The Northern Lighthouse

Where can outcasts find a home, if not in the church? The Northern Lighthouse in Lincoln, Neb., has become that home for many. Its vision is to be a place of acceptance and direction, and it lives out this vision in many ways, from its property design to its programs.

Planted in 1997, the church moved onto a 5-acre horse ranch in 2001. The property serves the neighborhood in many ways; its sand volleyball court, barbecue pit, and playground are open to all.

The Northern Lighthouse welcomes all sorts of people, and that has shaped the church in unique and exciting ways.

A man named Lee McKane began attending after he saw a flier about the church’s Alpha course. When one of his friends was incarcerated, McKane wondered if the friend could still attend Alpha. He learned that he could sponsor his friend and check him out of the correctional center to attend programs.

This simple action had a far-reaching impact, as more and more inmates started attending the Northern Lighthouse. Almost everyone is greeted at the church door with a hug. To someone in prison, a hug makes a big difference. Now approximately 25 percent of attendees are inmates and many in the congregation are in recovery from drugs or alcohol.

L.A. (Little Angel) Goodrum learned about the church while incarcerated in the nearby correctional center. Trapped in substance abuse and destructive relationships since age 12, Goodrum was looking for wholeness. She had noticed that a group of inmates would return on Sunday mornings with a sense of purpose and peace. When she discovered that the group attended the Northern Lighthouse, she decided to try it. She was surprised to feel love and peace at the church and has been going ever since.

The sanctuary is informal, with round tables instead of pews. About 120 people attend services on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. On Monday nights there is a reintegration program for inmates, consisting of a Christian 12-step class and life skills classes.

Inmates serve the church and community. About 10 men participate in the Charity Autos program every Saturday. They provide free mechanical labor in a garage on the property. At other times during the week, inmates help with church cleaning and landscaping.

When the Northern Lighthouse’s leadership team decided to accept inmates as a vital part of the congregation and not to separate them in any way, the decision turned some people away but attracted others who want to be part of the mission.

Chanda Gerdes, who was hired to drive the bus for the reintegration program, used to declare to everyone: “I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in nothin’!” After agreeing to attend a service, she found both home and family in the church. She now teaches a 12-step class and serves on the board of directors of the reintegration program.

“We believe that grace comes first, then people change their behavior,” Pastor Sam Keyzer explains. “It’s exciting to see Reformed theology come alive.”

About the Author

Kristin Niehof is a graduate student at Regent College, Vancouver.
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