Jennifer Coles was 11 when her family found the vibrant youth and family ministry at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Spokane, Washington. After traveling the world as a U.S. Air Force nurse, she returned to the congregation in 1997. Since then, she and her husband, Craig, have been active members.
When St. Peter’s membership began to decline, the Coleses and others did what they could to keep the 111-year-old congregation alive. Members took on more responsibilities and dreamed up new ways to partner, stay relevant, and draw neighbors to their pews.
But by 2020, the congregation began the closing process, and in September 2021, St. Peter held its final service. Coles said members refuse to dwell on what was lost. They are focused on a legacy that will continue God’s work in the neighborhood and in the future of the church.
During St. Peter’s decline, the congregation partnered with Grace Moldavian Baptist Church, which rented space to hold worship and events. The rent was low, but it helped St. Peter stay open and led to a rewarding partnership with this growing congregation that eventually purchased the church. “Grace Moldavian will continue to keep Christ and the work of the church present in this neighborhood,” Coles said.
From the sale of the church, a major gift was designated to support scholarships at Luther Seminary. Once St. Peter could no longer support a full-time pastor, the church opted to open its doors to pastoral interns, who preached and cared for the congregation with the guidance of an off-site supervisor.
“For 10 years, we raised pastors and helped prepare them to go out into the world to preach the Gospel,” Coles said. She added that the congregation’s gift is a gesture of support for Luther’s innovative mindset and an investment in those eager to lead the future church.
“Church may not look the same, and pastors may serve different roles in our communities—maybe going out to be among the people more than meeting them at a church,” she added. “But as God’s people, we still need leaders to gather us, guide us, listen to us, share the Word with us, and be with us in times of celebration and sadness.”
Ladd Bjorneby ’85 M.Div. joined the church in 2015 after his retirement from 30 years of preaching. He advocated for the church’s investment in Luther. “So many people are called to ministry but cannot afford seminary,” said Bjorneby, who serves on the Luther Seminary Board of Directors. “St. Peter transformed their end into others’ new beginnings.”
The church also made generous gifts to area youth programs, social services programs, campus ministry programs, world relief programs, and Second Harvest Inland Northwest. Bjorneby said even the glass communion cups and Bibles in the pews found new homes; Union Gospel Mission in Spokane placed the Bibles in rooms of its transitional housing facilities.
Coles said members are elated that the church will continue ministry in the neighborhood and that the parsonage is now home to a young family.
“We could have driven the prices for the church and the parsonage up much higher, but instead, we were able to give a growing church and a young family an opportunity to ground themselves and continue to grow and flourish. In our sadness, this brought many of us hope and joy.”