Lutherans in the Twin Cities

A sign from God?

Redeemer Lutheran fixes a problem property and creates student-ministry opportunities

This future duplex on Glenwood Avenue in North Minneapolis will house Augsburg College and Luther Seminary students who volunteer with community programs sponsored by Redeemer Lutheran Church. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

Who doesn’t have an empty house close to church nowadays? In this case, however, it wasn’t the empty house that incensed Pastor Kelly Chatman. It was the crude for-sale sign — spray paint on plywood.

The abandoned residence across the street from Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis had been foreclosed and raided by thieves seeking copper. In 2011 a national company that Chatman doesn’t name put the house on the market.

His neighborhood deserves better than a spray-paint sign that might as well have been a gang tag, Chatman offers.

“That would never happen in St. Louis Park or Eden Prairie,” says Redeemer’s pastor, calling the makeshift sign a mark of “disregard” for the neighborhood. “We wanted to stop that from happening — by reclaiming that property and demonstrating what a healthy property looks like.”

So began another episode in neighborhood-building and outreach, an adventure long pursued by Redeemer Lutheran — the century-old congregation one mile west of downtown Minneapolis.

Such efforts are rarely straightforward. The church bought the house for $35,000. Then construction-savvy volunteers reported that the building was in such poor condition that it made no sense to rehabilitate it.

Redeemer forged ahead. Instead of a rehab, the congregation decided to tear the place down, build new, and keep thinking big.

The result is a duplex, built in part by volunteer labor. By this autumn, it will house students from Luther Seminary and Augsburg College. In exchange for discounted rents, students living across the street from the church will help at Redeemer and in the neighborhood. Chatman sees a transfiguration: problem house to “model property.”

Who is your neighbor? In this case, the neighborhood goes for miles. Donor and volunteer-worker partners in the project include Immanuel Lutheran (ELCA) in Eden Prairie, Westwood Lutheran (ELCA) in St. Louis Park, Mount Olivet Lutheran (ELCA) in Minneapolis, and Calvary Lutheran (independent) in Golden Valley. Although Calvary left the ELCA in 2011, it is still significantly part of the inner-city mission, notes Chatman.

Hip-hop and quilting

Augsburg College and Luther Seminary students already help at Redeemer, mentoring and tutoring neighborhood youth and sometimes initiating or volunteering with church-based after-school programs.

Redeemer is deeply engaged with its neighborhood. The congregation’s Redeemer Jump Crew is a hip-hop ministry that appeals to young people living nearby. Sunday-afternoon basketball has been a mainstay. The church hosts discussions of community issues. Summer activities include a community garden, day camp, and cookouts.

The congregation isn’t afraid to try something new. Among its other ministries has been something called Capoeira — a martial art that incorporates elements of dance and music and traces its roots to African slaves brought to Brazil.

To be sure, more prosaic activities at Redeemer continue as well — an all-ages choir, Sunday school, and quilting.

Student housing right across the street from the church has great potential to enrich students’ preparation for ministry — while they actually practice ministry. “When students are living in the context of community,” says Chatman, “it significantly strengthens their learning experience.”

Jeremy Myers agrees. Myers, who teaches youth and family ministry at Augsburg, has been in discussions with Chatman about the duplex project since its inception. Myers thinks living near the church is “a good thing for students considering ministry because they get to be immersed in a congregation and a neighborhood where lively things are happening.”

Such at-hand laborers in the vineyard, Myers believes, “learn how to read their context by participating with a congregation that is working hard” to understand its own context.

Collecting the rent

Church membership, Chatman believes, goes well beyond people in pews. Being a congregation means being a good neighbor, and that means helping to build up the neighborhood.

In keeping with that approach to ministry, Redeemer and the foundation the church launched in 1999, Redeemer Center for Life, already own two other apartment buildings.

Congregations have long been familiar with the idea of owning and managing a parsonage, where pastor and family live. Owning property beyond that is not a move to take lightly. The challenges? “Management,” says Chatman, “and rent collection.”

Yet benefits outweigh the drawbacks, he argues. “The other side of the challenge,” adds Chatman, “is the opportunity to be in relationship with people in the neighborhood.”

Redeemer isn’t done yet. It plans to acquire another dilapidated nearby property — to be razed and replaced with another new build. The second property will likewise be open to Luther Seminary and Augsburg College students — and the ministry skills they bring.

More about Redeemer Lutheran and its Glenwood Project is at its website: www.redeemermpls.org.

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