The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
If you’ve been to the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul lately, you can’t help but notice there is a lot going on. New residential and commercial buildings (including the new Minnesota United Soccer Stadium) are going up seemingly on every street corner, roads are being rebuilt and rerouted, and the new light rail, rapid bus line and bike lanes are transporting people in from all parts of the Twin Cities.
If you would have visited the same spot a hundred years ago you would have seen the same kind energy and development then, as the Midway established itself as one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the state.
In 1912, historian Henry Castile wrote, “A noteworthy distinction and perhaps unparalleled feature of St. Paul in futuro, and of the Twin Cities in ultimo, is the ‘Midway’ or interurban district. Once a wide stretch of farms and orchards, lying between two struggling little towns ten miles apart, it is now a populous city within itself, with thousands of beautiful homes; with miles of paved and lit streets; with churches and schools and bustling marts of trade.”
Much of the development was brought in by James J. Hill’s, Minnesota Transfer Railway, a cooperative of nine railroads that connected trains moving freight from destinations from one coast to the other. Not only did this lively community serve as the midway point between Minneapolis and St. Paul, but also as the midway between the east and the west coasts. This brought in jobs and plenty of new residents.
These new residents needed places to worship, gather, and serve. Bethlehem Lutheran was established in 1910 just a block from the Midway’s main intersection of University and Snelling. Bethlehem provided the young Lutheran families moving into the neighborhood with a place to meet new neighbors. It established the kind of strong bonds that are made possible by people worshiping and serving together—the kind of bonds needed to grow companionate and courageous communities that last.
House of Mercy, which was a mission development of the Saint Paul Area Synod, moved into the Midway in 2018, right as the new Minnesota United Soccer Stadium and other construction was starting. Like Bethlehem more than 100 years before, House of Mercy seeks to respond to the needs of a new influx of families and professionals attracted the Midway by its burgeoning living and social opportunities. And like Bethlehem before it, House of Mercy has found a home just a block from the intersection of University and Snelling. These two churches serve the Midway neighborhood from the same building that the Bethlehem faithful built and have worshiped in for more than 100 years.
Zion Lutheran, another Midway church that was built in 1912, was also established to serve the original boom of workers and residents in the Midway and continues to minister to longtime residents and invite the newly arrived. Lydia Place is a new mission development also in the neighborhood, called to nurture relationships around faith, work, and daily life.
The two historic congregations and two recently arrived congregations are all called to serve in the same mission field, providing a Lutheran witness in this historic and renewing neighborhood. All four congregations cooperate together, preaching in each other’s pulpits, participating in each other’s outreach, and sometimes even worshiping together.
These Saint Paul Area Synod church communities all have different styles of worship and resonate with different demographics. But all are sure of the same thing: their neighborhood is not just a point between two cities, but is a great midway point to see the call to mission we faithfully responded to and supported in the past…and the call to mission for the future.
About the Author - Russell Rathbun, along with Debbie Blue, is a founding pastor and mission developer of House of Mercy. The congregation seeks to create a place where questions are encouraged, where guests will not be handed a checklist of orthodoxy, and where ambiguity is not the enemy of faith but its partner.
Chamber and Community, by Jane McClure, Ramsey County History, Volume 29, Number 3 was referenced in this article