(This article, and much more information about our new facilities search process, can be found at http://groups.google.com/group/emc-facilities-committee?hl=en&lnk=srg)

Ever since Luther Seminary requested last fall that we vacate the Chapel of the Cross and allow other new churches to rent it, we have been on an adventure of exploration and discovery. We have certainly learned much about the Twin Cities metropolitan area, and the members of the facilities search committee appointed by the church council, (Mathew Swora, pastor, Nancy Boer, church council moderator, Jim Poplett, trustee, and Kelly Ketterer, mission and service commission), have come to know something about almost every possible public space within five miles of Luther Seminary in any direction. One big surprise in all this is how we began thinking in terms of places and facilities and began to see a broader picture of partnerships and friendships. Another surprise was finding out, through our discussions, just how important a worship space is, on emotional and symbolic levels. What some may think of as a tool (space) is also experienced as a home. Changing space can generate questions about whether or not anything else is changing, like our mission, our relationships, or our membership. The short answer is No: our mission will not change, but our local mission field will.

In the space that follows, I’ll try to address some of the other questions that people ask me from time to time. And I encourage you to check out the other reports and documents on the website link above so that we’re all up to the same level of awareness as this search process continues. Some of those questions are:

1. Why are we looking to rent, rather than to buy or build our own sanctuary?

In our recent survey of the congregation on this very question, there was a definite preference expressed for renting, especially when given: a) the purchase price of a building ($350,000 on up); b) the rising cost in dollars of heating, cooling, maintaining, repairing and updating a building for new codes of safety and handicap accessibility; c) the lack of time or desire on the part of members for the upkeep and repair of facilities; d) a preference strongly expressed, from the beginning of Emmanuel Mennonite Church, for investing money in ministry more than in facilities. At some point it would be true that renting, long term, would surpass the costs of buying, until the monthly costs of utilities and maintenance are factored in. Those could more than match the monthly mortgage, and they will likely continue to rise. In the process of discernment done last year on matters of local mission, our Mission and Service Commission also counseled that it would be better to rent than to buy, unless we knew in advance who partners and renters would be, so as to make ownership more feasible. The Facilities Search Committee members have looked at sanctuaries and office spaces for sale and have found that, generally speaking, the least expensive buildings require the greatest costs to update and maintain, and that a down payment of 30% of the purchase price is often necessary. This does not entirely rule out ownership in the future. But until Emmanuel’s numbers and budget grow to better support such a move, the sense of the congregation, and our history of God’s leading, seem to point in the direction of renting.

2. What will change in a new facility?

More importantly, what will not change? Our faith, our fellowship, our mission, our gifts for worship, nurture and ministry, our relationships with God and each other will all remain the same. These are the non-negotiable hallmarks of a church. They can even be strengthened through this move (as they were in our last move), especially if we continue praying and communicating through the search process. Every external thing , like space and buildings, exists only to serve the non-negotiable purposes of a church.

But that doesn’t make space, facilities and buildings unimportant. We will need to learn how to use a different space . We’ll need to learn different ways of getting to a new place every Sunday morning. For some of us there will be longer travels to worship; for others, shorter ones. Changing things like our website, letterhead, and other things to reflect our new address will require a little work. All those adjustments together could take a little time, so let’s be patient with ourselves and each other.

Most importantly, a new location will bring with it a new neighborhood with new visibility, new friends, partnerships and possibilities for outreach. As good as we have had it at Luther Seminary, we have been somewhat hidden within the seminary community and in the Saint Anthony Park neighborhood, neither of which have proved extremely fruitful fields for church growth. With a new location, expect new visitors and seekers, some of them from the church’s new neighborhood. That will not change our church’s mission. But it will affect our local mission field. And it will change our membership should new people join, as we hope.

3. Where have we looked for rental spaces, and how?

The Facilities Search Committee members have looked at real estate possibilities by calling numbers listed on signs and through MLS listings, contacted churches, denominations, synods, dioceses, theaters, Seventh Day Adventist Churches, synagogues, public and private schools and several school systems, charter schools, landlords of business spaces for rent, real estate agents and rental agents, all the while keeping the search within a reasonable area around Luther Seminary, so as to stay centrally located in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area (see the map on this website). That area is roughly bounded by County Rd. C in the north, Grand Ave. in the south, Central Ave. to the west, and Lexington Ave. to the east, although we have looked outside that box when highway access made travel time comparable to something inside that box.

