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[...]
The story goes that when you walked into Lutheran Church of Peace for the first time in the 1950’s through the 1970’s you weren’t asked where you worked…you were asked what division you worked for (within 3M). The neighborhoods around the church building that was built and then added onto was for decades filled with families that worked, played, and worshiped together.
As with many neighborhoods, things changed around Lutheran Church of Peace; for the last 15 years that faith community had seen a steady decline. Two years ago, they didn’t know if they’d continue as a church. After a vitality study, prayerful discernment, difficult conversations and a mid-summer pledge drive, a new excitement began to emerge as they came to believe God wasn’t done with them yet. After receiving grant support from the ELCA and Saint Paul Area Synod, the congregation called a full-time Redevelopment Pastor and a new journey into uncharted territory began.
After participating in the Year of Renewal through the Saint Paul Area Synod, the members of Lutheran Church of Peace realized that while they had started out deeply connected to the neighborhood, that was no longer the case. They felt a deep call to move outside the walls of the church building and into the neighborhood once again. This summer we had a chance to do just that with Neighbor Nights.
On eight Wednesday evenings from June through August, we invited our neighbors to join us for a free meal, conversation about community and faith, and activities for all ages. To get the word out, we passed out over 450 postcards with the gourmet menu as enticement. Each night, much to our surprise and awe, between 85-100 people gathered; about a third of them were people from the surrounding neighborhoods. Between the spaghetti Bolognese, smoked brisket, games, and conversations, the group engaged in opportunities to be silly together, to talk seriously about our hopes and dreams for the neighborhood, and share life in deep, authentic moments.
What we’re discovering is that many people are hungering for a faith community that is real, joy filled, and open to the questions and struggles on their hearts. They seek a place where they can be truly themselves and know they will be accepted and transformed, challenged and loved. It’s a challenging work that pushes our ideas of what church is supposed to be and where it’s supposed to happen out into a world of new possibilities. Yet what we’ve also discovered is that the work of redevelopment can be life-giving, renewing, and lead us into the deep, authentic community with Christ and one another that we all yearn for.
About the Author - Liz Eide is called as the Redevelopment Pastor to Lutheran Church of Peace. Together they are forging into God’s future for the church as they build a brave community of faith that includes the sure and the skeptic, spills outside the walls of the building, and shares the joy of Christ with all.