January 2019- Congregational Life

 Who are we as a congregation these 150 years later?

 It might just come down to the willingness to say yes.

Yes to questions of mission and ministry that at the time aren’t easy to say yes to.  That might not have a clear path ahead.  That might not even be practical.  That probably don’t have society’s blessing.  But when love gets into the heart of missionaries (in whatever form one might be found) questions of ministry gets asked.

And the congregation of Our Saviour’s is built on years of being willing to answer difficult questions with yes.

The initial request from a missionary from Red Wing, Minnesota to a small group of Norwegians living in downtown Minneapolis, was the first question that didn’t have a clear path ahead.  But the offer to gather for worship in the Norwegian language created a space where new immigrants to Minnesota could find comfort in a shared culture and hymns that could remind them of home.

The question to call strong pastoral leaders who were intent on building strong lay leadership brought yes answers that meant Our Saviour’s would have the ability to weather its changes.  We would ask this question many times over the years with similar results.

Answering questions of where to locate have also formed this congregation. The initial site in the seven corners area of Washington Avenue was near immigrant mill workers.  A second site sought to distance itself from commercial activity while staying downtown.  As congregation members moved out of the downtown area, the question was asked; do we want our church in our own neighborhood?  So the final site landed in a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. The neighborhood would soon grow into a solid middle class neighborhood with craftspeople, professionals and medical centers.  Saying yes to Phillips neighborhood may have been a way to acknowledge the hopes of immigrant families who wanted a place in the growing city of Minneapolis that would bring them security, community and a promising future as the 1920’s approached.

Ministry questions at Our Saviour’s seem to have a similar theme.  How do we open the door wider to allow God’s love to reach into new territory?  Early on the congregation said yes to support new ministries on the next outskirts of the city in Richfield and Bloomington.   We said yes to support members who wanted to participate in seminary training.  We said yes to create a worship space and educational program for people with mental disabilities.  We said yes to welcome in European families displaced by World War 2, and then to Black and Native American families in the 1950s.    You can hear the direction that love took during those discussions to keep answering yes.

Our Saviour’s needed to ask tough questions when the freeway system was built in the 1960’s.  Changes to the Phillips neighborhood came quickly, with loss of buildings, homes, roads, and access.  The congregation said yes to feed itself with music and art, with educational activities and worship.  It responded to questions about women’s leadership roles.  It responded to questions of need for neighborhood support.  It continued to say yes, again and again even as members moved out to the suburbs to begin new versions of Our Saviour’s.  Yes was the reason to stay in Phillips.

During the following years of the 70’s and 80’s many more questions would be asked about community involvement.  It included adding community outreach as a pastoral position, seeking new forms of worship and music, language and partnerships.  We said yes to Hmong refugees who wanted to worship in their own language of course.  We said yes to house homeless men in our basement gym.  We said yes, a bit too soon, to support people who were gay or lesbian in the church.  That became one time in our congregational life where the door was opening too quickly and too many changes were happening in and around the church.  Many chose to say no to the welcoming question being presented at that time but then left the congregation to be a place where those who stayed could keep being a church of yes.

In the 1990’s the church was asking the question of how to maintain an old aging building and an older aging membership.  It needed to say yes to its future.  The answer came through a question at an annual meeting to create a youth group of 15 where there had been none for many years. It was just a testament to the congregation’s willingness to be mission minded.  And when the church building burned in 1995, the ability to say YES to staying and rebuilding was coming from a very long history of answering the question with love.

 hether it be through the English Learning Center, welcoming Liberian refugees, hosting the Lutheran Volunteer Corps house, becoming Reconciling in Christ, offering Godly Play, building a bread oven, or so many more acts of ministry, we can be certain that the original Norwegian immigrants would have answered our questions with the same resounding yes.  And we can be assured that if we push the door open a bit wider, love will enter in.