Within this box, our options are somewhat limited. While there is much commercial space for rent within this target area, it is among the most expensive in the metro, going at about $17 per square foot per year. Commercial space cannot be rented for just Sunday mornings, unless an “anchor tenant” is willing to share or sublease it. We’re waiting to hear from one such anchor tenant of a former public school if this might be an option, once the identity of that anchor tenant is known. Otherwise, the rent on commercial space comparable to what we use on a given Sunday would be $45,000 per year and up. But when one looks to rent space from a church, most of them are meeting Sunday mornings, and rarely at times when we could work around them. The most popular time for a church to worship is on Sunday morning at 10 AM. In spite of these obstacles, some exciting options have emerged.

4. What do we hope to get from a new space?

We’d naturally like to get it all: space for worship, Christian education, fellowship, handicap accessibility, local ministries, storage, meeting space and office space. From our survey of the congregation, we have been able to set priorities among these desires, with the most important ones being worship, Christian education, fellowship and storage. We’ve heard the desires expressed for Sunday School classrooms that can be set up for keeps and for secure and adequate storage for our sound system, hymnals, fellowship supplies, etc., . Its unlikely that we’ll get it all, and we’ll surely have to make some choices and accept some costs, even as a new space opens up other unforeseen opportunities for us.

As for other special needs that might arise, such as space for special meetings, celebrations (like our Maundy Thursday services and our Easter morning breakfasts), weddings, memorial services and meals, the facilities search committee will keep those needs in mind as we look for space and talk with future possible “landlords.” We may be able to use such space for special events as needed for extra cost, once they are scheduled with the owner.

4. What are our most likely options?

We could move into any one of several public or private school cafeterias, auditoriums or gymnasiums tomorrow. It would be expensive, and the biggest cost would be for janitorial service and supervision. But we on the facilities search committee have been unexcited by such options, to say the least, and would rather fall back on those only when and if better options don’t pan out. Judging from the responses at our discernment meetings, the sense of the congregation is likewise.

There are also other and probably cheaper options in the far suburbs and exurbs, but that wouldn’t be fair to all of our membership.

The two best and most welcoming options emerging thus far are Jehovah Lutheran Church in St. Paul, at the corner of Snelling and Thomas avenues, and Messiah Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, at 25th Street and Columbus Ave. Jehovah Lutheran would have the best handicap accessibility, but the meeting space is basically a large basement dining hall with no natural light. Messiah Lutheran would offer a real church sanctuary, but is currently less handicap accessible. That could change. Both congregations have rolled out the welcome mat to us for local mission partnership, but, through Urban Ventures, we already have connections with Messiah Lutheran Church and its neighborhood. We have already met with the leadership of Jehovah Lutheran Church, but discussions with both of these churches are in preliminary stages.

5. Until we move in somewhere, what’s next?

We’ll continue to look for and explore other options for space in the target area, and to communicate and negotiate with potential partners and landlords. But that will have to proceed on their timetable as well as ours. We’ll also communicate all progress on this search with you and the church council. We will likely have trial gatherings in potential worship spaces so that we can try them out for acoustics, temperature, comfort, parking and accessibility. Please come to those. At our September 28 meeting after Sunday School, we should know enough about our realistic options so that we can make meaningful comparisons and discern the best of our several options. Please come to that, too. Your input is very valuable.

I welcome any other questions you might have about this search process, and I’ll be glad to reply with as much as I know, and to refer you to the other members of the facilities search committee. And I encourage you to watch for other news as it comes, and to attend our final discernment meeting on September 28. But much of this remains as elusive and unknown for us as it may be for you. But in the words of the wonderful hymn:

“We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord.

Trusting in his holy word; he’s never failed me yet.

Can’t turn around, we’ve come this far by faith.”

Yours in Christ,

Mathew Swora, pastor



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