Tuesday, October 4, 2016

We Go to Church in Minnesota

postcard of Central Evangelical Free Church inside Hope Community Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hope Community Church, Minneapolis
Sometimes it’s a good thing for a church to die.

Twenty six years ago, I served as a youth pastor at Central Evangelical Free Church in downtown Minneapolis, next to the Metrodome. I was only there for a year, and it was a fairly miserable time. It was my first time in full time ministry, and I made many mistakes. But the church was also going through challenging times.

The church had been around since the 19th century, founded by Swedish immigrants. Through the years, the descendants of those founders moved out of the city into the suburbs, but still commuted in on Sundays. As the years went on, the vision and purpose of the church became less clear. A number of years after we left, by a narrow margin, the congregation voted against accepting an offer to buy the building. But while such a thing was considered, discontent in the church rose and attendance dwindled.

In another part of the Twin Cities, twenty years ago, Hope Community Church was in the process of being born. Steve Treichler planted the church near the University of Minnesota. They met in the facilities of Stadium Village Church, but as Hope grew, there wasn’t room for both congregations (in a totally good way), so Hope began to look for another facility where they could meet.

So, thirteen years ago, the leadership of Hope got together with the leadership of Central. Central Evangelical Free Church decided not to sell their building to Hope Community Church. The congregation decided to give their building to Hope. This decision was made with the cooperation and blessing of the Evangelical Free Church of America. During our visit, in conversation and from the pulpit, senior associate pastor Cor Chmieleski expressed the deep appreciation Hope feels for that gift.

The death of Central Evangelical Free Church allowed Hope Community Church to grow and thrive. In fact, they grew to a point where they needed yet more space, and they were able to purchase the neighboring Lutheran Church for pennies on the dollar.

Hope Bus offers rides from U of M to Hope Community Church
Hope Community Church continues to minister to University of Minnesota students -- surveys through the years have shown that at any time, half of those attending are students. Though that means that a great portion of the congregation are likely to be short termers. a number of those students stay in the area after graduation and continue to be a part of Hope.

I talked to one of those people who was a student but stuck around. Nathan was a student at the University of Minnesota twenty years ago. He wasn’t a Christian at the time. A dormmate shared Jesus with him and invited him to Hope, a brand new church. Nathan became a Christian and stuck with the church. Now, Nathan is a part of Hope’s hospitality team and on the Sunday we visited, was doing his once a month greeting and handing out bulletins duties.

I asked Nathan what attracted him to this church back in the day. He said the leadership and people in the church were “real and down to earth.” I asked him if that was still true, and he said it was and that was what had kept him there through the years.

Jill Chmieleski (Cor’s wife) said that through the years, students often talk about the appeal of church as a “Duct Tape Church”.  This is a phrase that has been used on the platform as well; it means acknowledging that the church isn’t perfect, and some things just have to be patched up as life goes on -- just as none of our lives are perfect, and we need to keep helping each other patch up until the Kingdom comes.

During announcement time in the Sunday service, Joel (another staff member) spoke of the importance of communion and connectivity in the church. He mentioned his own irrational fear of zombies and asked people to share an irrational fear they had with someone sitting near them. People are encouraged to be a part of the small group ministries of the church, and the majority of the non-students in the church are in a small group. (Many of the students are involved with campus ministries rather than the church small groups.)

A very interesting program of the church is LDI, Leadership Development Training. The church believes that churches and pastors are uniquely equipped to train the pastors and leaders of tomorrow. The church began with a one year internship program, but now has different treks taking up to three years. (I recently talked with a friend in academia who was bemoaning such programs taking students from seminaries and Christian colleges. When I see the cost of many seminaries, I am less likely to join the bemoanment.)

Hope is also concerned about needs of the poor and disadvantaged in the city but has made the strategic decision to partner with other programs already in place rather than establishing programs of their own. Those programs include New Life Family Services, Prison Fellowship, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities among others. (One of those others is Hope Academy, a school which isn’t associated with the church, that targets disadvantaged students. Nathan, the fellow I talked to, is an administrator at the school.)

The church is also quite actively planting other independent but associated churches in the area rather than following of establishing satellite locations and beaming video sermons from the homebase. One of the goals of LDI is to build leaders capable of leading indigenous and autonomous ministries. (A graphic was displayed during the service, showing churches Hope has planted through the years.)

The church also values artistic expression. Throughout Hope West, we saw various paintings and sculptures -- along with photographs of founders and members of the Evangelical Free and Lutheran churches that had been in the buildings before Hope.)

Tim Johnson is associate pastor of worship and the musical director of the church. From what we experienced in Sunday worship, he does a wonderful job of blending the old and new. We mostly sang hymns of Watts and Wesley edited and arranged in more contemporary arrangements.

The offertory was chosen to work with the theme of the day’s sermon, the Crucifixion. (The pastoral staff is working expositionally through the Gospel of Luke.) The worship team performed Cage the Elephant’s “Shake Me Down.”

We happened to be there the first Sunday of the month, when the church celebrates communion. A number of songs are sung, and people can go forward for the bread and cup (grape juice) when they’re ready. One of the songs was sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne,” an interesting piece because, for many of us its connection to New Year’s celebrations gives it an emotional weight. But as Harry and Sally discuss in the movie named after them (When Harry Met Sally), no one seems to understand what the lyrics of that song mean.

It is a good thing to see the tune of a song put to a new and rich purpose. It’s a good thing to see with buildings as well.

9:00 am / 11:00 am
Service Length: 1 hour 20 minutes / 1 hour 29 minutes
Sermon Length: 42 minutes / 44 minutes
Visitor Treatment: welcome from pulpit for all visitors, request to fill out connection card, assurance that monetary giving wasn't expected from guests
Follow-up by Tuesday Morning: form email from one of the  pastors inviting involvement
Our Rough Count: 166 / 256
Probable Ushers' Count: 175 / 275
Snacks: coffee, tea, hot cocoa, decaf, and multiple breads in Hope East. Same drinks and breads plus lemonade and water in Hope West (plus various treats at the various ministry expo tables in the same room.)
Musicians: keyboards (woman /
drums (man)
electric guitars (2 men / man)
bass guitar (man)
acoustic guitar (man / 2 men)
vocals (woman)
Songs: played in slightly different order at the two services
 "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"
"Shake Me Down" (offertory)
"Depth of Mercy"
"It is Finished"
"Jesus Paid it All"
"My God My Father"
"All Glory be to Christ"
Miles to Church: 24
Miles from Start: 38,190
2016 Miles: 37,904
Church Website: hopecc.com