National Lutheran News

Augsburg Fortress, Worship Arts Company serve church through unique relationship

This custom altar design is based on a sanctuary stained glass window. Photo courtesy of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Hampton, Virginia

Finding the appropriate items for a worship space can be an intimidating task, even for the most active churchgoer. For many years, the volunteer in charge of ordering new ecclesiastical items for their congregation could call Augsburg Fortress, the publishing ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. However, in 2010, Augsburg Fortress chose to discontinue selling these items in order to focus solely their efforts on publishing.

But customers who learn that Augsburg Fortress no longer carries these ecclesiastical items, are not left without an option. Instead, they are redirected to the Worship Arts Company, where they are served by Maggie Akhaven, a former Augsburg Fortress employee, who has set up her own business.

Augsburg Fortress CEO Beth Lewis, explains, “Maggie has always had a passion for ecclesiastical arts and providing superb service for churches. Since we decided to focus our efforts at Augsburg Fortress and Sparkhouse on the creation of proprietary resources for faith formation, worship, and music rather than … ecclesiastical arts created by others, we often refer customers to her.”

For those who need these products, it is a seamless transition. They can continue to get their publishing products from Augsburg Fortress, and easily be redirected to the Worship Arts Company, if they are seeking to purchase ecclesiastical items. Lewis calls it a “win-win-win.” Augsburg Fortress can focus their resources on the ministry of publishing; Akhaven is able to continue to serve customers through her own business; and the customers are referred to a trusted and knowledgeable supplier, rather than having to take a gamble on an unknown vendor.

“We trust Maggie to provide them with excellent service,” Lewis said.

Making choices about worship arts

Akhaven said that now, more than a year after she began Worship Arts Company, she still receives four to five referrals a week from Augsburg Fortress.

Gary Anderson, who manages Augsburg Fortress’ retail presence in a space-sharing partnership with the Luther Seminary bookstore (St. Paul), said he regularly sends customers to Maggie, noting that her name is listed as a recommended supplier on the Augsburg Fortress website.

“This is just a perfect example of how it worked for Maggie, and ultimately, the customer. She is very knowledge in the tradition and the appropriate use of ecclesiastical elements,” Anderson said.

This knowledge allows Akhaven to best serve her customers. She makes a point of meeting them where they are, noting many of the customers who call her have never ordered the item they need and often don’t know the industry jargon.

“My role is to act as a steward and help congregations who often have no experience in purchasing these items. I work with them to learn their taste, background, and budget. I then educate them, take the fear away. By the time that we are done, they have no qualms about what they want,” Akhaven said.

She also notes that her role is not to help customers make their sanctuary pretty, but to help them understand how the items help to “inform the gospel.”

Akhaven’s role is not to help customers make their sanctuary pretty, but to help them understand how the items help to “inform the gospel.”

Because of this, Akhaven is intentional in her efforts to establish a relationship with her customers and to help them to find the right item for their unique space. “I want people to contact me for truthful information about how to solve their problem,” she said.

And when they do, they receive a listening ear and tips to help them find just the right items.

Doing what one should do

Akhaven notes that one size does not fit all, especially when it comes to textiles. Because of this, customers who contact Worship Arts Company can order custom size textiles at no extra charge.

“I am a steward of their funds,” Akhaven said. “I help them to make the best use of their money to bless and teach the gospel.”

Just as Akhaven is a steward for her customers, Augsburg Fortress provides good stewardship to theirs by focusing their business on publishing. “It allows us to focus our limited human and financial resources on the ministry of publishing, what we do best.” Lewis said. “We are really doing what we are called to do.”

And with each company focusing on their strengths, the customers are best served. “Augsburg Fortress has been wonderful not only to me, but to our mutual customers,” Akhaven said. “They have made it easy for customers to find what they need to find.”

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