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Church aims to provide tipping point in neighborhood

By creating opportunities for neighbors to meet and care about each other, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church at 1832 W. Dean hopes to provide a tipping point of positive energy so people go for walks, invest in their homes and keep up their yards.

Paul Lebens-Englund
Paul Lebens-Englund

By creating space where neighbors can gather for dinners, concerts, movies, parties, political debates, game nights and other events, so they become friends, the Rev. Paul Lebens-Englund, pastor, hopes the congregation can exemplify God’s presence in the community.

He draws on Christian base communities he experienced the summer of 1996 in Managua, Nicaragua, which support members’ survival and deal with systemic issues.  He is implementing what fits from that model to bring Holy Trinity back to its roots as a neighborhood church.

“Our goal is to be leaven in the loaf rather than attract people with programs,” he said.  “West Central Spokane is in transition, emerging from a difficult history and a reputation as Felony Flats.”

Paul finds the neighborhood more positive than its reputation for drugs, gangs and violence.

“A church is to be bread for the world, to feed people and send them outward to feed others,” Paul said.  “Often pastors preach only ‘Jesus loves you,’ not ‘Jesus loves you, so you’d best get on with loving others.’ I have one sermon, and that’s it.”

Studying political economy and theology at the Evergreen State College, he became fascinated with liberation theology and its practical notion of kingdom living.  That and his time in Nicaragua were his gateway back into the church.

Knowing of U.S. complicity in the war in Nicaragua, he expected hesitation when he met Mothers of Martyrs of the War in a Nicaraguan village.  Instead, they welcomed him with affection.

“I experienced God’s mercy at a gut level,” Paul said.  “It was a spiritual experience, realizing intangibles matter.  Their guiding story was forgiving over and over, even forgiving enemies. It was not just in their heads, but in their spirits.”

He decided two weeks later to become a priest and dedicate his life to the same practice of mercy.  His hesitation about serving the church was because he felt “churches often take their eyes off the ‘big stuff’ and fight about the ‘little stuff’,” he said.  “I learned to separate God and church, recognizing we need mercy and in the midst of petty disagreements, we at least agree to stay together.

“Our witness to the world does not require agreeing on the little stuff if we agree on the big stuff that moves us toward God’s kingdom. If we can’t practice mercy when we disagree about the fabric for vestments, it’s hard to agree on feeding the hungry,” he said.

Paul’s peers often ask why he is in the church, which many consider hypocritical.  Some accept the gospel but think the church is not the place to promote it.

After graduating from Evergreen in 1997, Paul spent two years in social work with a Catholic Worker program in Olympia, and then helped homeless and hungry people through South Sound Mental Health.  His grandfather’s illness drew him back to Yakima, where he worked with the local mental health provider until leaving for seminary in August 2001.

Upon completing studies at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific at Berkeley, Calif., he came as curate in 2004 at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John in Spokane, shadowing the dean for more than three years.

Paul knew of the struggle of Holy Trinity and expressed interest to Bishop Jim Waggoner.

In the early 1990s, Holy Trinity was among the U.S. Anglican congregations that became caught up in the church’s disagreement about sexual ethics and women’s place in the church, Paul said.

A group voted to leave and formed St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church.  The Episcopal Diocese retained the property and ministry there through 75 members who stayed.

Over the next 10 years, membership declined further.  Paul started at Holy Trinity a year ago in February, after the diocese decided to change its status from parish to mission.  The diocese has oversight on decisions about staff, finances and property.

The Diocesan Council called Paul to restore Holy Trinity’s role in the neighborhood and with ministries, such as Our Place, which it had helped start.

Paul began with three long-time members and an average of 10 to 12 attending two services on Sundays.  Now an average of 55 people attend two services on Sundays, with some coming from the neighborhood and others from other Episcopal Churches.    The young adult ministry at the cathedral leads a multi-sensory, participatory 7 p.m. Sunday worship at Holy Trinity.  The 10 a.m. service is traditional

“We are focusing on leadership development and sustainable structures,” Paul said. 

As a mission church, it has a “clean slate.”  So it offers events it has not offered before, such as a Mardi Gras dance party. 

