LAMP Catholic Ministries
By Caroline Kenney
LAMP Catholic Ministries (Lay Apostolic Ministries with the Poor) was founded in 1981 to serve the spiritual needs of the materially poor, and that continues to be its purpose and main focus. The Bronx, New York-based organization currently serves people in the New York City area. In 1999 LAMP received the canon law status of “private association of Christian faithful” through Cardinal John O’Connor of the Archdiocese of New York. LAMP says, “This designation is an official recognition and affirmation by the Church of LAMP Ministries’ service of evangelization with the poor and as a way to holiness of life.”
Catholic Digest spoke with Tom and Lyn Scheuring, LAMP’s founders and directors.
How did the organization get started?
Tom: It’s been our life journey to serve through the Church, but we felt a strong desire to serve the materially poor, with an emphasis on evangelization. We traveled to El Paso, Texas, to spend a month working with a Jesuit priest. The experience clarified the call to serve among the poor, but we needed training and we needed to learn Spanish. We went to the Mexican-American Cultural Center in San Antonio, a Catholic training school for missionaries to Hispanics, particularly the Mexicans. We studied Spanish and pastoral missiology for six months. Then we served in a poor Mexican parish in San Antonio. We saw what we were able to do as laypeople in that parish, and we brought it to New York City. On March 25, 1981 (the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord), we were welcomed by Cardinal Terence Cooke to explore the beginning of LAMP Ministries in the Archdiocese of New York. That date is the beginning of LAMP because of the ecclesial grace coming through the affirmation of the Church.
Lyn: I really felt in my own heart that our movement was that of the beating heart of Jesus, which took root within LAMP. Of course, the Blessed Mother was very much a part of that, too. That’s what keeps the LAMP missionaries inspired.
What’s the inspiration for the name?
Lyn: We saw many Scripture references to the word “lamp,” one being that Jesus is our lamp and our light, and we thought it could be an acronym for Lay Apostolic Ministries with the Poor — the word with being very critical.
What’s the missionary commitment?
Tom: There are usually 15 to 20 LAMP missionaries at a given time. People commit themselves to a minimum of a year, but some people have been with us for 10 years. The call to LAMP is spiritually very strong because we share about God in their lives and in the lives of the poor. We ask applicants to come for six days to experience LAMP. Then they enter into an initial formation, which is individualized and involves talks, Church documents, and papal documents, but no one is ever done with formation. It’s life, and it comes from serving. We emphasize that our ministry is not just when we enter the door of our site. It’s our life.
What kind of training does LAMP provide?
Tom: We train in terms of different cultures, techniques, and methods of home visitation, but nurturing a spiritual life in LAMP is important. The fruitfulness of what we do really depends on each one of us.
Lyn: The posture and mutuality is critical — being with the poor when we are allowing the beating heart of Jesus to feed our own hearts. It’s encouraging that the most timid people, who focus on the Lord’s presence, are given courage and confidence.
Describe the services that LAMP provides.
Tom: LAMP Ministries started serving in materially poor parishes. We thought that if the spiritual element was addressed, it could affect everything else. We then became aware of the homeless and were concerned about the families because of the children involved. We also meet with youth in detention centers. They come in sheepishly, pulling their sweatshirts over their faces, but by the end of it, they want to be prayed with as they share their burdens and the need for God in their lives. It’s a transformation we see across the board.
Lyn: We also work in nursing homes, sitting with residents and praying with them. They are stuck there for the rest of their lives, and many of them never get visitors. They carry burdens that are deeper than physical suffering. If the spiritual needs are addressed, everything else can be handled. There is a lot of need for reconciliation and an awareness of God’s mercy.
Tom: We also have a canteen truck called LAMPCafé. We serve sandwiches and drinks, but more importantly, we visit and pray with the 50 to 140 visitors that come. On the truck, it says, “You are my lamp, O Lord” (2 Samuel 22:29) and “Jesus, you bring light to my life,” with the words also in Spanish, so even driving down the street, we are a witness.
Lyn: In our LAMP for Life work, pro-life missionaries carry a rosary and stand outside of Planned Parenthood facilities. People see that, and with the influence of Mary, it leads people to be very open and share about the struggle to choose life or not, what to do, how to do it. It’s been a real grace, and many have turned away from abortion and chose life.
Tom: We also have something called LAMPLighters, which is a club for children, where they learn compassion and concern for the poor. When our children were in high school, we gathered six to 12 students together, and we met with homeless teenage girls in a shelter. The children realized they were the same. When this mentality is formed when they are young, it makes them conscious and sensitive of the poor.
What’s the impact of the spiritual work you do?
Tom: Our sole purpose is to nourish the spiritual life. We see miracles all the time in people’s lives — for instance, getting their families back together, going to rehabilitation. We had one homeless mother say to us, “Since you’ve been coming and praying with me, I don’t hit my children anymore.” Our work has real, practical consequences in their lives, especially when they feel God’s love for them, his forgiveness for them, and his mercy.
Do you have an especially memorable moment?
Lyn: I was serving with the LAMPCafé, and one man came staggering over. He was very intoxicated. I listened to his story and his anger about his struggles. After he shared, I said to him, “Will you pray for us?” He put his coffee cup down and began a prayer that was so powerful for the world, for people who suffer. It was a beautiful, global prayer. He prayed with a booming voice, reminding me of the Scripture, “The poor man’s prayer pierces the clouds” (Sirach 35:21). All of the others gathered around, and we prayed with him. When he finished, he was sober. He walked away but turned toward us and said, “You people made me comfortable.” He did it again and a third time. It was so striking because he felt comfortable with us, and that’s what we want people to feel — to know that God is with them.
Why is this work so important?
Tom: St. Vincent de Paul was a chaplain to a rich family, and he lamented, “I don’t even know the name of one poor person,” and he started serving the poor. We all need to ask if we know the name of one poor person. Not out of guilt, but because they are members of the body of Christ. People need to feel uncomfortable to bring attention to the fact that we don’t need to go far to see someone in need. We want that needy individual to feel like a person and feel the love we have for him or her. We recognize the Lord’s presence in them and build them up. That’s why the word with in Lay Apostolic Ministries is so crucial. We are poor, too, except we are able to hide our poverty better than they are. Very often, the people just need someone to listen to them. All of us are in that boat.
What is your inspiration to continue?
Tom: Our missionaries share one story of the Holy Spirit working through them each week. Doing anything once a week for 35 years gets boring, but this doesn’t because there’s no repetition. It’s about a human being, and every human being is unique. We come away from these meetings so inspired, uplifted, and filled with gratitude for the Holy Spirit.
What is LAMP’s impact on your own faith life?
Tom: Because of LAMP Ministries, we both pursued and received our doctorates in theology from Fordham University. We felt it would assist with the credibility of LAMP and help support the LAMP missionaries. The sole purpose was because of LAMP Ministries.
What are LAMP’s biggest needs?
Tom: The sandwiches that we give out at LAMPCafé are donated. Families in the area also make sandwiches, and we buy granola bars and drinks. We are also solely responsible for raising the funds for the missionaries’ monthly stipend, so in terms of need, financial help is a big one. We are a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation.