North Riverside residents form new church

Small Lutheran congregation looking to plant roots

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By Jackie Glosniak

Contributing Reporter

A lifelong Lutheran, Donna Landa has always enjoyed fellowship in small congregations and sharing the word of God with those around her. However, when the North Riverside mother and grandmother no longer felt her local congregation was meeting the spiritual needs of herself and others, she decided to take matters into her own hands and guidance from her former pastor.

Since November, Landa has collaborated with her former pastor and North Riverside resident, the Rev. Mark Matthews, in forming reNEWed Hope Church, leading a small group of people from Matthews' former parish, Concordia Lutheran Church in Berwyn.

Upon Matthews' retirement as head pastor at Concordia Lutheran for 21 years, Landa and others felt as though the church was moving away from the types of worship many had come to love over the years. 

Landa was looking for more interactive means of worship like the ones Matthews fostered during his time at Concordia Lutheran. 

"I started reNEWed Hope Church, because after Pastor Matthews left, I went around visiting churches and I just couldn't find one that I liked," Landa said. "I still loved Concordia Lutheran and I loved the people, but they switched style, if you will. [ReNEWed Hope] play a variety of songs, like 'Amazing Grace' and more contemporary songs, and I like to worship with all of those."

Matthews, who was formerly a Lutheran  Church Missouri Synod minister and is now a Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ pastor, has served in various capacities as a pastor, teacher and youth director for more than 40 years.

He worked at Concordia Lutheran for 21 of those years. That affiliation ended in 2011. But, he has continued to preach at a small mission church in Geneva.

When Landa approached Matthews with her idea, he jumped at the notion of offering support for members of his former faith community.

"I didn't want to do all the meetings, didn't want to do all the involvement, all the different conflicts that can come up in big churches," Matthews said. "So, [my wife] Kay and I were in a situation to help out in Geneva as well as here."

ReNEWed Hope is operating as a Lutheran church, affiliated with New Hope Lutheran Church in Geneva, which is part of the Lutheran Congregations in Missions for Christ (LCMC). 

"Because we help in Geneva, they were willing to help us get started," Matthews said. 

Any offerings given by members of reNEWed Hope are recorded and shared with New Hope, which in turn helps take care of expenses related to reNEWed Hope's operation.

Initially, Landa began holding services in her living room. Eventually, Landa knew the growing group would need more space and inquired about renting a room at Christ Presbyterian Church, 2350 8th Ave. in North Riverside. 

Landa and Matthews figured that since most members come from North Riverside, Broadview, Berwyn and Brookfield, the church would be a convenient central location. Currently, the congregation has about 25 members. 

Services are held Sunday evenings in the lower level of Christ Presbyterian, with 45 minutes of dinner and fellowship followed by an hour-long service and Bible discussion. For dinner, members of the church bring their own dishes to have a potluck-style dinner and for the service, music is courtesy of Praise and Promise, a group of musicians formerly part of Concordia Lutheran.

"People worship in different ways," Landa said. "Some people like to sit quietly and not sing and that's OK. Some people like to really get into their worshipping and that's OK too. I think you should feel free to worship as the Bible says, in spirit and truth, whatever that is for you. It's not ritualistic worship, and that's not a dig to anybody, but it's not just talking. Every week to me is new and exciting."

Henry Stahnke, a Berwyn resident who was a lifelong member of Concordia Lutheran and guitarist for Praise and Promise, says reNEWed Hope has been the blessing some members of his old congregation were looking for.

"When [Matthews] left our church, I missed what he brought every week," Stahnke said. "No matter what kind of week you had, you could go to church, and when you left, you felt good because he loves you and you could tell God loves you."

Landa says so far, she believes the church is meeting the needs of the group. 

"We have good worship and discussion back and forth," she said. "At a lot of churches, you just sing and then there's a teaching, and I felt like I was missing out on the discussion. With reNEWed Hope, we're down to earth and we share in God's love."

Matthews says the goal of reNEWed Hope is to continue encouraging others to come join them and see what their form of worship is all about.

"The people who are coming are loving, giving people without an agenda," Matthews said. "Sometimes in congregations, there are a lot of agendas. We don't have that as far as I can see. It's just a bunch of people who are looking to worship the Lord and help each other out. I think that's what makes it really nice. The sad part sometimes about large congregations is nobody knows who you are."

Landa says this spring, she would like to raise awareness and get new people to see what the church is all about. Some of the church's ideas for outreach include hosting worship in local parks, walking in Fourth of July parades and having a booth at North Riverside's annual chili cookoff. 

"We would love for some more people in the neighborhood to come," Landa said.

As to whether or not the church will have their own brick and mortar location in the future, Matthews remains optimistic but says the decision is not entirely in the hands of the congregation.

"I guess it depends on what the Lord has in mind," he said.

This article has been changed to correct Rev. Matthews' affiliation within the Lutheran Church and to clarify when his affiliation with Concordia Lutheran in Berwyn ended.

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Reader Comments

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Neal Namowicz from Berwyn  

Posted: January 2nd, 2021 10:08 AM

I am a former member of Concordia, where the pastor used to work. I apparently separated from the church shortly before he did, because of situations there. Some of it was his doing, the rest the actions of committee members. He was not perfect, to say the least, but some Concordia's "finest" members helped alienate and discourage participation from others. He certainly tore apart a previously tight church community, but not without help from within. As far as what he did or didn't do? I wasn't there, but I will believe their accounts. As to character, I ask former members to remember a phrase that was bandied about during his talks. I thought it was a made-up word, maybe a play on the word 'waffle', but now, I discovered something else. Swaffelen. A word he often tossed around, swaffeling. Look it up if you're curious. Was that just an accident or a warning?

JJ James-Anthony from Brookfield  

Posted: March 3rd, 2016 2:51 PM

Hi Nathan. I researched the definition of a FOOTPRINT for you since you can't read, your welcome! Dictionary.com: A footnote is an ancillary piece of information printed at the bottom of a document.

JJ James-Anthony from Brookfield  

Posted: March 3rd, 2016 2:44 PM

Hater? So you are saying that you endorse clergy that inappropriately make sexual advances on congregation members? Then I think YOU are the person that is a hater. I fight for the rights of the abused.

Grace Ashley  

Posted: March 3rd, 2016 2:11 PM

Considering the people who have commented as "haters" all used to truly look up to and work closely with him, wouldn't you think something extreme must have happened to make SO many people go against him? We stand with the victims, not the abuser.

Julie Ann Bradshaw-Tipton  

Posted: March 3rd, 2016 1:57 PM

Nate, you need to learn what a footnote is. The article was changed after the initial posting to reflect the newspaper's negligent fact reporting after the posts went public. Continue to support your mentor but remember that just because it didn't happen to your wife or daughter, doesn't mean it didn't happen. Hater? Sure. I hate abuse against women. I also am fully knowledgeable about two of the instances. Put your amnesiac hat and your rose color glasses and continue your feigned righteous outrage.

Kathleen Daluga Stechmiller from Berwyn  

Posted: March 2nd, 2016 10:41 PM

I have known Mr. Matthews for the last 25 years. He married my husband and I, baptized our children and confirmed one of them. My husband and he were quite close. The sad part is that he ended up not being the person we all thought he was. Well, a lot of us. He betrayed many women and families in our congregation. But if you think of him as your mentor Nate, that is entirely your business. You obviously don't know the whole story, and to be fair, it did not affect you or your family. You should feel greatful. Mr. Matthews ruined his own reputation. And, he has NEVER shown a bit of remorse. What he has done and is doing now is between him and his God. While I understand your need to defend him, be very careful about some of your accusations. There are incidents that really did happen. It happened to several women for sure and this has hurt them and their families immensely. This was a man they trusted. He was in their home for meals, baptized them, mentored them, and prayed with them. I truly believe that everyone, especially the folks who have decided to stand by Mr. Matthews need to remember that this is very real and folks are suffering and angry and hurt. Again, I realize that none of these incidents happen to you or your family so it's hard to grasp others hurting. Do what you will, that is your prerogative, but do not flaunt this in those of our faces that have indeed been affected by his actions.

Nathan Kiecker from Berwyn  

Posted: February 27th, 2016 11:35 PM

Hold on people! LET ME CLARIFY! I have gone to Concordia Lutheran Church my whole life and I've known pastor Matthews my whole life. The past 5 comments are noted as "haters" because they will do anything in their power to destroy someone's reputation. He is no longer associated with the Missouri Synod people (if you read the article)! Let him do what he wants and praise God and spread the word. Isn't that what it's all about? Forget the past because you know what, God forgets YOUR past! I am utterly disgusted by people like YOU who leave outrageous comments without any though or basic knowledge put into what you are saying. Stop cutting down someone else's life when you should look in the mirror at yourself. Pastor Matthews is my mentor and I will always stand by his side. Keep doing what you are doing.

Adam Jures from Stickney  

Posted: February 10th, 2016 2:43 PM

I love the comments about this article more than the article. Noble and tough it may be to create ones own place of worship. Mark Matthews is scum. He is no longer a roster lcms because of inappropriate actions with several female congregation members. He is a predator. Stay away.

JJ James-Anthony from Brookfield  

Posted: February 10th, 2016 11:37 AM

This is an alarming article that is missing a lot of critical SAFETY information regarding Mr. Matthews.

Julie Ann Bradshaw-Tipton  

Posted: February 10th, 2016 11:32 AM

You have more editing to do. His ability to provide any services in any capacity with Concordia Church was terminated over three years ago.

Grace Ashley  

Posted: February 9th, 2016 6:41 PM

LET ME CLARIFY! It has come to my attention I had my facts mixed up. It still is true that he is not allowed to preach in a Church and this article is full of lies. I strongly suggest the reporter of the article to reach out to those who know the truth.

Grace Ashley from Berwyn  

Posted: February 9th, 2016 6:06 PM

This is SO false and horribly scary to read. He did NOT retire. The real reason is disgusting and unacceptable. Just think, why would somebody retire, then try to find somewhere else to preach?

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