Conference of Churches

Conference of Churches

Because of its name, it’s easy to picture the Lehigh Conference of Churches (LCoC) as a solemn, deliberative body that concerns itself with deep theological concepts.

But it’s much more than that, says executive director Dr. John “Jack” E. Felch Jr. “We are a Christian organization with an ecumenical mission,” he said. “So by definition, we work across all theological divides in Christian churches to help each other do what Jesus asked us to do.”

This extract from its mission statement makes it clear: “Putting our faith into action, we minister to and advocate for those in need and encourage all to reach their full potential.”

Although its social-service programs are inspired by Christian values and understanding, Felch said “Our programs are open to everybody, and we are more than happy to work with people of other faiths in taking care of our neighbors.”

The conference was established in 1954 by a half-dozen local pastors who envisioned that their combined efforts would be more fruitful than their individual works. Currently, over 140 churches in the Valley are members of the LCoC.

Our programs are open to everybody, and we are more than happy to work with people of other faiths in taking care of our neighbors.

Among the Conference’s many societal activities are its justice and advocacy committee, which works on prison reform, Bread for the World (a non-partisan Christian group that targets world hunger), and similar causes aimed at justice and fairness, and the Interfaith in Action committee, which works across all faith lines to care for the community.

The Conference works with Catholic Charities to operate an ecumenical soup kitchen. “We’ve done that for 20 years,” Felch said. “The Conference runs it in Alliance Hall on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; Catholic Charities hosts it the other four days at its Chew Street facility.” He adds that the program typically feeds up to 120 people each day.

A significant part of LCoC’s operating income derives from its many government contracts for housing. The Lazarus House program leases blocks of apartments and then sublets the units to people transitioning back into society. “These might be former prisoners, or youth that are ‘aging out’ of foster care,” he explained.

But a generous contribution from a board member gave the Conference enough leverage to acquire six local properties that function as group homes.

“By placing three or four people in a single home, each tenant pays just a portion of the total rent, and we put a roof over more people’s heads,” Felch said. Because several people share common facilities, the arrangement also provides an informal support system for the residents.

The Conference’s housing program didn’t go unnoticed. “Recently, Northampton County invited us to purchase three apartment buildings in the city,” Felch said. The consolidated operation now provides affordable housing to 51 individuals.

The conference also operates “Daybreak,” a drop-in center for people afflicted with mental illness or physical disabilities, as well as those with HIV/AIDS or addiction problems. In addition to offering three meals each weekday, Daybreak provides structure and encouragement to help members deal better with life and their conditions.

One of them is 55-year-old “Vince,” who’s HIV-positive and has been sober for the past 18 months. “When I joined Daybreak, I was really shy,” he recalled. “But I made a lot of friends, and I’m more outgoing now. I really love the staff here.”

He enjoys the meal service because “I have my own place where I can cook, but I’d rather be around other people; it keeps me from getting up in my own head,” he said.

Vince also participates in various group discussions (topics include finding forgiveness and expressing appreciation), self-esteem workshops, and assists the staff by serving as a volunteer “floater,” as needed.

“I found a lot of good things at Daybreak,” he added. “Being around positive people helps me keep my mind straight.”

Felch welcomes community contributions to the Conference’s programs. “Many of our Lazarus House residents would benefit from having ‘mentors’ that help them rejoin society. In-kind donations of carpentry, plumbing and electrical services for housing renovations are helpful too. And there’s still time for people to register for our ‘Valley Over the Edge’ fundraiser in early June.”

TAKE YOURSELF “OVER THE EDGE!”

On June 1, experience the thrill of rappelling down the face of the 11-story 2 City Center building in Allentown! Participants in Valley Over the Edge, a major fundraiser for the Lehigh Conference of Churches, qualify by raising at least $1,000 in pledges. The program includes a training session by professionals, the descent itself, and a “landing party” afterward.

“We had amazing community support last year,” said executive director Jack Felch. “Senator Pat Browne and his wife Heather participated, and even the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ mascot Melvin took the plunge.”

Are you up to the challenge? Learn more (and register) by visiting valley-ote.org. 

For more information about the Lehigh Conference of Churches’ services and programs, visit lehighchurches.org, call the main office at 610-433-6421, or email to [email protected].

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