St. Paul pastor stresses community collaboration in Skokie
Pastor Matt Conrad has a seat at St. Paul Lutheran in Skokie on Aug. 24. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
NAME: Matt Conrad
BEST KNOWN AS: St. Paul Lutheran Church pastor
Updated: October 14, 2012 12:11PM
SKOKIE — When Matt Conrad moved to Skokie from Nebraska three and half years ago to become the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, the congregation he had inherited was in flux.
Its associated parochial school suffered from low enrollment and, ultimately, closed its doors. The church was mourning the unexpected loss of its former pastor, whose death left them without a religious leader for three years.
As Conrad became acquainted with the ins and outs of his new home, he began working with parishioners to rediscover the identity of the 131-year-old congregation.
That process, he said, is still ongoing and one that involves all residents of Skokie.
“We’re not supposed to focus just on self,” Conrad said. “We want to reach into the community to be a blessing to people.
“We have an opportunity to give back.”
Eager to learn about the wants and needs of the residents, Conrad pulled together the leaders of various organizations to explore ways St. Paul and others could be further engaged in the Skokie community.
The Community Leaders Network formed in early-2011 and embarked on its first initiative this time last summer with the launch of SkokieServes.org, an online directory of local volunteer opportunities.
The group’s dozen-plus church, school and government representatives — which include Mayor George Van Dusen, Skokie Public Library Director Carolyn Anthony and Niles Township Government Coordinator Ada Rabinowitz — recognized early on the opportunity they had to help both unemployed people and cash-strapped nonprofits do good work.
They believed volunteering could be used as an avenue for people without jobs to get involved in their community, network with other professionals and build up resume-worthy skills sets, Conrad said.
Skokie Serves was made possible by the willingness of organizations to collaborate and pool resources, be it money, time, people or knowledge.
The Skokie Library manages the site.
“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Conrad said. “What bigger things can happen if we work together.”
The St. Paul congregation is now relying on its partners for ways to expand or create other programs, such as a soup kitchen and after-school activities.
Conrad’s family is also involved in expanding the church’s reach. Spouse Danelle, whom he notes is “not your typical pastor’s wife,” formed social and support groups and most recently assisted with a rummage sale.
The couple’s tots — Nathan, 5, and Mya, 2 — are often found running up and down the aisles of the century-old church. They expect a third child in January.
Service to others, Conrad said, “is our life. It’s not our job.”