Story Magazine

Second Quarter, 2006

What Our Alums Are Doing: Congregations Band Together to Support New Mission Church

by Andy Behrendt, Master of Divinity Student

"It's a huge partnership in ministry where we all see the community as our congregation--so there's not this idea of stealing sheep--and, seeing that our community is growing at such a fast rate, none of us can really keep up with it," said Ivy Borgstrom, '04, associate pastor at Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brainerd and a member of the interchurch task force spearheading the mission church.

In one of the nation's fastest-growing resort areas, the four local ELCA churches and their pastors have a history of teamwork through combined worship services, monthly youth events and weekly pastors' study meetings. Now--although the churches each face financial challenges of their own with significant building projects--they're helping fund the mission church, Rejoice Lutheran, which since March has held worship at a middle school in Baxter.

"When you take a look at how other churches are organized, this is so different because all of our funding and all of our support comes from other churches," said Carl Larson, '99, mission-developer pastor at Rejoice, which averages 45 worshippers weekly. "It's not a model that you'll see anywhere else."

The mission comes after several years of discussion by leaders of the existing churches. They realized that despite the growth reflected in their memberships, a third of the people moving to the area were unchurched,Larson said. For many, a startup church can be less daunting than a firmly established one, said Pam O'Rourke, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Brainerd for more than 40 years and a member of the task force.

The task force also includes Luther alumni/ae pastors Hans Anderson,'05, of Trinity Lutheran; Kristin Kelsey,'03, of First Lutheran Church in Brainerd;and Darrell Pedersen, '79, of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Baxter, which itself began as a mission church supported by the others.

With two building sites under consideration, hopes are for Rejoice to reach the 100 confirmed people required for organization by late September. The four churches annually are each providing about $7,500--in sum more than half Rejoice's funding--in a three-year commitment, Larson said. The ELCA is likewise providing support. A local Presbyterian church, with which Larson has discussed Rejoice Lutheran's goals and door-to-door efforts, has also donated.

O'Rourke noted the area congregations' "tremendous willingness" to support the mission while citing the impact of the pastors' continued teamwork. "Having that kind of a strong supportnetwork really just fed into our four congregations and has brought us together, andI think that's what made this whole project possible," she said.

Members of Rejoice Lutheran Church at a potluck fellowship.

The congregation worships at the local middle school.