Featured Stories, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

‘Thank you for being a friend’

Local congregations find new ways to include non-members

Two Minneapolis ELCA congregations have created organizations through which non-members can become involved in the life of those parishes. The two — Christ Church Lutheran in the Longfellow neighborhood of south Minneapolis and Central Lutheran in the downtown area — both use the name “Friends” to describe these new groups. But there are significant differences between the two.

Christ Church is known for its striking early modern architecture, the creation of Finnish designer Eliel Saarinen and his son Eero. Friends of Christ Church Lutheran was created in 2008 as an independent, nonsectarian, nonprofit organization through which persons desiring to support the work of preserving the building without contributing to the religious program of the church could do so. Mainly that includes people of other faiths.

Many Friends of Central participated in annual Independence Day Hot Dog and Ice Cream Social on July 3. Photo provided by Joe Bjordal

The benefit of an organization like Friends to Central is clear, says Aus. The group will broaden the knowledge of Central’s ministries beyond its own members, she says.

Friends of Central has a broader reach. While members may find some aspect of the church’s program they want to support financially, that is not a requirement. The group seeks to connect the congregation with people who, in the words of Senior Pastor Rick Nelson, “have a soft spot in their heart” for Central and “feel a connection both to the history and ongoing ministry of this thriving urban congregation.”

Prospective members, Nelson says, “might include folks who were baptized and confirmed at Central; who have attended one of the many national and international Lutheran gatherings held at Central over the past nine decades; who were married here; who have visited for worship or a concert — perhaps even just once — and been moved by a sermon or the grandeur of worship and/or music in our massive sanctuary; or who feel some other personal connection from the past or present.”

A special building

Friends of Christ Church Lutheran really consists of the dozen members who make up the group’s board of directors, according to Elizabeth Gomoll, the current chair.

Members of the Friends Board and the congregation took down the bookshelves in the Kretzmann Library of Christ Church Lutheran, Minneapolis, in order to paint the wall behind them. Photo provided by Elizabeth Gomoll

The Friends’ primary job, according to Gomoll, is to “support, assist, encourage, and financially enable” the congregation to do the work of preserving the building.

What these Friends’ board members do is to host events at the church, like concerts and lectures that both bring in money and put the building on display for potential donors. Board members also send out mailings, newsletters, and fund appeals to a mailing list that now includes 400 names; and they lead tours of the building.

The Friends’ primary job, according to Gomoll, is to “support, assist, encourage, and financially enable” the congregation to do the work of preserving the building. It is not, she emphasizes, to take over the work of preservation. That, she says, is the job of the property and preservation committees of the church and the workers they hire.

The relationship between the Friends and the church has been “wonderful,” Gomoll says. “There’s good communication back and forth,” she explains.

That is partly because some of the members of the Friends board are also members of the church. It also helped that shortly after the Friends’ board was formed, members sat down with the church council to see how they could work together. They clearly defined the separate roles and responsibilities of the church’s property and preservation committees and the Friends.

An example of the cooperation between the church and Friends was the restoration of the church’s tower during the past summer. The congregation had received a federal matching grant of $160,000 under the “Save America’s Treasures” program. The church and Friends had to raise $160,000 to match the grant and an additional $40,000 for future preservation planning. The campaign exceeded the goal and raised $260,000, of which the Friends contributed $37,000.

A place for special connections

The start of Friends of Central Lutheran a year ago was the work of the Communications and Public Relations ministry team of the church. A subcommittee, currently headed by longtime member Berit Aus, oversees the Friends’ operation.

Friends of Central is casting a wide net as it seeks to connect with persons who have been influenced in some way by the church but are not currently members. Using leads gathered by docents who lead tours of the church each week, a brochure written mostly by Pastor Nelson, and information from the church’s Heritage ministry team, the Friends subcommittee is reaching out to a diverse group ranging from members of college choirs who have performed at Central to former pastors, youth leaders, and education workers.

In its year of operation, Friends of Central has enlisted some 300 members. Nelson tells them Central will ask three things of them initially: to pray for the church’s ministry; to provide names of others who might also enjoy being an official Friend of Central; and to tell the church about their “connection” or fondest Central memory.

The pastor notes that there is no cost to join Friends of Central, but he hopes that those who do become Friends will consider “occasional opportunities” to support Central financially.

In return, he says, the church promises to stay connected to Friends through new communications efforts and publications, including the new “Central Connections.” And, he says, the church will offer Friends special invitations to return to Central for some occasional “homecoming events,” where they can meet and greet current staff members and/or renew friendships with Friends of Central from around the Lutheran church.

The benefit of an organization like Friends to Central is clear, says Aus. The group will broaden the knowledge of Central’s ministries beyond its own members, she says.

Aus also believes that connecting a congregation with non-members who have some previous relationship with the parish is a practice that any congregation can do and should consider.

“What a great way to stay connected with a heritage that fostered faith in the family,” she declared.

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