Tom and Lyn Scheuring, the founding directors of LAMP Catholic Ministries, recently stopped by our offices to let me know about LAMP’s 35th anniversary. They were fresh from a Mass the day before at St. Patrick’s Cathedral at which Cardinal Dolan had recognized LAMP’s work in witnessing the love of Jesus to the materially poor.
After my spiel about the abundance of anniversary stories that we encounter at Catholic New York, we continued our conversation and discovered a better story. The Monday after Thanksgiving, I traveled to Schurz Avenue in the Bronx, where LAMP is headquartered. I knew I had arrived at the right address because LAMP’s canteen truck was parked in the driveway, with a verse from 2 Samuel on its side, “You Are My Lamp, O Lord.”
The house’s backyard overlooks the water not far from the Throgs Neck Bridge. As the day’s sunlight streamed in through a rear window, the room was bright and warm. That gathering brought LAMP’s entire roster of 17 lay missionaries, minus one or two, together for a morning of sharing about their ministries, followed by Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the celebration of Mass by Father Stephen Asomah, a parochial vicar from nearby St. Frances de Chantal parish.
Scheuring, who lives upstairs with his wife at the same address, would later tell me that it was the first time a member of the press had asked to attend the weekly gathering. I told him and the other LAMP missionaries that I wanted to see how the prayers fueled their work.
I did not come away disappointed.
Their sharing with each other, it was easy to observe, invigorated the participants and also inspired me. Almost every one of the missionaries had a story to share. One missionary, Sarah Mutchler, spoke of a man named Dominic she has been visiting at a nursing home in Brooklyn. Slowly, he has opened up to her and another missionary who joins her for the visits. “God has given me such a love for him. I want to know everything about him,” Miss Mutchler said.
Another missionary, Mary Maynard, spoke about her experiences with a patient named Earl at Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility in Harlem, who told her, “We need more than prayer here. We need God to come in person.” Speaking to her fellow missionaries, Mary said Earl’s remarks were humorous, but were also “a reminder of how people feel.”
Marybeth Greene, who with her husband, Ed, are LAMP’s longtime pastoral directors, noted that the story offered a perfect Advent parallel.
In a ceremony at Mass that day, three of the missionaries—Miss Mutchler, Hailey Megge and Samantha Chestney—received the LAMP mission crucifix as a sign of their commitment. Each missionary is called to commit at least a year of missionary service, although many serve longer.
LAMP missionaries serve directly with the materially poor at parishes through home visiting, working with youth, religious education, Scripture-sharing groups and sacramental preparation. They serve homeless families by providing a faith presence, especially personal sharing and prayer, in several New York City shelters as well as in hospitals and nursing homes. The LAMPcafé mobile canteen brings food with the message and love of Jesus to those who are hungry and homeless on the streets. Some missionaries serve at crisis pregnancy centers, helping young, pregnant women considering abortion to know that God loves them and their unborn children.
Miss Chestney, 24, began her missionary service shortly after visiting for a week to see whether it was the right choice for her. The native of Good Shepherd parish in Rhinebeck had taught in Harlem a couple of years ago and also became active with the Frassati Fellowship young adult group.
A week was all it took. “I knew it would be a great place for me to grow,” said Miss Chestney, one of a number of 20-somethings now serving with LAMP.
She lives in a community of five women, all LAMP missionaries, at Annunciation House in the Bronx. (There is also St. Joseph’s Residence for the male missionaries.) The missionaries, who receive a small stipend along with health insurance and their living accommodations, cook and eat dinner together, enjoy recreational activities and also spend a lot of time in prayer.
Miss Chestney said she is learning from stories that other LAMP missionaries share about their experiences, and also by working and praying with them. By praying with a more experienced missionary, she said she came to realize that a homeless man they were helping was her “brother” in Christ.
“It was an amazing experience,” Miss Chestney said.
She told me that although she was not actively seeking a religious vocation, she is open to the possibility. Over the years, Scheuring said that more than 30 LAMP missionaries have gone on to pursue vocations to the priesthood or religious life.
In 1999, LAMP received the canonical status of a “private association of the Christian faithful,” under Cardinal John O’Connor.
Despite a lack of promotion, the number of LAMP missionaries hasn’t wavered much at all over the years, and neither has its mission. “We don’t see anyone else doing what we’re doing,” Scheuring said.
“We can only do this by being united together with the Church and with the Lord.”