Story Magazine - Winter, 2010
Three approaches, one shared service mission: Jacob's Well, Mercy Seat, Spirit of Christ Community
by Melanie Boulay Becker, Correspondent
Jacob's Well provides a home for people who had given up on God, faith and the church, says Pastor Greg Meyer. "They are now connecting and finding that God is impacting their lives."
Formed in the shadow of nearby Bethlehem Lutheran, Jacob's Well was originally created to serve those not reached by Bethlehem. "Our combination of Lutheran core theology, without a lot of the traditional practices of Lutheran congregations, makes us 'look' a lot different, but we are very compatible in mission," says Meyer, who took classes toward a Master of Theology degree at Luther.
Just about everything might surprise those accustomed to more traditional worship, including the lack of a formal liturgy, the non-traditional building, the music, the nature of the sermons, the use of multimedia, the predominance of young people in an urban congregation and the casual nature of the community.
Meyer believes Jacob's Well reaches some people more effectively than a traditional church. "The inherent cultural momentum in traditional churches distances them from people who have 'checked out' of church," he says.
"We take incarnation very seriously and meet people where they are with music, learning styles, concepts of commitment and real-life needs," he says. Jacob's Well is committed to using public buildings for worship. Meyer reports that this reaches some people wary of the institutional aspects of traditional church. "We want to be the church, not have a church."
By the numbers: Jacob's Well
- Attendance: Averages 220, recently topped 300
- Founded: September 2006 with 42 people
- How fast is it growing? Outgrowing current space. Needs to add a second Sunday morning service to increase seating capacity and allow growth, and a second worship site, targeted for March 2010, to better reach the surrounding community
- Major liturgy/worship service of the week: Sunday, 10:30 a.m., Field Middle School, 4645 Fourth Ave. S., Minneapolis, with children's service running simultaneously
- Cultural breakdown: 90 percent white; other 10 percent largely African-American
- Draws from: 80 percent urban (within 10-minute drive), 20 percent farther out
- Brick-and-mortar location: Committed to using public spaces for worship; uses Field Middle School and the Urban Hub (Fourth and Lake streets) in Minneapolis; also Minnehaha Falls Bandstand in the summer.
- Online: www.jacobs-well.net; Facebook: Jacob's Well Minneapolis; Twitter: www.twubs.com/jacobswell
Mercy Seat serves the "former church kids of the Lutheran and evangelical traditions who now live in the urban core," says Pastor Kae Evensen, '95. "Our ministry is unique because we share the 'do it yourself' ethos with emerging churches, yet we lead with a radical, grace-based, Trinitarian-theology-of-the-cross message rather than attempts to be 'relevant'," says fellow Pastor Mark Stenberg.
Although deeply traditional and Lutheran in theology, Mercy Seat does not have the committee structures or membership guidelines that most Lutheran churches require.
"Although we do not try to soften or dumb down the Christian message, we are playful and full of grace," says Stenberg. The church uses a unique approach to liturgy, commissioning community members and non-members to write, compose and perform original liturgies based on the traditional settings of the mass.
Evensen and Stenberg believe that church is changing because the world is changing. "While we want to retain what is most compelling and heartbreaking about our faith and its rich traditions, we know that thoughtful people will not tolerate pointless meetings or messages that are merely platitudes," says Evensen.
"If they are willing to give their time and money to a church, it must, in some way, break open their lives and provide a message of mercy, grace and hope rooted in the promises of Christ," says Stenberg. "We hope Mercy Seat achieves that."
By the numbers: Mercy Seat
- Attendance: Averages 100 a week
- Founded: March 2006
- Major liturgy/worship service of the week: 5 p.m. Sundays
- Cultural breakdown: 90 percent white, college-educated, Lutheran and evangelical refugees rediscovering their faith in a critical-thinking context
- Draws from: Mostly Minneapolis or St. Paul proper
- Bricks-and-mortar location: 724 Lowry Ave. NE, Minneapolis
- Online: www.nemercy.org or www.sacralicious.org
Spirit of Christ Community
Pastors Wes Syverson, '74, and Kevin Bergeson, '07, describe Spirit of Christ (SOC) as Garrison Keillor with jalapenos. "We may look and smell Lutheran, but we are provocatively adding doses of new, mission-minded DNA into our way of being church," says Bergeson.
Two smaller congregations (Ascension and First Lutheran), united in passion for shared social-action ministry, consolidated to form SOC. They have since joined area congregations in a shared social-action ministry called Spark, a collaboration they consider crucial to truly being the body of Christ, says Syverson.
The church pursues interfaith relationships, touring area synagogues, serving at the local food pantry and hosting social-justice conversations. "With Minneapolis' history of Jewish-Christian backgrounds, we're building bridges with a new generation that is curious, respectful and willing to learn about the deeply intertwined faith traditions to minister to our community together" says Syverson.
They shocked their neighbors by showing up at the community barbeque. "Now we partner in hosting the event," says Bergeson, explaining that "most churches don't realize they are completely invisible to their community. Being present, being visible, is essential."
Syverson and Bergeson credit both the Holy Spirit and members' roles in making the new church possible. "Our new ministry would not exist had it not been for the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of the people in the pews here," says Syverson. Adds Bergeson, "It was their leadership and seeing something different that made this possible. As pastors, we helped, but in the end, local leaders willing to risk for the sake of the gospel made us fly."
Syverson and Bergeson believe there is no longer one traditional ministry. "I am inspired by Jacob's Well and Mercy Seat because they are willing to take risks regardless of what has preceded them in models of Christian community," says Bergeson. "It reminds me that churches must be willing to thoughtfully engage those who have given up on church but not Jesus."
By the Numbers: Spirit of Christ Community Lutheran Church
- Attendance: More than 100 each Sunday
- Founded: Pentecost, May 2009; churches that formed Spirit of Christ Community Church were started in
1924 and 1955
- How fast is it growing? 15 percent in two years
- Major liturgy/worship service of the week: Sunday at 10 a.m. with a Sunday Pause informal/
conversational worship at 7 p.m.
- Cultural breakdown: 90 percent white, 10 percent multiracial
- Draws from: 70 percent first-ring suburban, 20 percent exurbs, 10 percent urban
- Bricks and mortar location: 5801 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, Minn.
- Online: www.spiritofchristcommunity.org
Tell Us About Your Unique Ministry!
Do you work in a unique context? Are you amazed at the different ways the Lord uses your talents for ministry on a daily basis? We want to hear your story! You may even see it told in an issue of E-lert or Story magazine. Send your story, or that of another Luther alum you know, to Kelsey Holm at email@example.com.