3 Churches, 1 Shared Ministry Center

On December 22, 2011 we moved into the long awaited SpringHouse Ministry Center, a renovated home in the shell of Salem’s once overflowing sanctuary space.  Salem shares this ministry center with partner congregations Lyndale United Church of Christ and First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  We’re intentional about our life together sharing a strong Sunday School, youth ministry, some justice activities, a few staff, our coffee hours, and occasional worship.  The three churches each bring rich history and identity, and commitment to this shared, sustainable facility and ecumenical life.  Yes, it’s fine to try worship with each congregation!

What led us to this place? 

That’s a big story. Like many urban congregations, Salem faced the the question of life or death very distinctly beginning in 2004. The large, unsustainable facility of 44,000 square feet was hungry for resources, leaving little for the good ministry to which the congregation is called. Courageously, the people of  Salem chose to live and were willing to give up the well used facility in order to continue ministry in the neighborhood.

In 2005, Salem and Lyndale United Church of Christ (then 4 blocks away at 31st and Aldrich) began a partnership and in 2006 Salem shuttered its facility and moved in with Lyndale UCC.  Together the congregations sought developers with a vision for the neighborhood and the congregations. Eventually Brighton Development’s Peggy Lucas and her colleagues were picked to lead the project.  Questions of historic preservation prompted Salem’s oldest sections (the sanctuary facility) to be kept and allowed the western education wing to be sold and demolished.  In that space Brighton and Kim Bretheim of LHB Architects constructed Greenleaf–a mixed use development including 63 units of affordable housing, underground parking, and retail.

As the economy struggled, Lyndale UCC’s building was finally sold and the two churches together moved into Intermedia Arts, making worship space in their gallery and theater.  During these years, Salem and Lyndale entered a conversation with another neighborhood congregation facing similar issues:  First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  First Christian had sold its large facility at 22nd Street and 1st Avenue to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and First Christian faced those same questions of life or death. In January 2011, the three congregations each voted to expand the partnership to include all three congregations.

What does partnership mean?

The three congregations use the language of partnership carefully. They aren’t merging, but rather they are partnering: maintaining their unique identities, ministry and history, and yet sharing resources, together creating a sustainable facility (sustainable because it’s green, and sustainable because they can share the costs), and living as a distinct witness of Christians working together in a time when divisions are so prevalent. A Ministry Covenant written by the three churches guides their life together and each congregation owns 1/3 of the land and the facility.

So, three sanctuaries? One for each?

The new ministry center includes three flexible worship spaces as well as education space (Sunday School is shared), a commercial kitchen, offices, and community rooms.  The three congregations rotate among the three worship spaces.  Following the church year (Advent through Epiphany, Lent and Easter seasons, the first half of the season after Pentecost, and the last half of the season after Pentecost) they switch sanctuaries four times each year.  Salem began in the South Sanctuary; at Ash Wednesday they moved to the North Sanctuary; and at Pentecost they moved again to the Garden Sanctuary.  The goal is to get comfortable, but never too comfortable: to keep thinking about how we worship in each area, and not to claim any one sanctuary as the “Lutheran” one or the “Congregational” one, etc.  The spaces are unique in size and style and each offers much flexibility in liturgical decoration and set up.

Where does SpringHouse Ministry Center get its name?

First, we’re a ministry center, a hub or center for ministry for all three congregations and the community beyond.  Within the ministry center there are three churches, three congregations.

Back in the day, a spring house was a small house or shed built over the place where a spring emerged from the ground. The spring’s natural cooling offered a cool place to store perishables and a safe place from which to draw water before the water flowed out over the land. A theme in the building and design process has been water—healing water, baptismal water. SpringHouse Ministry Center is a place from which healing waters flow forth into the neighborhood and beyond.