Stewardship of Land

God’s mission through a ministry of place


“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” —Melody Beattie

To us, this describes the ministry of Peace Lutheran in Tacoma, Washington. We believe that generosity begins with gratitude. For the German-Russian emigrants who established our church in 1909, we imagine there was a great sense of gratitude as they made new lives in Tacoma. We also imagine there was great generosity and sense of service to God, one another, and community and that has become part of the DNA of Peace Lutheran.

I, Carol, have lived in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma and have been a member of this congregation, Peace Lutheran Church, since 1969, a time when the community was changing and the Civil Rights Movement was happening right here. While many mainly white churches left and white families moved to the suburbs, Peace remained committed to the neighborhood that by then was a predominantly Black community. The eighties and nineties were very challenging times when gangs, drugs, and absentee landlords impacted our neighborhood. Many members of Peace had transferred to churches outside of the neighborhood and for a time we questioned our ability to remain. God’s grace and generosity continued to sustain us.

Peace’s vision is to be a diverse and Spirit-filled, compassionate, healthy, reconciled, and just community of faith in the Hilltop neighborhood where all are welcome. As part of a network of agencies and other churches, Peace Lutheran has provided free community meals and short term temporary shelter for families. However, we realize that more permanent and affordable solutions to the struggles our neighbors are experiencing need to be found, and we seek ways to interrupt the cycles of systemic racism that continue to impact so many lives in our community. 

Stewardship of land: Ministry of place

Peace Lutheran Church has always been a good steward of the land we use. The church started with a church building and parish house, then expanded by purchasing a corner lot and the house next to the parish house. The land was used to build a larger facility in 2000 for the birth of the Peace Community Center, and then in 2014 the church began purchasing homes for an affordable housing ministry. Starting in the pandemic, a synod cohort of congregational representatives began to meet on a journey of Faith Land Stewardship, and we have been participating. Through our participation we have learned to use the language of land stewardship versus ownership and envision how God is calling us to use the available land we continue to steward.

A dedicated group of members worked through the pandemic time, praying and discerning what our future directions might be moving forward. We chose to focus on our ministry of place. We are in this place because of God’s mighty grace. We recognize that the buildings and the land that Peace sits on does not ‘belong’ to us, but is a gift of God and we need to be good and faithful stewards of that gift. We ask ourselves, “How do we best use this gift to love our neighbors?” 

Housing and community

Housing in our neighborhood is an issue of racial and economic justice. Our neighborhood is gentrifying, which has meant increased housing costs and led to the displacement of long-term Hilltop residents, especially people of color, and people with low-income backgrounds. We now steward four homes through our housing ministry, providing affordable housing and family support for four families of color with ties to our neighborhood who would not otherwise be able to afford to live here. 

Families living in these homes need wrap-around services to live well. God has blessed us with resources and a wonderful part-time Resource Navigator who works with the families to acquire the basic goods and services needed as they move into the home. Our hope and prayer for these families is that they find stability so they can move forward, out of the vicious cycle of homelessness and poverty. With the great need for more affordable housing in our Hilltop neighborhood, we are discerning how we might expand the Housing ministry on some of the empty plots of land we steward, perhaps with denser housing (a four-plex or eight-plex or even larger).

We have seen God at work again and again through the families who live in the homes we steward—as they stabilize their financial situations, get job training, connect their children to local schools, get involved with Peace Lutheran Church or Peace Community Center, and share their gifts by serving the community through the church. In one family, the mom is our church’s Nursery Attendant and serves in children’s ministry. In another family, the mom has cooked meals for our Community Meal Ministry and outdoor BBQs we have as a congregation. Both of these families are members of Peace Lutheran Church and a huge blessing to our community!

Spirit sightings

None of this just happens. God provides, still and again, wonderful leadership and a congregation that can think outside the box. Through the leadership of our Director of Community Engagement and Outreach and the team of people working with him, we have connected with other community agencies and churches also working on housing needs to learn how we can help one another become good stewards of the land we are using. 

Peace Lutheran, by itself, could not do this. We have partnered with local organizations to help sustain our ministry, including the City of Tacoma (providing new roofs), Metropolitan Development Corporation (providing weatherization), other congregations (sweat labor, maintenance materials, and solar panels), Associate Ministries, Housing Connector, Spinnaker property management, and church members who have volunteered their time. We received a major Big Dream grant from ELCA Hunger to provide the down payment to build the fourth housing unit, a two-bedroom DADU (detached accessible dwelling unit) in the backyard of one of the houses we steward. Peace Lutheran Church also contributes a portion of monthly offerings to this ministry. Time and time again, we have seen God bless ministries at Peace Lutheran Church when we see ourselves as stewards and not owners of the land and the assets God has put into our hands. As we trust God and give generously, God is doing amazing things!

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” —Melody Beattie

How is your church working with partners in the community? How have these partnerships enabled you to make more impact than your congregation could on its own?

  • John Stroeh and Carol Watson

    John Stroeh is pastor of Peace Lutheran Church in Tacoma, Washington. Carol Watson lives in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma and has been a member of the congregation since 1969.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments