St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Wausau, WI, is located "on a strange line," said the Rev. Phil Schneider. On one side of the church is an affluent community, with upscale shopping, fine dining and a bustling theater district. Two blocks from the other side of the building is a neighborhood with one of the highest concentrations of heroin use in the state, homelessness and despair.
"We have had to figure out how to minister to this line," Schneider said. "It's a neat opportunity, but a strange balance."
Embracing both the "haves and the have-nots," St. Paul's works with other members of Greater Wausau Christian Services, an ecumenical organization of 13 churches that provide various services to those in need throughout the community.
GWCS primarily serves the residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and those in the county jail and juvenile centers. Programs offered include worship services, bible study, sensory services, and re-entry training. St. Paul's focuses on jail ministry. About five members of the congregation are part of a rotating list of volunteer pastors, deacons and lay people who provide worship services and bible study at the county jail a few times a week, and also offer training on job interview skills and resume building. Bill Panzigrau, St. Paul's member and GWCS board member, says the goal of this program is to help make sure former inmates get a fair shot at building a new life once they are released.
"I've learned an awful lot about inmates and how they are treated and released," he said. "It is very hard for them to re-enter the community and have a normal life after that. The normal person's thought is that these people got themselves into trouble and it's their fault they were there, but we are still all God's children."