New faces bring renewed spirits to communities of faith

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z 2014-03-16T00:34:09Z New faces bring renewed spirits to communities of faithBy Bob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com

Bishop Dale Melczek said he sees his upcoming resignation as an exciting time for both himself and the 187,000 members of the Catholic Diocese of Gary spread among 70 parishes in Porter, Lake, LaPorte and Starke counties.

"It's a chance for us to put our trust in the hands of God," he said.

This positive outlook is also being lived out among other communities of faith across Northwest Indiana, which have experienced changes in leadership over the past year.

Larry Whitehead took over in July as superintendent of the north district of The United Methodist Church, which oversees 116 churches across northern Indiana from the Michigan state line west to Illinois.

Priorities for the denomination in Northwest Indiana include opening a church in East Chicago, where it has been absent for quite some time, he said.

The details are still in the works, but the focus is on serving the needs of the Hispanic population, Whitehead said.

"It's kind of driving us ," he said.

The First United Methodist Church of Valparaiso celebrated groundbreaking in November for its Community Life Mission Center at the corner of Burlington Beach Road and Silhavy Road in Valparaiso, Whitehead said.

The new facility will be built in addition to the main church on Franklin Street in downtown Valparaiso.

Planning is also underway for a nontraditional style of church in Gary, where the denomination once had a strong presence, Whitehead said. The goal is to become "the church" of Gary, even though it likely will not involve a structure.

"This is not so much about a building as it is about mission," he said.

Thomas Engel left behind 11 years of service as a pastor in Louisville to take over in April as pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church at 49th Avenue and Pierce Street in Gary.

The church is working toward reopening the K-8 school at the church site, which was closed 20 years ago, he said. The group started slowly by beginning an after-school tutoring program in October, said Engel, who also teaches English and speech at Ivy Tech Community College.

"We're taking baby steps," he said.

The school building, which has been kept in good shape over the years, is also a good place for a community center to offer programs such as adult job training and music lessons, Engel said.

The church has plans in the spring to start a community garden, he said.

"We take a holistic approach here — mind, body and spirit," Engel said.

Melczek said he turned in his resignation in November as is required by church law of all bishops when they reach the age of 75. He expects his successor, who will be the fourth bishop of the Gary Diocese, to be appointed by the pope sometime later this year.

"I am looking forward to new things," he said.

Area Catholics already have been rejuvenated by last year's election of Pope Francis and his message of reaching out beyond ourselves.

"I think he brings a new energy to our calling as disciples of Christ — to be missionaries," Melczek said.

The new pope lives what he preaches through such examples as celebrating Mass in a juvenile detention center, visiting offenders behind bars and reaching out to other marginalized members of society, he said.

Members of the Gary Diocese also are involved in various outreach efforts in prisons, soup kitchens and shelters, Melczek said.

"That's what we should be doing," he said.

The diocese also is partnering with others to provide education to children most in need in Haiti.

"We're not a church of maintenance," Melczek said. "We're a church of evangelization and outreach."

Young people also are active in various faith-based programs.

"There's a greater energy in living the faith," Melczek said.

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