Jodi Houge, ’09, experiences change, growth and blessing in neighborhood congregation
By Samuel Chamberlain, M.A. Junior
Pastor Jodi Houge describes Humble Walk Lutheran as, “a church where the people are. Following where God nudges us, rooted in the middle of life.” Now in its seventh year, Humble Walk is the essence of a missional church, born and bred on the West End of Saint Paul, a neighborhood home to more than half the congregation.
Humble Walk has moved six times since its inception, which Houge describes as a positive thing because, “It places the congregation on the receiving side of hospitality and teaches us humility.” While locations have shifted, Humble Walk’s ministry is firmly rooted along Seventh Street, an urban thoroughfare less than a dozen blocks from downtown.
Shamrock’s Pub is the official second home for Humble Walk, and the initial draw for many of the 20- and 30-somethings visiting for the first time. Host to Hymns & Beer, Theology at the Bar and a storytelling event each spring, “through these programs we’ve met hundreds, maybe thousands,” Houge says. “Humble Walk doesn’t have a formal membership process. If you come to worship, or attend any other event, you’re a member with us.” Many come for the intimate feel, the safety of worshipping with smaller numbers in smaller, non-traditional spaces, like Sholom Home East, where they currently worship.
|“[Humble Walk is] a church where the people are. Following where God nudges us, rooted in the middle of life.”
A missional church at its core, outreach is part of everything Humble Walk does, “often as if we’re on the edge of disaster,” laughs Jodi. Summer becomes time for Wild Things in the Park, an event that provides safe activities for youth—hula-hoops, bike rodeos and tie-dye. Last summer they incorporated community meals as a way of bringing the neighborhood together, partnering with local businesses to cater the food. The challenge of being a neighborhood church is there’s no escaping the mission. “You take your dog for a walk twice a day and you’re bound to see people you know and people that know you as that pastor,” explains Jodi—a sincere, caring person, regularly meeting with members at Claddagh Coffee. Yet, despite the constraints of leading such a dynamic, mission-oriented ministry, Humble Walk was able to support Houge with a sabbatical last year. She used the three months—funded by a Lilly Endowment grant—as a time to travel. “And when I returned,” she says, “Humble Walk had grown, and there were new faces at worship. Surely a good sign.”
Supported by a worship and arts coordinator as well as a seasonal camp coordinator, Houge says, “A lot of our members have multiple jobs or are students, and are tied down with many responsibilities. But they are able to help and lead when they can.”
For some, Humble Walk is extracurricular; a spiritual supplement since they are members of another congregation, but for others, Humble Walk is a “last grasp.” Giving church a final chance, hoping for the right Christian community, because at Humble Walk, there’s no “sneaky preaching,” says Houge. As the mission statement declares: “Small church. Big gospel. Enough grace to go around.”
As they look to the future, Humble Walk is always asking itself, “Who are we?” Praying for the grace to make room for one another in the community of Christ. “And as for the tie-dye,” Houge says, “Our church would close down if we stopped that event.”
To learn about Humble Walk’s humble beginnings, visit www.luthersem.edu/story/jodi09 and scroll down to Year 4.