Holy Trinity moved from survival mode to exploring how to be a neighborhood church again in its 113-year-old church with a 104-year-old parish hall, built when it was started as a mission of All Saints Cathedral in a working-class neighborhood. 

Outreach to neighbors begins with making restrooms accessible, bringing the kitchen up to health codes, building a wheelchair ramp, maybe adding coffee shop and painting buildings so they are inviting places to come.

“Immediate blocks were once known as a hotspot for trouble, drug deals, gang violence and absent landlords,” Paul said.  “Recently nearby buildings were purged of drug-dealing renters.”

After the split in 1995, the church had torn down two of three run-down houses west of the church and sold the third to be moved.  Now the property is church parking and a 2,000-square-foot lot to be used as a community garden with raised beds, green space and a labyrinth for meditation. 

They hope to start a farmers’ market and have more neighbors offer property for gardens so more people can grow food and learn sustainable organic farming practices.  Across the street, they hope to develop affordable housing.

The church’s outreach included door knocking to invite people to an Advent movie series of classic children’s cartoons, shown on a 14-foot screen in the sanctuary.

The church seeks to connect with people based on their life patterns, interests and concerns, aware there are single mothers with children, grandparents rearing grandchildren, individuals with disabilities, Eastern Europeans and Native Americans.

“We start with having fun and being good neighbors,” he said.

Holy Trinity is also one of eight sites in national church targeted for leadership development with young adults from around the country.  Four will live in the rectory and connect with neighbors on grassroots needs.

“The church exists for the world, not to preserve a building or institution,” Paul said.  “Good ministries are happening in small places.  The first step to growth is a compelling witness to the gospel of compassion and care for the world.

The church is strengthening connections with Our Place, Anna Ogden Hall, Project HOPE, God’s Gym and the COPS Shop.  With the Kendall Yards development, we urge investing in the neighborhood and setting caps on property taxes so people on fixed incomes are not priced out,” he said.

Paul goes to monthly meetings of the Neighborhood Council and West Central Ministries to learn what others are doing, cheer each other on, discern gaps and partner to fill them.

 For information, call 326-6471 or email paul@trinityspokane.

By creating opportunities for neighbors to meet and care about each other, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church at 1832 W. Dean hopes to provide a tipping point of positive energy so people go for walks, invest in their homes and keep up their yards.

By creating space where neighbors can gather for dinners, concerts, movies, parties, political debates, game nights and other events, so they become friends, the Rev. Paul Lebens-Englund, pastor, hopes the congregation can exemplify God’s presence in the community.

He draws on Christian base communities he experienced the summer of 1996 in Managua, Nicaragua, which support members’ survival and deal with systemic issues.  He is implementing what fits from that model to bring Holy Trinity back to its roots as a neighborhood church.

“Our goal is to be leaven in the loaf rather than attract people with programs,” he said.  “West Central Spokane is in transition, emerging from a difficult history and a reputation as Felony Flats.”

Paul finds the neighborhood more positive than its reputation for drugs, gangs and violence.

“A church is to be bread for the world, to feed people and send them outward to feed others,” Paul said.  “Often pastors preach only ‘Jesus loves you,’ not ‘Jesus loves you, so you’d best get on with loving others.’ I have one sermon, and that’s it.”

Studying political economy and theology at the Evergreen State College, he became fascinated with liberation theology and its practical notion of kingdom living.  That and his time in Nicaragua were his gateway back into the church.

Knowing of U.S. complicity in the war in Nicaragua, he expected hesitation when he met Mothers of Martyrs of the War in a Nicaraguan village.  Instead, they welcomed him with affection.

“I experienced God’s mercy at a gut level,” Paul said.  “It was a spiritual experience, realizing intangibles matter.  Their guiding story was forgiving over and over, even forgiving enemies. It was not just in their heads, but in their spirits.”

He decided two weeks later to become a priest and dedicate his life to the same practice of mercy.  His hesitation about serving the church was because he felt “churches often take their eyes off the ‘big stuff’ and fight about the ‘little stuff’,” he said.  “I learned to separate God and church, recognizing we need mercy and in the midst of petty disagreements, we at least agree to stay together.

