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Collaboration for churches’ merger spills into its outreach

By Yvonne Lopez-Morton

Collaboration and cooperation of Lutheran churches in the Spokane area led to the merger last March of Emmanuel Lutheran and St. Paul Lutheran churches as All Saints Lutheran Church.

The new church is committed to continuing a spirit of collaboration by partnering with Salem Lutheran for services and events.

After it sold its building and before it merged with Emmanuel, St. Paul connected and worshipped with Grace Lutheran.

Eschenbacher and Bolar

Matthew Bolar converses with the Rev. Alan Eschenbacher

“We approached the merger with a focus on the ministry,” said All Saints pastor Alan Eschenbacher, who started at Emmanuel in 2002.

He said there were few challenges during merger discussions and final logistics because of the churches’ prior trusting relationship.  The merger has created a larger congregation with greater financial and people resources for ministry.

So All Saints has expanded services and reaches out as an expanded faith community.

Reinforcing the church’s collaborative spirit and resources are volunteers from 10 Spokane Lutheran churches in the Eastern Washington/Idaho Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for the weekly soup kitchen at All Saints, at 314 S. Spruce in West Spokane’s Browne’s Addition.

Alan said the meal program is for people who have lost hope and who come to All Saints to nourish their bodies and spirits. 

Either one of the church’s van drivers or meal participant/leader Matthew Lee Bolar, who previously drove a delivery truck in Seattle, drives the church van around Spokane to pick up people on the streets for the meal.

“I am passionate about reaching out to people and showing them God’s love,” said Alan, who is present at the meals to visit with people.

The soup kitchen is one response to the community’s poverty and homelessness, he said, as a growing number of families seek support for basic needs of food and shelter.

Second Harvest of the Inland Northwest provides food, and there is also fresh produce from the three-year-old community garden outside the church.

In the past year, All Saints has seen a 20 percent increase in the number of people being served from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday evenings.  From 60 to 120 come, occasionally 160, he said, with an average of 400 meals a month.

“We want to make sure everyone who comes feels welcomed and treated with respect,” Alan said. “I visit with the children, families and those who just come because they may be lonely and seek an opportunity to be with others as we share a meal.”

According to recent statistics from the City of Spokane, more than 47 percent of families with a female head of the household and children under five years of age are living below the federal poverty level.

The same statistics also revealed that on a given night in Spokane County, more than 1,500 homeless people were living on the street, in their cars, in emergency shelters or in transitional housing.  A one-day count of the homeless last January found 506 adult males, 372 adult females and 335 children lacked permanent housing, with another 424 people who were “couch surfing” or doubling up with others.

Alan is on hand for the dinners, especially since one homeless visitor told him, “People trust you now.”

All Saints and Salem Lutheran churches also continue their collaboration as Spokane Urban Ministries, which oversees the Walnut Corners low-income housing complex at 1423 W. Broadway and 1403 W. Mallon.

In September, The Book Parlor moved into The Commons at Walnut Corners.  All Saints is leasing commercial space at 1425 W. Broadway. The store, which features new and used books, and fair-trade gifts, is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Soon Indaba Coffee and Katie’s Table, a deli-mini-market, will move into the space.

All Saints, Salem and other congregations will celebrate the ministry of Grace Lutheran as they conduct that church’s final worship at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 18, at 1827 E. Pacific.

Project SPEAR, an after school and summer program for low-income youth hosted by Grace Lutheran, will continue operating at their current site at 1905 E. Pacific, according to SPEAR administrator Marilee Campbell.

“The new owners are enthusiastic about letting us continue our outreach ministry,” she said.

Committed to servant leadership, Alan followed an untraditional road to reach his destination at All Saints.

Born in Froid, Mont., near the North Dakota border, he was the youngest of four children.  After his family moved to Spokane when he was in the ninth grade, they attended Messiah Lutheran Church, where he was actively involved in activities.

Alan earned a business degree at Gonzaga University in the 1980s.  Married 29 years and the father of three, he shifted from a career in life insurance to enter the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and was ordained in 2005.

“I guess God wasn’t finished with me and needed me to have some life experiences first,” said Alan, who learned from selling life insurance that “personal investment in helping people provided me with a clearer understanding of how people face health and other life challenges.”

His business experience comes in handy at All Saints as he helps the finance committee explore funding opportunities to support operations and programs.

All Saints serves as a community center and partners with the Browne’s Addition Neighborhood Council to host an annual spring spaghetti dinner and yard sale.  Proceeds support community needs and services.

The church’s on-site programs range from the weekly soup kitchen and a food pantry to a support group for recently released prisoners. 

Other programs include Bible studies, quilters and dependency-support groups. There is something going on in the building every day.

For information, call 838-4409, email allsaintsoffice@comcast.net or visit www.allsaintslutheranspokane.com