There will be a new voice leading the charge for participants of the Hospitality Center. Rev. Kevin Stewart on Dec. 1 will turn the ministry over to longtime volunteer Leif Peterson while the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee finds a more permanent replacement.
“It’s time for new ideas and new energy,” Stewart said. “Leif is all over the shelter issue and has been involved with the Center for a long time. It’s time to take the Center to its next iteration, and that requires local leadership. Leif is it.”
Stewart was never meant to stay in Racine. Instead, he was directed to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 614 Main Street, to help the congregation connect in a deeper way to their community.
“Deacon Kevin Stewart was sent to St. Luke’s to help them figure it out,” Bishop Steven Miller said in a written statement. “(His) catalytic ministry in Racine now comes to a close and he will be assigned a new ministry context within the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee.”
Deacons, Miller explained, are directed to churches to help congregants develop ministries outside the walls of their church, develop the appropriate ministry and then pass leadership to the local community.
By all accounts, the Hospitality Center is a thriving ministry. It evolved from a casual day program with coffee and snacks to the largest hot meal program in Racine, and for three years, served as an overnight emergency shelter during the winter.
Stewart announced last January that the Center would cease overnight emergency shelter because of a lack of resources, and the greater Racine community and beyond responded in force, raising nearly $50,000 and countless donations of food, clothing and toiletries. After using about $12,000 of that money for hotel vouchers and other Center needs, the remaining $38,000 was given to the Continuum of Care to pay for hotel vouchers this winter.
Stewart and Peterson have been vocal advocates for a permanent shelter solution, and Peterson said the community should expect to continue hearing him push for one.
“Racine needs a permanent shelter solution, and the Hospitality Center will lead that discussion,” he said. “We will not let this go; it’s too important.”
Peterson is also putting a plan into action to build stronger relationships between the Hospitality Center and area businesses, organizations and churches.
“We have to make it a priority to reach out so we can provide services,” he said. “The Center does a lot of great things, and I’m excited to be part of the challenges and the opportunities.”
Stewart starting breaking the news of his departure to participants and volunteers on Monday, and he said it’s been hard, but he is full of hope.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege,” he added. “We made the impossible, possible so I ask everyone to think about the amazing and miraculous things that have happened here. This is really just the beginning, so I want the community to dream about what can be and work toward what will be. That is my hope and my prayer.”
Stewart’s last day in Racine will be Nov. 30.