[No byline — reads like it may have come from a press release]

“Lutherans work to shed stuffy image and kick-start change,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, July 3, 2017 https://www.startribune.com/lutherans-work-to-shed-stuffy-image-and-kick-start-change/432012663/.

Redeemer Lutheran Church is not your typical Lutheran outpost. Summer means the bike store and coffee shop are humming, kids camp and Zumba classes are in gear, and the young adults renting its apartments are mentoring children in this [near] north Minneapolis neighborhood.

It represents a new model for the Lutheran Church, which is transforming itself to attract younger and diverse members, be more relevant to neighbors below its steeples and shake its image as a Scandinavian bastion best known for hot dish, Jell-O and Ole and Lena.

Minnesota, with the largest number of Lutherans in the nation, will be instrumental in shaping the future of the faith. Time is of the essence: 37 percent of the churches in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — the largest denomination in Minnesota and the U.S. — now have fewer than 50 Sunday worshipers.

“A lot of Lutherans are worshiping like they just got off the boat from Europe,” said the Rev. Kelly Chatman, pastor at Redeemer. “It doesn’t create space for people from different backgrounds. We need to reframe what it means to be church, and make it real and relevant to the neighborhood.”

Membership at the ELCA plunged from 5.2 million in 1988 to about 3.7 million today. In Minnesota, numbers fell from 782,000 to about 679,000.

***

The church museum displays the heavy wooden trunks lugged by Swedish immigrants when they settled the rich farmland here. Today the church coffee hour still serves traditional Swedish cookies, albeit courtesy of Ikea. The coffee is as strong as ever. And many of the folks in the pews — mainly a good-natured group of retirees — are descendants of its founders.

On a recent Sunday, about 45 people were scattered in the sanctuary — about 25 percent of church members. One in four baptized Lutherans in church on Sunday is the norm nationally, ELCA figures show.

The Rev. Maureen Hagen’s morning announcements revealed they were a small but generous group. Hagen mentioned the Wednesday night religious program, a $2,000 donation by members to nearby food shelves, and the free dinner serving about 150 neighbors each month.

In other words, Vasa is holding its own.

But the dark clouds looming above the steeple on this Sunday were a symbol of the church’s challenges — the ones troubling most churches, Lutheran or not. Aging members. Fewer children. Competition for Sunday family time. And an increasingly secular world.

Lutherans also are up against enduring stereotypes as humorless do-gooders, set in their ways. Classic joke: “How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “Change?”

***


GALLERY
GRID1/17

Dark storm clouds and wind came through Vasa, Minn., at Vasa Lutheran Church on Sunday, June 11, 2017.

RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER – STAR TRIBUNE

Gallery: Dark storm clouds and wind came through Vasa, Minn., at Vasa Lutheran Church on Sunday, June 11, 2017.TEXT SIZEEMAILPRINTMORE

Redeemer Lutheran Church is not your typical Lutheran outpost. Summer means the bike store and coffee shop are humming, kids camp and Zumba classes are in gear, and the young adults renting its apartments are mentoring children in this north Minneapolis neighborhood.

It represents a new model for the Lutheran Church, which is transforming itself to attract younger and diverse members, be more relevant to neighbors below its steeples and shake its image as a Scandinavian bastion best known for hot dish, Jell-O and Ole and Lena.

Minnesota, with the largest number of Lutherans in the nation, will be instrumental in shaping the future of the faith. Time is of the essence: 37 percent of the churches in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — the largest denomination in Minnesota and the U.S. — now have fewer than 50 Sunday worshipers.

“A lot of Lutherans are worshiping like they just got off the boat from Europe,” said the Rev. Kelly Chatman, pastor at Redeemer. “It doesn’t create space for people from different backgrounds. We need to reframe what it means to be church, and make it real and relevant to the neighborhood.”

Membership at the ELCA plunged from 5.2 million in 1988 to about 3.7 million today. In Minnesota, numbers fell from 782,000 to about 679,000.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the second-largest Lutheran denomination, saw membership slide nationally from 2.7 million to 2 million during the same period. In Minnesota, the numbers dropped from 218,000 to 169,000.

Vasa Lutheran Church, outside of Red Wing, is one of Minnesota’s most historically significant churches. Its congregation is holding its own now but facing challenges.More

This decline is not unique to Lutheran Protestants. But it means the faith that shaped about one in four Minnesotans — as well the state’s character and culture — is undergoing a second “reformation.”

