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In the beginning of 2017, the Saint Paul Area Synod distributed 11 micro-grants to congregations wishing to pursue a renewal opportunity. Congregations dreamed up ways to renew themselves that included community outreach, worship renewal, and engaging congregants in challenging conversations. Stories of Renewal is a blog series about what these 11 congregations have been doing with their micro-grants.
Through renewal, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in St. Paul is envisioning itself as a new kind of congregational community. This vision includes our formal membership, as well as nonbelievers, “nones,” and believers of all other faiths. We also envision a congregation as one that uses its physical space creatively and as a source of revenue over and above what our membership can contribute. The renewal project, in partnership with the synod's micro-grant program, is a small step toward achieving our vision.
In late 2016, Redeemer finished renovating its sanctuary and marketing it as one of St. Paul’s newest venues for concerts and other events. Our goal was to improve the room’s acoustics by refinishing the original maple flooring in the front of the sanctuary and to enlarge this space by removing pews. We now have an ideal space for artistic performances, interfaith and experiential worship and prayer services, and public forums.
With a new performance space to market, we were privileged to have 2 of the finest Lutheran college-based choirs perform at Redeemer – the St. Olaf Choir on January 17th and the Augsburg Masterworks Chorale with full orchestra on April 21st. Anton Armstrong, director of the St. Olaf Choir, commented, “I highly recommend this beautiful church as a concert venue to my college choir director colleagues.” We used the micro-grant to provide an evening meal and after-concert reception for the St. Olaf Choir.
In May, a Choral Festival Benefit Concert raised $2,000 for the Sanctuary Movement and in September we hosted a “Come Together Twin Cities” community prayer service for peace and against gun violence. In October, more than 300 people filled the sanctuary for ISAIAH’s St. Paul Mayoral Forum. On December 3rd we are hosting the Minnesota Renaissance Choir’s Christmas Concert. Then, on December 14th -- the 5th anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting -- Protect Minnesota will hold an Interfaith Service of Dedication to All Victims of Gun Violence in the sanctuary. We have also designed a marketing brochure that will be mailed to a minimum of 200 arts organizations and performance groups, including college choirs.
Finally, we brought in new financial resources. Altogether, we secured $3,100 in new money for Redeemer’s ministries, raised $3,500 for other ministries, and leveraged $1,000 in Thrivent Action grants.
Another piece in our plan for transformational work was developing an alternative worship service offered at some time other than Sunday morning and in a quieter, more contemplative spirit. In July and August, we held four late Sunday afternoon services outdoors in our courtyard garden, using the Unfailing Light liturgy for Evening Prayer with Communion. Grant funds were used to purchase music for the service and for the Music Director's time preparing musicians and the congregation for the service. This was an experiment and, like most experiments, it was primarily about the learning.
First, we offered a scaled-back service on Sunday mornings for people unable to attend in the evening.
Second, we knew that the weather might not cooperate. While we were graced with two wonderful Sunday evenings the first two weeks, we had to move indoors for the other two weeks. This deprived us of a chance to make some changes in how we used the outdoor space. Nonetheless, nearly everyone who came appreciated the outdoor setting and we hope to use the courtyard for worship whenever feasible next summer.
Third, we invited the public with signs in high traffic areas, flyers, and an advertisement in the local community newspaper. We also created a clear, distinctive entrance to the courtyard garden from the street and sidewalk. Despite these efforts, no one who happened by or saw our advertising attended. From all of this we learned that we must be more creative and intentional in our planning and messaging if we are to reach the marginally churched and “nones” through an alternative approach to worship.
These two new opportunities are just a small step toward achieving our vision. We appreciate the Saint Paul Area Synod’s support with a micro-grant as we continue to renew our ministry.
The Rev. Jim Erlandson
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, St. Paul
Photo by Jeremy Olson