For the Rev. Jennifer Mills-Knutsen, serving people in need isn’t just a talking point for Sunday-morning sermons. It’s a way of life. Because of this devotion to her congregation and community during times of tornadoes and other turmoil, the Virginia native will be honored for her compassionate efforts at the 16th annual Bales Humanitarian Gala, to be held August 15.
As pastor of St. Luke’s United Church of Christ in Jeffersonville since 2006, Mills-Knutsen counsels and supports her congregation of 200 through the good times and the bad. But compassion doesn’t end at the sanctuary door. St. Luke’s, with Mills-Knutsen at its helm, recognizes its purpose as something more.
“The point of the church isn’t to serve the people who are already inside of it,” she said. “It’s to be a witness to the community and to make a difference in the life of our neighborhood and the city of Jeffersonville. And so St. Luke’s sees itself as a community of people put here to serve in our location.”
Practicing what she preaches, Mills-Knutsen opens the church to all those in the community by hosting a variety of services. Stop in the rectory on a Tuesday night for a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous. Earlier those same mornings, knitters gather to create sweaters for needy children across the world. Wednesdays this fall, families can attend a music night where kids can express themselves in a safe, friendly environment.
Expanding the ministry, the church has begun to organize prayer vigils for local victims of violence. At times, evil can hit close to home. Just this year, Mills-Knutsen lost 17-year-old Tara Willenborg, a long-time church member, to an unspeakable act. Tara’s mother Kelley Curran credited the pastor’s “superhuman compassion and abilities” in providing comfort for her during this difficult time.