Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Sharing the furniture — and other things as well

On occasion, Lutherans find they can do the best ministry in company with non-Lutherans

Two recent articles in Metro Lutheran chronicled the progress of Salem English Lutheran Church, south Minneapolis, toward reconfiguring its ministry. The discernment process has been ongoing for three years. The congregation began to consisder partnerships as maintenance expenses became unmanageable.

Salem entered into an ecumenical partnership with Lyndale United Church of Christ (UCC) in January 2006. When the painful decision was made to close its historic building (on Reformation Sunday last year), the ecumenical partnership became tangible. Both of the congregations now share the UCC congregation’s building.

Besides the close proximity of the two churches, the congregations had other reasons to begin partnering with one another. Since the fall of 2005 they had shared a united Sunday school. When the Rev. Jen Nagel began her tenure as Pastoral Minister of Salem in July 2003 she spoke with members of the nearby churches. She quickly realized Salem and Lyndale were facing similar circumstances.

“[In discussions] we began to see we had a lot … in common. We have a different heritage and tradition but it was a powerful spirit-led conversation,” Nagel said. “This wasn’t something we searched out. We [at Salem] spoke with leaders of a lot of different nearby churches, including the Lutheran ones. We didn’t go into this with a partnership in mind.”

Both Salem and Lyndale UCC were challenged with the difficulty of meeting church expenses. As the winter of 2006-07 approached, Salem faced a projected $8,000 heating bill. The congregation decided to move into Lyndale’s location at 31st and Aldrich.

Sundays in the new location can sometimes get crowded, but Nagel shrugs that off. A typical Sunday begins at 8:30 a.m. when Salem holds their traditional service in the sanctuary. Sunday school begins at 9:15, and at 10:30 the UCC conducts their worship service in the sanctuary — as Salem holds their Jazz service in a dance studio on the second floor. Both congregations share coffee hour afterwards, a time that gives members the opportunity to mingle with one another.
The bonding between the congregations has gone well, but there have been many issues to confront.

“We have had to be careful about how loud the sax is so we wouldn’t interrupt Lyndale’s prayer. Those are really the kinds of things we have had to think about,” Nagel said. The congregations have been diligently working to overcome the issues that would make partnering difficult.

Before Salem moved into Lyndale’s site the UCC congregation took down all of the bulletin boards so each congregation would have a sense of a new beginning and a banner above the main entrance to the church reads: Two Churches Sharing.
Salem is temporarily renting space in Lyndale UCC’s building while longer-term plans are being considered. The congregations had originally drafted a plan that involved housing and a church center that both of the congregations would share. It would have been built on Salem’s property.
But there were roadblocks. The main concern was the sanctuary, which would have been demolished. Historic preservation concerns could not be resolved.

Since then a new developer has been hired, and a new plan is being created in which the original sanctuary will be maintained.

“The [remodeled] sanctuary will be stronger, sustainable and green,” Nagel said.

There are other factors to consider. Should there be one sanctuary or two? Can you create a sustainable building that will serve the community the two parishes feel they are called to serve?

Currently the new developer is exploring creating a church center that would include parking, retail, and housing, along with the worship center.

“Salem has an acre and a half of land and it is too much [for our needs],” Nagel said. “The housing and retail are the developer’s ideas, based on what people in the community want.”

Due to the original conflict with the city, the congregations are listening to how they can better minister to their community.

“The church is just a vessel, but when you begin to discuss what to do with assets, people naturally tend to pull back. That is why we have created a transition team to help with these issues,” Nagel said.

Nagel feels strongly about the partnership. During her pastoral study she focused on ecumenism. “Ecumenical means household of God, and it isn’t a big jump from household to neighborhood,” she said. “We have to work together as the household of God.”

* * *

Salem Lutheran confronted the challenges of a changing urban neighborhood. But suburban Lutheran congregations are also approaching non-Lutheran faith communities in order to enhance their ministries. For an example being played out in Apple Valley, please read on.

* * *

When his secretary, Deanna Luke, came looking for him on that Wednesday evening, the Rev. Kent Gubrud was praying in the empty sanctuary. His prayer was one of fatigue and concession. He was feeling failure.

Gubrud began his pastorate at Christus Victor Lutheran Church, Apple Valley, Minnesota, in the fall of 1998. His desire had been to reach out to the growing Spanish-speaking community in Dakota County.

Four years later his prayer was an admission that he hadn’t succeeded.

“There were no resources from within the congregation,” Gubrud said. He added that clergy who could speak Spanish weren’t available to him.

“I was praying because nothing was coming together and I was ready to give up,” he said.

The secretary’s interruption brought news that Robert Dewayne, a pastor of a Spanish Pentecostal church, had called to look into the possibility of sharing space with Christus Victor. The members of the Spanish-speaking congregation, Casa de Oracion, had been praying for six months about finding a location to begin a Bible study.
The members of Christus Victor had no serious qualms with the enterprise, and that fall the partnership began.

