Where 20 or 30 are gathered, Christ is there
Kairos Lutheran Community flourishes in the northwest suburbs.
The phenomenon of the “house church” is not limited to the early days of Christianity or contemporary totalitarian states that are hostile to organized religion.
Kairos Lutheran Com-munity, a house church that is a member in good standing of the ELCA, is currently marking its 30th anniversary of service to a small group of families in the northwest Minneapolis suburbs.
“There’s this sense of community — it’s almost an extended family,” said Nan-cy Thomas, a longtime Kairos member, explaining the attraction of the small congregation and its longevity.
Besides this intimacy and feeling of “connectedness,” another veteran member, Phyllis Molnau, cited the deeply personal worship experience that the Sunday services have offered.
Those services are now held at 10 a.m. on the second and fourth Sundays of each month, rotating locations among homes of members in communities like Wayzata, Plymouth, New Hope and Crystal.
Persons attending the services usually pick up a cup of coffee from the host and then settle into chairs in an informal setting like a family room.
Pastor Arvid (Bud) Dixen opens the meeting by having members tell what’s happening in their families and encouraging them to ask for the group’s prayer support if they are struggling with difficult problems.
The group next follows one of several liturgies available on printed sheets, with Molnau providing musical accompaniment on a keyboard instrument or guitar for both the liturgy and hymn singing.
The heart of the service is the reading of the three Bible texts assigned for the day followed by a dialog on one or more of them. Dixen initiates the discussions using printed sheets he has prepared for every member and then opens the session up for questions and an exchange of viewpoints.
Dixen, a retired ELCA pastor who is knowledgeable and articulate, accepts opinions of all sorts but then skillfully brings the discussions back to the central theme of each passage. “He’s a real mediator,” Molnau says.
For Nancy Thomas, the thing she would miss most in going back to a formal congregational worship ser-vice is the opportunity to ask questions about the texts.
“In our house church, it becomes much more of a spiritual journey in which the pastor and we are joining together,” she said.
Every worship service concludes with holy communion, in which pieces of honeywheat bread and grape juice are used as the elements. After the benediction members are free to stay around for snacks and conversation.
On alternate Sundays when the Kairos community does not meet, members follow one of three paths, according to Thomas and Molnau. Some are also members of another Lutheran congregation and attend there, some visit other churches but do not join and others are content to make the twice-monthly house-church sessions their only worship experience.
The roots of the Kairos Community lie in the turmoil that surfaced in LCMS in the early 1970s. All the original members of the house church belonged to Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church (LCMS) in New Hope, Minnesota. When Dr. J.A.O. (Jack) Preus became national synod president and embarked on a campaign to drive persons with alleged liberal tendencies from leadership roles, some members of Beautiful Savior followed suit and sought removal of their pastor — the Rev. Norm Menke.
Although Menke prevailed when the matter came to a vote, the pastor said he had no desire to continue serving a divided congregation and resigned. Some 35 families followed Menke out of the parish.
His supporters requested that Menke become leader of a new congregation. He accepted the invitation, along with his other new duties as chaplain at the Hennepin County adult corrections facility at Medicine Lake.
The congregation met first in the Northwest YMCA in New Hope, then at the county’s Rockford Road Library in Crystal before deciding to go the house-church route. Along with other dissident LCMS groups, the Kairos Lutheran Community became a parish of the Association of Evan-gelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) and, later, as a result of the 1988 merger, a congregation of the ELCA.
Most of the members of Kairos following its startup were young families, and they ran a Sunday School, confirmation classes and a summer recreation program for the children of the congregation. Today, the membership has drifted down from the plateau of 20 families during most of Kairos’ existence to about 10 families, and most members are in their early 60s, half of them retired. Programs for children no longer exist.
Following Menke’s death in 1995, David Olson, then bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod, succeeded in getting Dixen to take over leadership of Kairos as a retirement project.
Molnau agrees with Thomas that the life of the Kairos Community is getting “a little fragmented” now and says that while the group welcomes new members of all ages, it is unlikely to continue beyond the current generation that has made up the core.
But, Molnau adds, “We have such wonderful discussions, and we’re not ready to say, ‘Let’s give this up,’ yet.”
Kairos members reject any suggestion that their house church has been a place where suburban people can enjoy a splendid isolation and forget about the problems of the larger church.
Out of an annual budget of about $7,000, a little less than half is paid to Dixen and the next largest amount — $1,500 — goes to the ELCA’s World Hunger Ap-peal. In addition, Kairos gives $900 to support the mission work of the local and national synod offices. Slightly smaller amounts are sent to Lutheran Social Service and a Dixen favorite — the Peaceworkers movement.
“Part of our original mission statement was to put our money where it would be helping people instead of going into bricks and mortar,” said Thomas.
Craig Johnson, bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA, said that, to his knowledge, Kairos is the only house church currently in existence in the local synod.
Back in his seminary days three decades ago, house churches were be-lieved to be the wave of the future, Johnson observed. The thinking was that many people would find it difficult to build close relationships in the big suburban churches springing up and would seek those intimate connections in much smaller settings.
The opposite has proved to be true, Johnson said. Many people have discovered that they can experience a sense of community in the big churches, and those congregations have been financially successful.
“It’s been a surprise,” the bishop said.