August “Gus” and Mildred Bernthal believed in the “long welcome” for refugees and migrants – a welcome that extends beyond words and beyond the first few months in a new country. A “long welcome” means that newcomers intentionally become an integral part of our communities and congregations over time.
Gus believed helping refugees and migrants was not only following the command of Christ but also a means of greatly strengthening the ministry of the congregation. Indeed, the congregation he pastored in central Florida was active in working with LIRS to welcome over 300 refugees.
Each week, Gus Bernthal greeted congregants on Sunday mornings, rose to preach, and spoke a benediction over parishioners. In his own words and actions, Gus proclaimed that the mission of the church centers on the call to show hospitality to strangers. However, he wanted to make sure that the tradition of extending a “long welcome” would continue to future generations. Gus had a particular passion for legacy gifts and frequently asked people to make LIRS a part of their estate planning. In a letter to LIRS supporters, he wrote, “You and I can continue to let the light of our hospitality shine even when we are gone. And what could be more satisfying?”
As a longtime member of the LIRS Board of Directors, Gus was a key voice in helping congregations remain deeply involved in the ministry of welcoming. Gus wrote, “In the letter to the Hebrews, we read that we are not to neglect to show hospitality to strangers. From my many years of deep involvement in the ministry of LIRS, I know well that an act of kindness is done to a stranger – and suddenly that stranger is a messenger of God.”
In honor of this legacy of welcome and compassion, LIRS has named our legacy society in honor of Gus and Mildred. The Bernthal Legacy Society was formed to recognize all those who have identified LIRS as the recipient of a gift through their estate plan. Simply naming LIRS in a will, or as a beneficiary from life insurance, retirement plans, or other assets qualifies a person to become a member of this society. Society members receive recognition in our annual report as well as invitations to special events throughout the year.
Bernthal Legacy Society members are critical to our mission. Not only do they represent our commitment to the promise of the “long welcome,” they also become important voices to friends and neighbors who wish to make a difference today and well into the future.
LIRS is currently conducting a survey to learn what aspects of our ministry are most impactful. Go to lirslegacysurvey.org to add your voice to shaping our future mission.
Paul Erbes is the LIRS Gift Officer.