Stirrings of the Spirit
In the late 1970’s, Tom & Lyn Scheuring experienced an increasing desire, which they believed to be of God, to serve among the materially poor, much as they had the privilege of doing in the early years of their marriage. In 1969-71, they had served in an evangelistic outreach to runaways in New York’s East Village. This desire, however, was unique in that they perceived the needs of the poor not only to be physical and psychological, but most of all (also) spiritual. They saw the faith support of the materially poor was almost non-existent, and yet so crucial to their total well-being.
Testing a Call
To test this call they visited other established outreaches to the poor, including ones in El Paso, Texas; Juarez, Mexico and Mexico City. It was on December 12, 1978 (Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe), that Tom & Lyn, and their three young children, boarded a bus in New York City for the 60 hour trip to El Paso. For the next month they tutored their children and assisted in a faith outreach ministry in Juarez. In January they proceeded on to Mexico City to experience similar faith oriented Catholic outreaches among the poor. While there they received the honor of being the only family invited to a House of Prayer that was to exist to intercede for the Latin American Bishops Meeting (CELAM), which was taking place in Puebla that month.
Pope John Paul II, in his first trip outside of Italy as Pontiff, convened this meeting and the Scheuring family stood along the road as the Holy Father passed by in an open truck “Pope mobile”.
As this call of a ministry of evangelization among the materially poor continued to be confirmed in their hearts, they were aware that knowing the Spanish language would be very important. Through a number of circumstances, some very difficult and some very providential, they were able to take a six month Spanish Language and Culture course through a grant from a Maryknoll priest. This took place at the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, TX. In January 1980, they began this program while their children attended the local Catholic school in San Antonio.
Responding to a Need
At the conclusion of this program of study, in the summer of 1980, they were uncertain about their next step. Having little money, they applied for and received a grant from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, to serve in one of their very poor Mexican-American parishes in San Antonio, as “Lay Ministers of Evangelization”. It is while they were serving at San Juan de los Lagos parish that they saw the effect their ministry was able to have on the parish.
This led them to reflect on the need that existed for lay missionaries to serve in poor parishes in the metropolitan New York City area. One warm afternoon, while praying and sharing about their ministry, they realized that there was a need for a ministry to facilitate and enable such an outreach, and that possibly they should begin it.
On the one hand there were very poor parishes that couldn’t afford to hire someone to serve in evangelistic outreaches as: home visiting, youth ministry, sacramental preparation, Scripture sharing groups, etc.. On the other hand, there might be other lay persons who wanted to serve the poor, but wanted to do it with an emphasis on evangelization, and do not know where or how to do so. Over subsequent weeks, through prayerful reflection and discussion, they began to put their thoughts on paper, and then circulated their ideas to a number of Church leaders they knew and respected around the country. While all responded affirmatively, some doubted if anyone would be generous enough to answer such a call.
One friend, whose support and guidance was greatly valued, was Rev. Alvin Illig, C.S.P., the then Director of the Paulist National Office of Catholic Evangelization. Upon calling him to tell of this vision, he immediately offered a grant of $5,000 to help it begin.
‘With’ the Poor
In prayerfully seeking a name for this ministry, Tom & Lyn eventually arrived on “LAMP Ministries”. The many scriptural references to the word “lamp” were significant, including John the Baptist being called the “bright and shining lamp” (John 5:35, preparing the way for Jesus.) It also fit the acronym, “Lay Apostolic Ministries with the Poor”, which well articulated the vision to which the Holy Spirit had guided them. They put significant emphasis on the word “with”, as opposed to “to” or “for” the poor. The importance of that word was frequently the source of subsequent teachings for the LAMP Missionaries, as well as significantly referred to in Cardinal O’Connor’s Sunday homily on the homeless on Feb. 7, 1993, when he shared about LAMP and read excerpts from The Poor and the Good News.
It was very important for the Scheurings that LAMP have an ecclesial vision, that it be clearly connected with the Catholic Church from its inception. After attempting to make this connection through various Chancery Offices in the New York Archdiocese, they eventually wrote to their good friend, Bishop Francisco Garmendia, in the South Bronx.
He encouraged them to write directly to Terence Cardinal Cooke, the Archbishop of New York at that time. The Cardinal was somewhat familiar with the Scheurings through their earlier book on married spirituality, Two For Joy. They wrote to the Cardinal, asking his blessing on their beginning LAMP.
They received his affirmative reply on March 25, 1981 (Feast of Mary’s Annunciation), inviting them to come to the Archdiocese to begin LAMP. Because of the graces that Tom & Lyn believed this affirmation contained, they considered that date as the beginning of LAMP Ministries.
LAMP arrives in New York
The plan to return to New York City was hampered by the fact the Scheurings didn’t have the money to rent an apartment for their family. On the Feast of St. Joseph (May 1, 1981), they received a phone call from Mr. Mike Burke, an elderly shop keeper in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. He had heard of the Scheurings and their desires, and wanted to offer a small apartment to them for a year, which he usually offered to missionary priests. They only had to pay the utilities.
Upon returning to New York, Tom acquired a job (to feed the family) serving two days a week at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish in the Bronx, developing a Baptism program for the parish. The rest of the time Tom & Lyn began developing LAMP and prepared a brochure for recruiting purposes and fundraising. They met with Archbishop Gerety of the Newark Archdiocese and Bishop Mugavero of the Brooklyn Diocese to receive their blessing and permissions to have LAMP in their Dioceses. Contacts began to be made with pastors who would be open to having a LAMP Missionary serve in their parish.
During that first year, longtime friend of the Scheurings, Marybeth Mutmansky (later Greene) desired to serve with them. She left her job as Campus Minister at Manhattan College to assist in the administration of LAMP when there were not even any funds to pay her. Mike Burke also provided a desk in his little store to serve as LAMP’s first “office”.
On July 1, 1982, the Scheuring family and LAMP’s office moved to 2704 Schurz Ave. in the East Bronx where their family lived on the second floor of the house and LAMP’s office and meeting space was on the first floor.
Further aspects of LAMP’s history and subsequent development can be found in the book: The Poor and the Good News: A Call to Evangelize, with the Foreword by John Cardinal O’Connor (1993: Paulist Press).