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Worship in a Parking Lot

“Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” – John 20:19b

On Sunday, April 27, the work begins early, as a group from St. John Lutheran in Passaic begins


turning on lights in the kitchen. Coffee is brewed, food is prepared, and sandwiches are made. But this isn’t for a congregational meal (though those happen frequently and energetically), this is for their ministry to those waiting for work in their local Home Depot parking lot.

The community of Passaic has seen remarkable changes in demographics in recent years, and, while the economy has recovered for some, the people there have dealt with the growing need of unemployment. When the people of St. John looked at their community, they saw a group of men in the local Home Depot parking lot in the early mornings. These men, mostly Latino, were waiting for work from anyone who drove up, and there seemed to be a sense of need. Many of those who were waiting were desperate for work, living in homes with many others and trying to scrape a meager life together for families either in Passaic or back home. And so a small group began gathering on Sunday mornings, making sandwiches and coffee, and bringing it over. Rather than expect people to come to them, the group walks around, checking in with those who they know and introducing themselves to those who are new. After a few weeks, worship seemed like a natural extension, and so on the last Sunday of the month, Pastor Ignaki Unzaga leads a short worship that includes a Scripture reading, brief homily, prayers, communion and passing the peace. For those gathered there, it was a reminder that God’s presence is with them in the parking lot and in the church building.

It’s not as though this ministry doesn’t have its challenges. At any moment, if a car or truck slows down with the prospect of work, a crowd quickly forms around them. Those at worship are still on the lookout, and some would rather skip worship and keep their spots. But the hope is to feed as many as possible, with both breakfast and the Word and Sacrament. And this isn’t the only way that


this congregation seeks to be connected to their community. Often there are groups using the building for other reasons. On this Sunday, the Bolivian consulate is there to help with passports and identification. And the congregation looks like its diverse community. Members are from Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. And through this ministry, they are the presence of Jesus coming into the midst of people’s lives, and wishing them peace.

To help out: Prayer is a powerful support. Consider volunteering on Sunday mornings to make and deliver breakfast, or by supporting the ministry financially. $40 will provide a nutritious breakfast to 35 men for one Sunday. $480 will sponsor this breakfast ministry one Sunday a month for a year.

To learn more, contact St. John Lutheran Church (Iglesia Luterana St. John) at 973-779-1166 or email:, pastor@stjohnpassaic.organd on the web at Like them on Facebook here (

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