“We haven’t been able to translate our identity in a way that gets people excited,” added Bishop Mark Hanson, former presiding bishop of the national ELCA and former head of the St. Paul Area Synod.

“If we only see loss … it will be a discouraging time for Lutherans,” Hanson said. “Fortunately that’s not the only story we’re telling.”

Past meets future

In the rolling hills outside Red Wing stands Vasa Lutheran Church, one of Minnesota’s most historically significant churches. It was founded in 1855 by Swedish minister Eric Norelius, who also helped lay the foundation for Lutheran Social Service and Gustavus Adolphus College.

The church museum displays the heavy wooden trunks lugged by Swedish immigrants when they settled the rich farmland here. Today the church coffee hour still serves traditional Swedish cookies, albeit courtesy of Ikea. The coffee is as strong as ever. And many of the folks in the pews — mainly a good-natured group of retirees — are descendants of its founders.

On a recent Sunday, about 45 people were scattered in the sanctuary — about 25 percent of church members. One in four baptized Lutherans in church on Sunday is the norm nationally, ELCA figures show.

The Rev. Maureen Hagen’s morning announcements revealed they were a small but generous group. Hagen mentioned the Wednesday night religious program, a $2,000 donation by members to nearby food shelves, and the free dinner serving about 150 neighbors each month.

In other words, Vasa is holding its own.

But the dark clouds looming above the steeple on this Sunday were a symbol of the church’s challenges — the ones troubling most churches, Lutheran or not. Aging members. Fewer children. Competition for Sunday family time. And an increasingly secular world.

Lutherans also are up against enduring stereotypes as humorless do-gooders, set in their ways. Classic joke: “How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “Change?”

“A lot of people don’t know what Lutherans stand for,” lamented Hagen as church members grabbed coffee after the service.

Al Lindell, a fourth-generation Vasa member, said he recently attended a workshop on how to boost church attendance and finances. One young speaker said traditional church “is on the outs,” said Lindell, and churches need to bring in “some entertainment, something uplifting.”

“It’s hard to find a balance,” Lindell said. “Every time there’s a change, we lose some people.”

Losing people is the norm for most churches. Scroll through ELCA reports on Minnesota’s 1,031 congregations and find “declining” typed next to about 85 percent.

Bishop Steve Delzer of the Southeastern ELCA Synod grapples with the fate of the 174 churches under his leadership. He recently introduced two projects that pair church leaders with church management experts to help them build a clear mission and financial direction. Some will have to close, he acknowledges. Some will merge. Some will find a new way.

***

Redeemer Lutheran Church in near north Minneapolis is often mentioned as an urban model for the future. Like Vasa, it was formed more than 100 years ago by Scandinavian immigrants. Unlike Vasa, its surrounding community changed significantly. The church changed with it.

Pastor Chatman remembers the sinking feeling when he arrived 16 years ago, preaching to so many empty pews. But Redeemer’s congregation had just created a nonprofit to serve the needs of the Harrison neighborhood, and that opened the door to innovation.

Over the years, Redeemer has been able to buy most of the city block where it stands on Glenwood Avenue. It owns about 26 apartments, with tenants ranging from college-educated millennials to lower-income residents. It has a “Health Commons” in one of its buildings, a partnership with Fairview Health Services, offering health and wellness programs from Zumba to meditation. Its Venture North bike shop teaches neighbors to repair bikes and offers meeting space for teens and adults.


June 6, 1909 – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer officially chartered. Reverend John Zundel was its first pastor and services were held in Scandia Republican Club Hall.

***

September 1997 – Congregation approved the Redeemer Center for Life (RCFL),  a separate corporation from Redeemer formed to serve the needs of Harrison Neighborhood.

“A Timeline of Our History,” Redeemer Lutheran Church, Minneapolis https://www.redeemermpls.org/history.html.

[listed as United Lutheran in a 1942 directory of MN churches.]

One thought on “Minnesota Lutherans — Vasa and church in north Minneapolis profiled in Star Trib

  1. Great joke about Lutherans which could apply to a number of congregations. I am reading “White Too Long” about the persistence of white racism in American Christianity. I highly recommend it. It makes the present white evangelical embrace of Trump have some context.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s