Ekeberg hopes to inject youthful spirit into Shelton church

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Joe Ekeberg, interim pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, is hoping to increase youth participation in the Howe Avenue church.

Joe Ekeberg, interim pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, is hoping to increase youth participation in the Howe Avenue church.

Brian Gioiele / Hearst Connecticut Media

Three decades in Lutheran ministries have elevated Joe Ekeberg’s faith — so he’s hoping to pass this passion onto the city’s youth.

In the past year as interim pastor at Shelton’s Trinity Lutheran Church, Ekeberg has not simply been preaching from lecterns. He spent time during the summer literally hitting the road, walking the surrounding neighborhoods, meeting people and passing the importance of faith.

But with fall comes the return of the children’s programming — and Ekeberg hopes that means more young people to liven up this church, which was founded in 1899 and is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

“When you have a positive, ‘Jesus loves you’ message, kids eat that up,” said Ekeberg, “and a church can offer that different spiritual message that children will not get anywhere else. For children, church does not become a requirement, it is something they can feel.”

Ekeberg is hoping the church’s youth movement got a jump start this past Sunday, Sept. 15, with the annual Sunday School Rally Day and Picnic at the 183 Howe Avenue location. The event featured food and games for children in kindergarten to sixth grade.

“We do not have many children now, but that is our next mission, increasing the number of youth here,” said Ekeberg, adding that he was encouraged when a dozen children participated in the church’s Vacation Bible Camp this past summer.

Ekeberg said he has seen increased interest in the congregation during his months on the job but much work remains.

“We want the community to know that the church is welcoming,” said Ekeberg. “I think people, especially children, are missing out when they don’t understand the opportunities that participating in a community of faith can bring them.

“We’re always excited to have the children around us, joining us at the service,” said Ekeberg. “They have a feeling of acceptance. When we have the Sharing of the Peace, before communion, everyone goes around and shares with everyone including the kids, and it is a very positive experience for all.”

Ekeberg came to Trinity Lutheran Church known for far more than just spreading the word of the Lord on Sunday mornings. He has a reputation for taking his love of ministry on the road, and very soon he might well be in your neighborhood.

Ekeberg’s long history with the Lutheran ministries is highlighted by his starting the parish in Tolland in the 1980s, a religious endeavor that continues to thrive to this day, as well as time at parishes in Glastonbury and Bristol before retiring nearly three years ago.

It was during his work creating and building the Lutheran parish in Tolland that Ekeberg used an unusual technique in attracting interest. He rode his 10-speed door to door, talking to residents about the new parish, and religion in general. It might be decades later, and the 10-speed may have truly been retired, but Ekeberg sees a piece of his past could help energize Trinity Lutheran Church’s future.

“The numbers not what they used to be … the number of participating of young families is not what used to be, and Trinity, in that respect, is not much different from other places,” said Ekeberg. “So I decided to do what I do best, talk to people.”

While technically retired, Ekeberg has never hung up his collar. He has spent the past year with Trinity Lutheran Church making numerous connections in the surrounding neighborhood and the community in general.

“Low participation is not a good thing for any church,” added Ekeberg. “The church still offers some things. We certainly need to grow to survive. This (door-to-door) is something I did before, and it’s also for me to get to know the community better. I also want people to know, I am not here to take them away from other parishes. That is something I never want to do.”

“But I think there is a need for people to talk about the importance of church life,” added Ekeberg, “and what faith can bring to people.”