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Bringing church to the people

What if a faith community approached ministry by going out into the community, finding excited and passionate people, and asking them, “How can we, the church, become relevant to you?”
Two distinct Lutheran-based, faith communities are exploring just that. Spirit of Truth, in St. Paul, and Project F-M, in Fargo-Moorhead, both have gone into their communities, found passionate people, listened to what they said they cared about, and then worked at building a faith community around their needs.

Spirit of Truth’s initial worship took place on Pentecost Sunday, and emphasized practical ways congregants could support nurses about to go on a one-day strike. Photo: Margaret Bonsack

Each is in their infancy and learning as they go. Each has gone out into the community and asked, “What are your needs?” And each is working intentionally to bring people to church through models that are evolving as the ministries themselves evolve.

Spirit of Truth

Spirit of Truth, a ministry of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church (ELCA), calls itself “a new faith community centered on love, justice, and faith in action.” It began about three years ago based on an idea to bring hardworking people who are passionate about social justice into the church in a way that is relevant to them.

“[Labor leaders] are more faithful than many in church, but not connected to a larger narrative of freedom and revelation.”

“[Labor leaders] are more faithful than many in church, but not connected to a larger narrative of freedom and revelation.”
Pastor Grant Stevenson has worked closely with people involved in the labor movement for many years. Through this, he noticed that most of these people, while “doing faith-filled work,” were disconnected from a faith community.
“They were giving their lives to a cause, transforming the world, working more than 40 hours a week for less money,” Stevenson said. “They are more faithful than many in church, but not connected to a larger narrative of freedom and revelation.”
Stevenson saw a ministry opportunity. However, he knew he needed to work with someone relevant to this group, namely someone who does not have a seminary degree. He sought the aid of Pete Marincel, a labor organizer. Seeing a worthwhile cause, Marincel joined Steven-son, and was tasked with having one-one-one conversations with about 200-250 people over the course of a year.
From these conversations came a lot of learning and a small core team. The team developed objectives relevant to the needs of the community they hope to serve: break down silos and work toward building relationships, be a place of faith and worship, and take action for a more just and equitable world.
Margaret Bonsack, president of St. Matthew’s and a strong supporter of Spirit of Truth, understands how easy it can be to be disconnected from a formal faith community, like those the group is targeting.
“Having (gone) twenty years with not being in a faith community, I can see how easy it is. I didn’t stop believing in God, I just didn’t feel the need to be in a faith community,” she said. “When I first heard of the idea of Spirit of Truth, I thought, ‘Wow, I wish I had this opportunity at a time in my life when I really needed it.’”

Minnesota nurses find support from participants in the Spirit of Truth congregation, including the Rev. Grant Stevenson, the night before their one-day strike. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen.

Bonsack sees Spirit of Truth as a way for people to enter or re-enter a faith community. “The focus of Spirit of Truth is to reconnect people to a faith community. For some, that might be Spirit of Truth, for others, we have St. Matthew’s,” she said.
Spirit of Truth held a kick-off event on Pentecost Sunday and plans to begin to meet regularly as a community this fall.

The Project F-M

The Project F-M is faith community grounded in the conviction that everyone belongs and everyone matters. It began about three years ago as a conversation about how to bring young adults disconnected from the church in the Fargo-Moorhead area back into a community of faith. It was clear that a new ministry development was a priority.
While they considered a traditional mission development, a leader of the group instead suggested using a community organizing model. So, they went out into the community and asked, “How can we, as a ministry, connect with you?”
The result became The Project F-M, a place that intentionally marks its only distinction as being a place of faith. Members of the group include those who are members of a church and others whose only faith community is The Project F-M. It is intentionally open to be a place that meets you where you are in your faith journey.
Karis Thompson has led the effort over the last year. “People (who come to The Project) have different expectations. Some may never go to church. Others may work in a church,” she said.
“What is unique about this is that there is no need to fit in because there is nothing designed to fit in with,” she said. “We are welcoming of who you are and where you are at this point.”
Lisa Richmond, a member of The Project F-M, is drawn to “the spiritual conversations it fosters.” While she has not yet found a regular church in Fargo, Richmond says The Project “definitely has made me feel that I have access to a thriving Christian community.”
“People who attend seem to feel free to share their reflection and ideas on what I guess I would call matter of the soul, “ said Richmond. “That’s an unusual and terribly valuable thing, to be able to have those conversations, even with people you have just met.”

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