I arrived at the church early on a Sunday morning while the streets were quiet and still. I didn’t even have keys yet, but this would be my first day as Restart Pastor here. I waited on the front porch with others who were looking for food and warmth and with those who would provide it. I walked in through the stone arches and open doors of Grace Lutheran Church to discover the courageous, wounded, and hopeful people who have called this place home. I was struck by the diversity of those gathered. The homeless sat in the same pews as those who were moving into the luxury condos around us, the blind sat next to me in the front, and the republican shared the peace with the woman wearing a t-shirt that read “Transgender Veteran.” This is evidence of God’s presence here. These are my people. This is the legacy of 94 years of ministry.
Months ago, with the support of their interim Pastor, they made the bold decision to become a Restart Church. Like many mainline churches, they experienced shrinking numbers and challenges greater than their current resources. At the same time they recognized the continued promise and potential of God’s activity in the area. So….a Restart Church. It’s a pretty new model in the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, our denomination). In fact, we don’t really know of any others doing this yet. It’s basically the gutsy move to take a church back to ground zero and start over. It take hutzpah and humility. And it poses the intriguing question, “if you had a blank slate to create a community of faith, what would you do? What would it look like?”
This past Sunday, the congregation of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church was closed. In the same moment, new life began to emerge. +Kindred is its name. The beautiful building with its stained glass windows and its vaulted wooden beams remains, but it is witness to a new thing. It is the tomb where Grace was laid to rest, but we return to find the tomb empty and God on the loose again. We proclaim the Gospel, the Good News of the Resurrection, of new life not just with our words but in the way we embody these things in our structures and our relationships. Don’t just talk about it, be about it! This new way is so much more than a church that is “new and improved,” “Grace 2.0,” or “the faith force awakens.” It stands on the legacy of this beautifully rich community to respond to God’s call in an altogether new way. In Christ, we are a new creation.
As of today, I have been an ordained Pastor for two months. I was invited into this particularly interesting call as Restart Pastor, not really knowing what I’d agreed to. I have had the opportunity to lead this community in its final months of worship, rediscover the vibrant neighborhood of Montrose, and witness the heart of God who stirs up in us a love for this city and for each other. We get to experiment with how that all converges. We get to practice being faithful and playful at the same time. We have the chance to explore what church might be, given a firm foundation and the freedom to try new things. How do we create a church that isn’t just something you “go to,” but is something you’re apart of? That actually means something when we’re at our desks, walking down the sidewalk, or out for drinks? That’s the kind of church I’ve always wanted to be a part of.