutheran Church in Janesville.
Her book offers inspiration, ideas and stories for congregations struggling with various issues and in need of a makeover. “Makeover isn’t a case of finding some sort of magic formula; instead, it’s a matter of reaching out in faith to a wide range of possibilities.”
One out-of-the-box suggestion is giving the congregation glow sticks to involve everyone in a Christmas Eve service.
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When Olson arrived in Janesville in 1996, the congregation was uncertain that the church would be open each Sunday and didn’t know from week to week if they would see each other in worship. Olson credited the late Rev. Ray Ehlers, who served as temporary pastor, and his wife, Elaine, for “loving the congregation back to life” before she took over the church.
Then it became her job to foster and grow the congregation’s self-confidence and self-esteem and build toward the future. “I use holy jumper cables as an image in the book for a transformational ministry. There’s life there, but sometimes it needs an assist, someone to coax it out,” Olson explained.
A $50,000 gift put the congregation on track to a new church and education unit that was dedicated three years later. Olson said the experience was not “a one-person story. A lot of things came together to allow the congregation to move forward in faith and mission, despite some setbacks along the way. The congregation was able to take a leap of faith that, with God’s help, allowed them to build a new church for a new century.”
She noted that “just including a fireplace in our narthex design may seem like a small factor, but on Iowa winter days it warmed up more than just the narthex.”
Olson left Janesville in 2005, taking time to write down “some of the good stories then set them on a shelf. Later I looked at the stories again and thought ‘there’s some really good stuff here. Let’s put it into a book and show how Janesville got back on its feet.’”
The pastor used lessons she learned to shepherd a recent interior makeover at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. As a result, she said, the church has been able to offer “wraparound child care” weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and “become much more of a community resource.”
“Becoming a Makeover Congregation” can also be ordered at online booksellers. The publisher’s list price is $16.95, but the book will be sold at the signings for $15.