September 2019- What brought us here and moves us forward

We use the symbol of fire often in worship to signify the presence of the Holy Spirit. We light candles and offer our prayers and use the “light of Christ” as a call to service and hope.   Biblical references include the Refiner’s Fire, the pillar of fire, the burning bush…

Our Saviour’s has another history with fire.  We have been shaped by fire.  

In December of 1995 our gothic church building of 1912 burned.  As we prepared to celebrate the birth and new life of Christ that winter, we also acknowledged a death.  The fire destroyed a building and a way of thinking about our congregation.  Had the fire come a few years earlier, we may not have survived it as a worshiping community.  But something was happening within our congregation at that particular time that allowed this tragic event to become a turning point and a way forward.   Long time congregation members now often speak of “before the fire” and “after the fire” so, what was it about that fire that shaped us?

The congregation of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was aging and dwindling.  Worshiping attendance hovered around 100 and the Sunday school was in the 20’s.  After a heart-wrenching division within the congregation surrounding – is that the word you want here? Involving? neighborhood outreach and outreach to the GLBT community, there were a few younger families that committed to stay committed to neighborhood outreach and inclusivity while other chose to move away.  The building was aging and showing strains on its electrical, plumbing and heating systems.  When the roof beams turned up cracks, conversations that focused on “futures” began in earnest.  These were tough discussions that recognized our limited resources and limited capacity. There were elders in the congregation who were deeply committed to seeing Our Saviour’s remain here as their church home. But we needed to ask for support from the synod to cover our operating budget and began reaching out to strong suburban congregations to support our outreach efforts. 

The “90 by 90” campaign presented to our members was the first step to claiming a future on the corner.  Raising $90,000 from our small community (many on fixed incomes) was a bold request.  When the pledges did come in, our hopes rose.  These funds would allow us to make repairs to the structure to give it life ahead, but it also funded the beginnings of outreach and growth in the places where we trusted we could build our membership.  We looked to the children.  We funded a youth director position even though there were very few youth connected to the congregation; we sought to grow.

Through our connections to children and high school youth, many who were neighborhood children participating in our summer and afterschool programs, we found our way to connect to their parents and become a congregation more connected to the neighborhood. We offered music, education, sports, and arts.  We connected these young people to Wilderness Canoe Base and to our church camps. And they connected us to who we could be.

Within the neighborhood, cooperative efforts were a survival mechanism.  We were not the only small, struggling congregation.  Sharing resources and space allowed all of the congregations in Phillips to provide more programming and support than we would be able to do on our own.  Our nearest neighbor, Messiah, a block away, was a key partner in our efforts to reach children as we shared vacation bible school, afterschool and summer programming as well as confirmation programming.  But we also shared Lenten services, senior programming and congregational gatherings.  It felt like “cooperative ministry” could be another way for us to envision the future. 

The fire brought all of this into much clearer focus.  While we often complained about our building, it was indeed our space.  While it didn’t fit us very well, it was a beautiful space and it held our memories.  And though the congregation of the 1960’s didn’t foresee it, their efforts to create space to fit all of the burgeoning Sunday church school needs of their day was indeed what we needed for housing Shelter guests and English Language students.

We had a growing youth program, outreach programs that earned the respect of the synod and many partnering congregations.  We had the success of a capital campaign and new, younger families that calling Our Saviour’s home. that “started”? or “were calling…” We had the gift of pastoral leadership through Janet Tidemann, who held us gently in God’s arms.  And we had a deep calling to be the Spirit on the corner of 24th and Chicago.  We began to understand that we must rebuild, as a sign of hope to our neighbors and to our denomination of what urban ministry could be in Minneapolis.

And perhaps, as the biblical exiles in the wilderness learned, it is indeed the members of a community and how they learn to love and live with each other that is the true strength behind a congregation.  We learned to grieve together, to hope together, to make the compromises needed to be the whole body of Christ.   A burning bush and a pillar of fire led the Israelites.  For us, at Our Saviour’s it was a fire within the stone walls of our sanctuary the led us here, to this place, ready to move forward.