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Two Spokane Valley Lutheran churches consolidateresources

Rev Matthew Larson
Matthew Larson

Two of three Spokane Valley Lutheran churches that have been talking for years about consolidating to bring their resources together voted in May to form Advent Lutheran Church.  The charter member Sunday will be Sept. 11.

Members of Christ Lutheran, Good Shepherd and Holy Trinity Lutheran churches have had a combined youth director for more than five years, combined worship services and Wednesday evening events during Lent.

Four years ago, members held cottage meetings, surveyed their members and made a report.  A majority wanted to pool resources.

Two years ago, the economy started to tank and giving declined, and there was a decline in members after the national ELCA voted to ordain homosexual pastors.

Good Shepherd had about 95 attending worship, Holy Trinity Lutheran, about 110, and Christ Lutheran, about 200.

More than 50 years ago, the churches were started by three Lutheran branches—the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America—which merged in 1988 to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 

In the 1960s, ethnic-based Lutheran churches had merged to form the ALC—German, Danish and Norwegian—and LCA—German, Slovak, Icelandic, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian.

The pastors—the Rev. Matthew Larson at Good Shepherd, who is serving as transitional minister; the Rev. David Droegemueller at Christ, who retired in September 2010, and the Rev. James Kashork who resigned from Holy Trinity in May—provided leadership and support.  The church councils formed a consolidation committee in January 2010 with two members from each church and involved 50 members in five sub-committees—on evangelism and education, worship, stewardship, youth and families, and outreach.

Many members have known each other for years through synod events and participation in the three churches.

Matthew gave an overview of their process.

They began conversations on the path to consolidation, recording their assets, physical spaces, budgets, staffing, and their dreams of what they could do with what they had.

The churches held a combined worship in Oct. 2010 at Central Valley High School to hear the consolidation committee’s report.  In an informal poll there, a majority wanted to pursue consolidation. 

The next week, the congregations each voted on:  “Should we pursue consolidation?”  Christ and Good Shepherd had strong majorities, but Holy Trinity did not.

A transitional committee met with an attorney in December and January.  On Feb. 12, 2011, the churches held a combined service, and the transitional committee reported.  In a vote on Feb. 26, there was overwhelming support in Good Shepherd and Christ Lutheran, but Holy Trinity had just over 50 percent, not the two-thirds needed to dissolve their corporation.

The churches began to worship together the second Sunday of March.  Then in May, they set another vote: to dissolve Good Shepherd and Holy Trinity and merge the corporations into Christ Lutheran, keeping its corporate identity and 501(c)(3) nonprofit status with the state.  Good Shepherd voted to dissolve, but Holy Trinity did not have the votes.  Christ Lutheran voted to change its name to Advent.  Some members at Holy Trinity are already involved at Advent Lutheran.

Matthew expects that the new congregation will involve about 170 families initially. 

The former Christ Lutheran building, which is the largest and includes a child-care wing, a gym, a commercial kitchen and new office-sanctuary wing, will be used for worship and education, but Advent Lutheran will retain the Good Shepherd building for community outreach.  AA, Al Anon, Boy Scouts, a preschool and an Eastern Orthodox mission church are among the building users.  It will be used for youth and outreach activities.  Good Shepherd also has the most property for future building options.

“So we refer to the Sullivan campus and Broadway campus of Advent Lutheran,” Matthew said.  “The name was chosen from a list of four not already on the list of state corporations.”

In recent years, St. Paul Lutheran in Spokane merged with Emmanuel to form All Saints Lutheran. Grace Lutheran closed.  Before that, Our Savior’s Lutheran sold its building and members joined Messiah Lutheran.

Such changes have been driven by the cost of buildings and clergy, the decline in members and financial giving, Matthew said.

“For us, there was also a sense that if we combined, we could put our resources together to do ministry outside our doors,” he said.  “As safe as it seems to keep resources inside the walls, there is a real passion to reach outside the walls with the volunteer base and financial resources to do it well.

“The question of where will we be in the next 50 years has been answered:  We will be here,” he said.

Although the process came from and was led by the laity, it has been a change and there is a sense of loss, grief and adjusting, Matthew said.

“The focus, however, is that the three churches are about cooperating and trying new things in new ways,” he said.  “It has been a journey of faith, inviting people to expand their definition of church.  Many liked the social aspect of being in a small congregation where people knew everyone.  Now we have become ‘a corporate-sized programmatic congregation,’ asking where God is leading and calling us.

“There has been struggle.  Some did not agree.  We prayed about it and had many conversations.  We believe this is what God is calling us to be in this place,” said Matthew, who can be a candidate for the position of minister after the church determines staffing needs.

The church has had two worship services since March and will have three beginning Sept. 18.

There will be an 8 a.m. chapel service with a simple liturgy and communion; a 9:15 a.m. liturgical service with the choir, and an 11 a.m. contemporary praise and communion service with music by a band.  Matthew is preaching at all three.  Sunday school is at 10:30 a.m.  There is an interim youth director and an active youth and family committee.

Advent Lutheran continues the previous churches’ support of Spokane Valley Partners and other projects.

A cradle Lutheran growing up in North Dakota, Oregon and Washington, Matthew completed a bachelor’s degree in music performance in 1993 at Washington State University.

After graduating, he worked as parish assistant—youth director and intern—at First Lutheran in Sandpoint, where he married.  He completed his master of divinity at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley and was ordained in 1999.

At Berkeley, he strengthened his Lutheran theology amid the ecumenical classes and interchange of the Graduate Theological Union.  He gained a sense of the value of ecumenism, which was put into practice in his first call at the Lutheran-Presbyterian parish in Potlatch, Idaho.

He also has served at the national level with the Lutheran Ecumenical Resource Network.

In 2002, Matthew served a church in Carmel, Calif., where he was part of the Monterrey Peninsula Ministerial Association for two years.  In 2004, he had a half-time call at a church in Grayland, Wash., before coming in 2006 as pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran in Spokane Valley.

He continued his ecumenical commitment with the covenant between Good Shepherd, St. Mary’s Catholic and the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection.  The relationship involves combined Thanksgiving and Good Friday services, pulpit exchanges during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, progressive meals and a combined vacation Bible school.  As a successor congregation, to Good Shepherd, Advent Lutheran is considering joining that covenant, Matthew said..

For information, call 928-7733 or email goodsheppastor@gmail.com.  The website is at adventlutheranspokane.org.