Dewayne had grown up in the neighborhood so he felt comfortable with asking the members of Christus Victor to begin a partnership.

“The Lord had been pushing it upon my heart to ask,” Dewayne said. “In fact, when we asked about sharing the space, Kent (Gubrud) had just finished a prayer about reaching out to Hispanics.

“We were both shocked; ever since then we have been working together.”

During the first years the two congregations had little contact with one another. The interactions were limited to when Casa de Oracion would sell tamales as a fund-raiser, and the occasional conflict in space usage.

Said Gubrud, “Some-times members of our church (Christus Victor) would forget to check the calendar and expect to be able to use space. With two churches there were a lot of groups using the space.”

However, the conflicts created by allowing another church to worship in the confines of Christus Victor were not significant, and for three years this is how the two congregations coexisted.

At first, Gubrud said, his members were open but not especially enthusiastic about the arrangement. Then late one August night in 2007 Christus Victor’s multiracial ministry brought a proposal.

“While a few of us were having a conversation about how to continue to open our building to those without a church, we noticed a dark car driving through the parking lot,” Gubrud said.

“This was right after the church [building] had been broken into. I poked my head out the church door and this gregarious African-American came out of the car. The driver was William (Bill) Smith, the leader of an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) group. They were hoping to begin a Bible study at Christus Victor.

Three months after the Bible study began, the AME group held their first praise service at Christus Victor, on the Saturday of Easter. In October the AME group expects to become a formally recognized congregation of the AME.

“There has been anxiety concerning what this partnership means, but we have dealt with [it] by holding up the praise and worship service, the Bible study, the song and food, for people to see what it looks like,” Smith said.

“It has been a challenging process, but it is working,” he added. Smith also pointed out that within the governance of both the AME and the ELCA the reaction to the partnership has been positive, as has been the response from the community in general.

Since then the AME group has held other well- attended praise services which members of both congregations attend.
The AME’s Bible study took place at the same time as Christus Victor’s. The Lutherans were using “Alpha,” a program begun in England which is now a worldwide resource. Alpha Ministry had created a DVD in both English and Spanish. This multilingual resource created an opportunity for the three congregations to begin meeting together.
The congregations be-gan to discuss if there was an opportunity to create a ministry that would involve each congregation.

The three congregations now meet on Thursday evenings. The ministry is based around a meal, which the three congregations share. Afterwards, each congregation meets separately for Alpha ministry.

There have been no conflicts between the congregations since fall, and the arrangement has drawn regional and statewide at-tention.

The new arrangement hasn’t been without challenges.
“Some concerns have been raised because the Pentecostal worship is loud and charismatic, and Lu-therans are not loud worshippers,” Gubrud said, laughing.

“I think it is interesting that our differences can be a building block and not a stumbling stone,” Dewayne observed.
Another issue concerns children running around the church. “I don’t think the problems are more than what anyone would expect. If our kids make a mess and we miss it when we’re cleaning, it’s going to be brought to our attention,” Dewayne said. “But it has all been a really positive experience.”

“We’ve worked through the differences though,” Gubrud says. He’s clearly proud of how it’s all working out. “What has helped the most is the Thursday meal. We share food and struggle through the language barrier,” he says.

Dewayne hopes both of the congregations will eventually outgrow the capacity of Christus Victor’s church, but until then he expects to see more cooperation between the two congregations. Smith, the leader of the AME group, said the collaboration has been positive as well.

Gubrud pointed out that sharing the worship space has not changed his congregation’s theological base.
“We are not becoming ‘one church.’ We have differences and we can respect one another — and disagree,” the ELCA clergyman affirms.

“There has been no watering down of the Gospel, or Lutheran theology. In fact it has gotten people interested. People have begun to ask questions about why we do things the way we do,” Gubrud says. Through a laugh he adds, “People have come and asked for a copy of [Martin Luther’s] Large Catechism. [Ordinarily] people never ask to read the Large Catechism.”

While this venture raises new issues and concerns for the Lutheran Church, Gub-rud indicated the multiracial ministry has been a positive experience.

“I think it is good because an individual church cannot do it all themselves,” he said. “This has been something led by the spirit with no human machinations.”

Currently Casa de Oracion has around 45-50 participants at worship and the AME Bible Study and fellowship has around 15-20. When the African-American group becomes a recognized congregation, it will become the first new AME church in Minnesota in 90 years.

Both of these congregations are much smaller than Christus Victor Lutheran, which has an average attendance of 320.

* * *

Cosgrove served as a summer writing intern at Metro Lutheran. He has returned to classes at Grand View College, Des Moines, Iowa.