On Mar. 3 and 10, 2019 church council introduced Grace Abounds, a new initiative focusing on how we as a congregation can reflect the love of Christ more through our giving, serving, and witnessing. With this focus in mind, leaders presented and congregation members gave feedback on potential plans for multi-site ministry, and ideas for new worship times that would encourage more spiritual growth through a two-hour worship and Bible study experience.
View the video below, and stay tuned for more updates as they become available!
The Grace Multi-site Ministry Proposal
On Sunday, March 3, 2019, our Grace Church president, Josh Schermerhorn, offered a presentation and solicited feedback during open forums on a plan called “Grace Abounds.” The called workers and leaders of Grace want the grace of God to abound in the hearts of our members so that they grow in faith and in the fruits of faith, witnessing, giving generously, and serving. If you were unable to attend, there are video highlights available on our website. Those open forums included the invitation for feedback. Several excellent questions and concerns were raised. The following Q&A addresses some of those questions and concerns.
Questions and Answers (as transcribed by council)
The proposed merger of Grace, St. John’s on the Hillside, and Salem
When will all of this happen?
Not soon. We are just starting these conversations and are gathering feedback and input that we can take into consideration as we work this plan out together. We plan to carry out all the research necessary to find out the financial implications, legal steps, and emotional impact for all of us, including the few remaining members at St. John on the Hillside (about 25) and Salem-East (about 20). It may take most of 2019 to accomplish that research.
How did the idea of a merger with St. John on the Hillside come about?
St. John was suspended from WELS in 1996 and remained an independent Lutheran congregation until being accepted back into WELS in 2016. St. John had very few members remaining. The Grace pastors began wondering if there was some way Grace could help them. Pastor Schaefer became the part-time pastor at St. John and joined the Grace pastors in wondering what kind of a relationship the two congregations could have. We had proposed Pastor Strong assisting with preaching and outreach at St. John in concurrence with his efforts in the Third Ward. That did not work for St. John because it meant a change in their worship time. When Trinity Lutheran (LCMS) on 9th & Highland tragically burned in August of 2018, an arrangement was made for them to rent the use of St. John on Sunday mornings at an earlier hour than St. John’s worship time. But that arrangement never came to fruition. A suggestion for a ramp to be added to St. John was raised, and Pastor Schaefer asked the WELS Church Extension Fund folks if moneys would be available from them for such a project. He was told, “Only if St. John is a second site for Grace.” So, St. John contacted Grace asking if we would come up with a plan. We did.
How does St. John feel about the proposal?
Among the few remaining members some are excited and heartened by the possibility that ministry can not only continue but thrive at that site. There are others who would like to maintain what they are doing and how they are doing it, hoping they will survive on their own. If the latter becomes their choice, they will use up their remaining assets in the next decade (or sooner) and cease to exist.
Trying to revive a struggling or dying church is next to impossible. How will that work?
The goal is not to revive a struggling or dying church, but to expand a thriving church. That’s exactly why ideas for partnering with St. John on the Hillside and Salem-East to preserve their way of doing things and their approach to ministry soon gave way to the common sense and more workable idea of merger.
Will a merger with St. John and Salem-East be a financial risk and potential burden?
Yes, taking on the beautiful St. John building as a part of our Grace budget is risky and will be a challenge. We are exploring ways in which the district mission board and Church Extension Fund (and perhaps other “third source” funding) can bring assistance. Grace’s leaders are not minded to take on huge debt when we still are working the plan to retire our remaining debt of $900,000 on the Grace Center by the end of 2020.
Salem-East will not last much longer. Their current ministry efforts are not bearing fruit, and it is not possible for the current facilities of Salem-East to be repaired and used to reach the demographic of that neighborhood. The plan for that site is to remove the parish center, parsonage, and church structure and replace it with a facility consisting of a ministry center on one floor and 3 to 4 floors of apartments that would generate revenue to pay for demolition and construction with the goal of not incurring additional debt for Grace.
What are the legal steps toward merger?
That is being researched. Since this is happening with WELS congregations in other parts of the country, there is a document made available through the Conference of Presidents on the steps to take for a merger (including the necessary legal steps).
What about the history of St. John on the Hillside and Salem-East?
Great care will be taken to preserve the history of those two congregations in our archives.
Will the proposed schedule put a burden on the choir, altar guild, ushers, etc.?
Prior to January 2000 we had only one choir, and they typically sang only at the 10:30 am service, not at 8 am. We now have 7 choirs or singing groups that are scheduled throughout the year. The vision would be that there would be a separate choir or singing group for each of these Sunday morning services: 8 & 10:30 downtown, 9:30 Hillside, 10 am Third Ward. There would be a separate organist for the downtown site and Hillside site. There would be a separate usher crew for each service and site. More people would be recruited and trained to serve on the altar guild so that different individuals would be at the downtown and Hillside sites for any given communion Sunday.
I enjoy having a chance to see my pastor on Sunday. How will that happen with a multi-site congregation?
Before April 2018, Pastors Bondow, Strong, and Huebner were all active on Sunday morning with 1 of them preaching, 1 of them teaching Bible class, and 1 of them teaching Bible information class. When Pastor Strong began ministry efforts in the Third Ward, something had to give. We dropped the Sunday Bible information class. Pastor Hackmann has accepted our divine call and will begin serving at Grace in May 2019. The pastors foresee a multi-site schedule with Pastor Strong at Grace-Eastside on Saturdays at 5pm and at Grace in the Third Ward on Sundays at 10am. Pastor Hackmann, Bondow, and Huebner would rotate preaching, Bible class teaching, and Bible information class at the downtown and Hillside sites. The preacher can serve the downtown site at 8 & 10:30 and the Hillside site at 9:30. The Bible class teacher can serve the downtown site at 9:15 and the Hillside site at 10:45. A Bible information class can be scheduled at 9 am.
Will there be a different style of worship at each of the 4 sites? Will “excellence in worship” at the downtown site suffer?
Worship is not designed for “what people want” but for “what God wants to give us / say to us.” Currently, the Third Ward experience is a Bible study with songs and prayer. Eventually, that site will begin to include elements of worship (the great “texts” that proclaim what Jesus did for us – Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, etc., a church-year pattern of Scripture readings) with an additional hour of Bible class. We envision the Eastside site to follow that pattern.
The downtown and Hillside sites will be identical in worship pattern and format, using the same worship folder and preacher but with different choirs and instrumentalists. We will not water down or diminish the “excellence in worship” at the downtown site. The envisioned plan calls for multiplying it by reproducing it at the Hillside site, understanding that the same pattern of worship and worship folder could be printed with alternate hymn / song choices for the downtown and Hillside site that are theologically, musically, and culturally appropriate for each site.
Will the change of 9am worship at the downtown site to 9:30am at the Hillside site end up being a net “loss”?
That is probably the riskiest part of the plan. Much thought and discussion about that is still going on. No “set in stone” decisions have been made. The Grace leaders are still seeking and open to feedback.
We ask for your prayers and feedback! God bless and be with us all in our ministry planning and plans!
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