At Home in the Heights
Rachel Young Binter has lived on 51st Street since 1993, along with her husband Kurt and their sons Gunther and Hans.
But she’s also known on the east side of Milwaukee as
Pastor Rachel, the campus minister for the Corner House
Lutheran Campus Ministry at UW-Milwaukee, located at
3074 N. Maryland Ave.
Why did you choose to live in Washington Heights?
I’m from Oshkosh, but Kurt went to Neeskara School and grew up above the Golden Zither restaurant on Vliet Street, which his parents operated for years and is now home to O’Brien’s. After I was ordained, we rented on 52nd and Galena. We saw this house come on the market, but by the time we inquired, it was gone. A few weeks later during a random conversation at an open house, we happened to meet the realtor who had purchased it, and we were able to buy it.
Why do you choose to stay here?
It’s an old-fashioned neighborhood. We love the economic diversity, the real sense of neighbors, and the quality of so many civic-minded people who are not just invested in the Heights but also support the arts and are engaged in service throughout the city. Then there’s the activity! Talking on the front lawns, finding bags of appropriately sized clothes that have made their way down the block … enjoying a sharing fence where we exchange everything from Kurt’s home brew to late-night chocolate.
What do you do as UWM Lutheran Campus Minister?
I’m in my fourth year at UWM – where Kurt also works in facilities architecture – after serving as associate pastor at Mount Carmel Lutheran. UWM’s Lutheran campus ministry (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or ELCA) had been closed for almost two years, so it was a complete rebuild funded by the synod and contributing churches. Five students live at the Corner House, about 20-30 students more are consistently engaged in activities, and we touch many more in interesting ways. In addition to meetings, retreats and services, we have free coffee and breakfast every Wednesday. We also have a partnership with the UWM LGBT Center, and a support group for trans students meets here. While it is a student ministry, you don’t have to be a student to be involved – nor do you have to be Lutheran.
How is campus life different from being a minister at a church?
I enjoy going to fewer meetings, and I spend more time on the things I was ordained to do, such as service projects, teaching and faith-based conversation. Also, there’s a progressive nature in a campus setting, and I get to see where the world is moving with the next generation. We enjoy talking with everyone, including small-town Republicans to Madison-raised liberals. When you see who is sitting around the table – Muslims next to Christians next to agnostics – it truly reflects the diversity of this younger generation, and that’s the world the church has to meet and speak to.
You frequently perform same-sex weddings. Why is that important to your ministry?
The first one was in fall of 2012. Two women were referred to me through a Marquette University friend. I knew they weren’t coming from a traditional religious background, and I was thrilled to bring the spiritual dimension. The preparation is the same as with any wedding, from who is doing readings to pre-marital counseling concerning their core values: whether they complement each other, how they resolve differences, and how their spirituality plays into it. And now I can even sign the marriage license!
Are you in touch with people from the Heights?
Brianna Heeley lives at the Corner House, Rollie Zimmerman is one of our musicians, we work with Tom and Linda Wissbeck at Lake Park Lutheran Church, and I occasionally see Jim Burmeister, the assistant dean of the Peck School of the Arts. I’m sure there are more.
Where are your favorite places in the Heights?
I really try to shop in the neighborhood, especially during the holidays, and I’m grateful that we have places like Urban Sense, Art & Soul Gallery, Rainbow Booksellers, Four Corners fair trade store – and some great restaurants. It’s been fun to watch the economic development along Vliet Street, and it shows how we can work together to support the future.