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Boomers & Beyond, Going Beyond

Toledo is thrown a LifeLine

Steve North is a man on a mission
by Mary Helen Darah
PUBLICATION DATE: Dec 2016

Steve North leads a unique and diverse community where people feel valued, accepted and celebrated.

Steve North leads a unique and diverse community where people feel valued, accepted and celebrated.

If you ask Steve North what his occupation is he will say, “Pastor …but a really weird one.” Originally from Detroit, the Pastor relocated to southern Ohio when he was “called” to begin a new mission. “I wanted to do something new and different,” recalled North. “It will be 10 years this past summer that I walked away from everything with my wife and three teenage kids to start this new “thing” even though I doubted it would work. I was in grad school working on a Master of Divinity degree and suddenly, over the course of several years, things changed. The process culminated in 2004. I wanted to start a new ministry but I couldn’t define it, so I began to write. When I finished, I distributed it to people and the response I received was overwhelmingly positive. I began doing research, and in about a year, I had this feeling that I had to begin this new ministry or die inside. If I had known everything that would accompany the move, I would have chickened out.”

The “everything” in moving to the Toledo area that North was referring to includes being robbed, vandalized, the loss of 12 cars and having four heart attacks. Yet, he endured and threw Toledo a “LifeLine.”

LifeLine has two facets. The first is the spiritual community. “We created a truly organic and highly spiritual community, particularly in the inner city,” explained North, Senior Pastor, founder and CEO of LifeLine. “Many feel disconnected from organized church. They have been hurt, disenchanted, disillusioned, and whatever ‘dis’ you want to apply. I have a real affinity for them. I love atheists and love people from every faith stream. We create safe places for them to explore. One of my mantras is ‘belonging is before believing.’ The Lifeline ‘church’ meets in our home. We also meet in coffee shops and ‘homeless guy’ places. It certainly is not about buildings.”

A year after North moved here, he met a man who would increase the outreach of his ministry. “I met a man named Jim,” he recalled. “He has a higher IQ than anyone I have known. He is completely outrageous, which usually goes with higher intellect. I heard him talking and went and introduced myself. I told him why I was in Toledo and he told me he had a group of people I should meet. I went to a poetry reading with Jim at the Collingwood Arts Center. People there had no use for God, pastors, or religious everything. What they read was so raw, vulnerable and real. Later that night we went to this homeless guy’s fire pit. It took my breath away. I realized this was his sanctuary. That week I did something I had not done in 35 years. I wrote a poem about the homeless guy’s place and went back to the group and read it.”

North came to realize that many in the poetry group were poor and never ate a real meal. He decided to have a chili super for them in his home. “There were 15 that came and I made enough chili for 100. I am the master of overkill. They stayed for twelve hours. It was great,” he stated. “We had another dinner a few weeks later. In September, we celebrated our ninth anniversary. We have had as many as 200 people attend. No one is asked to bring anything. I would never want someone not to attend because they do not have anything to bring. Today it is not just poets but people from every walk of life. At any given dinner, there are dropouts, Ph.Ds, CEOs, people with no jobs, people with no faith and those who have devout faith. No matter what human spectrum you want to name, we have someone. We always start with belonging. There are no outsiders. People are learning to cross lines that normally divide. Over time, people learn to respect one another. We still have an open mic for poetry reading and musicians to honor our roots. It is a place that is iconic in the city of Toledo. The common thread is building community.”

The second facet of North’s ministry is to be immersed and responsive in the community. “I got up to my eyeballs in the joy, the pain, the hard stuff,” he stated. “It took me a good five minutes to fall in love with Toledo. I am involved with everything that involves the homeless in Toledo. A few years ago, I bought a greyhound bus to provide services to people without medical care. It is staffed with volunteer medical students and docs. It has a professional and very private exam room. This isn’t ‘kids building a fort with a blanket.’ We provided free pap tests and free vouchers for mammograms at this year’s ‘Tent City.’ I have never recruited anyone. They come to me. I told Dr. Anne Ruch about my dream to have a real clinic for those in need. After researching other clinic models, she embraced the dream. On Aug. 21, she left her job at ProMedica and began ‘Compassion Health Toledo.’ I will be the speaker at the grand opening in 2017.”

North feels the people involved in their ministry have a ‘lifeline heart.’

“You hear people’s stories. People know they are heard and seen. The same DNA that created the community dinners created the medical bus,” stated North. “If I were a boxer I would be a ‘counter puncher.’ I respond to what comes at me and LifeLine responds to what is happening around us by providing a sense of belonging and unconditional love.”

For more information about Lifeline visit: lifelinetoledo.com

‘LifeLine Community Dinners’ take place the first Saturday of each month in North’s Old West End home and offer acceptance, love and respect ... and LOTS of food.

‘LifeLine Community Dinners’ take place the first Saturday of each month in North’s Old West End home and offer acceptance, love and respect … and LOTS of food.

 

 

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