“Our witness to the world does not require agreeing on the little stuff if we agree on the big stuff that moves us toward God’s kingdom. If we can’t practice mercy when we disagree about the fabric for vestments, it’s hard to agree on feeding the hungry,” he said.

Paul’s peers often ask why he is in the church, which many consider hypocritical.  Some accept the gospel but think the church is not the place to promote it.

After graduating from Evergreen in 1997, Paul spent two years in social work with a Catholic Worker program in Olympia, and then helped homeless and hungry people through South Sound Mental Health.  His grandfather’s illness drew him back to Yakima, where he worked with the local mental health provider until leaving for seminary in August 2001.

Upon completing studies at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific at Berkeley, Calif., he came as curate in 2004 at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John in Spokane, shadowing the dean for more than three years.

Paul knew of the struggle of Holy Trinity and expressed interest to Bishop Jim Waggoner.

In the early 1990s, Holy Trinity was among the U.S. Anglican congregations that became caught up in the church’s disagreement about sexual ethics and women’s place in the church, Paul said.

A group voted to leave and formed St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church.  The Episcopal Diocese retained the property and ministry there through 75 members who stayed.

Over the next 10 years, membership declined further.  Paul started at Holy Trinity a year ago in February, after the diocese decided to change its status from parish to mission.  The diocese has oversight on decisions about staff, finances and property.

The Diocesan Council called Paul to restore Holy Trinity’s role in the neighborhood and with ministries, such as Our Place, which it had helped start.

Paul began with three long-time members and an average of 10 to 12 attending two services on Sundays.  Now an average of 55 people attend two services on Sundays, with some coming from the neighborhood and others from other Episcopal Churches.    The young adult ministry at the cathedral leads a multi-sensory, participatory 7 p.m. Sunday worship at Holy Trinity.  The 10 a.m. service is traditional

“We are focusing on leadership development and sustainable structures,” Paul said. 

As a mission church, it has a “clean slate.”  So it offers events it has not offered before, such as a Mardi Gras dance party. 

Holy Trinity moved from survival mode to exploring how to be a neighborhood church again in its 113-year-old church with a 104-year-old parish hall, built when it was started as a mission of All Saints Cathedral in a working-class neighborhood. 

Outreach to neighbors begins with making restrooms accessible, bringing the kitchen up to health codes, building a wheelchair ramp, maybe adding coffee shop and painting buildings so they are inviting places to come.

“Immediate blocks were once known as a hotspot for trouble, drug deals, gang violence and absent landlords,” Paul said.  “Recently nearby buildings were purged of drug-dealing renters.”

After the split in 1995, the church had torn down two of three run-down houses west of the church and sold the third to be moved.  Now the property is church parking and a 2,000-square-foot lot to be used as a community garden with raised beds, green space and a labyrinth for meditation. 

They hope to start a farmers’ market and have more neighbors offer property for gardens so more people can grow food and learn sustainable organic farming practices.  Across the street, they hope to develop affordable housing.

The church’s outreach included door knocking to invite people to an Advent movie series of classic children’s cartoons, shown on a 14-foot screen in the sanctuary.

The church seeks to connect with people based on their life patterns, interests and concerns, aware there are single mothers with children, grandparents rearing grandchildren, individuals with disabilities, Eastern Europeans and Native Americans.

“We start with having fun and being good neighbors,” he said.

Holy Trinity is also one of eight sites in national church targeted for leadership development with young adults from around the country.  Four will live in the rectory and connect with neighbors on grassroots needs.

“The church exists for the world, not to preserve a building or institution,” Paul said.  “Good ministries are happening in small places.  The first step to growth is a compelling witness to the gospel of compassion and care for the world.

The church is strengthening connections with Our Place, Anna Ogden Hall, Project HOPE, God’s Gym and the COPS Shop.  With the Kendall Yards development, we urge investing in the neighborhood and setting caps on property taxes so people on fixed incomes are not priced out,” he said.

Paul goes to monthly meetings of the Neighborhood Council and West Central Ministries to learn what others are doing, cheer each other on, discern gaps and partner to fill them.

 For information, call 326-6471 or email paul@trinityspokane.