Back in February, our annual potluck led to our annual meeting where we had a robust discussion about a number of topics. One issue was whether our congregation should seek to purchase the ‘other’ house across Irvin Street. In 2011, we took advantage of an opportunity to purchase the house at 203 4th Ave South which has become a great location for small groups as well as providing space for the First Teen Clothes Closet that serves as our greatest outreach arm into the community. When 416 Irvin was listed for sale, many staff, leaders and neighbors wondered whether we were interested. As important as the result of our discussion was the process we followed in order to come to a decision.
First, our lead custodian, Mike Peper, and I asked our own Katie Wood to get us inside so we could get a feel for how the house might be used for our ministries. Our unanimous conclusion was that significant renovations would need to be made if we wanted to create office space, small group areas or anything else. Plus the house is listed at just under 1,000 square feet so there isn’t a great amount of space to begin with.
Another idea was to demolish the house and build a parking lot. Mike inquired with the city to find out what restrictions there may be. The lot itself is shaped in such a way that after allowing for the required setback for the neighbors to the south, a parking lot would create just 5 spaces.
What if we simply demolished the house and left it a green space? We could use it as an outdoor worship area, for First Fest, or enlarge the community garden. And maybe this is just the first step in a multi-step process where we would purchase a number of properties Perhaps ten or twenty years from now, we could have space for a new building, or a new parking lot.
I was interested in hearing from the congregation. What dreams do you have for such a space? Do we need to seriously consider buying more land across the street? If so, for what? Is it worth the investment? After a few conversations with many of you, all these possibilities were brought to the Vision and Leadership Team for a special meeting. We considered the financial cost, the shape of our vision of the future for First and how realistic it is to think we will 1) grow in numbers and 2) grow in giving. There is, of course, no way to know what our needs will be 10 or 20 years from now. We do know that our worship attendance has been dipping over the last 18 months for reasons we can’t explain. And we also know that we are struggling to meet our giving goals again in 2016. So how do we feel about making a significant investment outside our budget and outside our five year strategic plan for something whose usefulness (by itself) is unclear?
In the end, after prayerful consideration, we voted to remain focused on our current strategic plan. At its core, the plan is most concerned with completing our staff and bringing our giving to a place where it can sustain that staff. A small group director, a full-time youth director, a stewardship consultant, a children’s choir director and eventually even an adults director are all in the plan. There are, of course, specific ideas about what our staff does. Job descriptions are shifting and evolving to meet the needs and wants of the congregation and community. But whereas some churches create a strategic plan to launch a building project, we—after hearing from all of you—launched a plan that seeks to build a staff. That continues to be our focus even with the opportunity to enlarge our land holdings and poise ourselves for greater expansion at a later date.
I see the Plan working. Bridget Crave is supporting small groups and gathering new people into those groups in ways that are engaging our members in significant ways. I continue to believe that small groups are at the core of a vibrant future for First. In just six months, Tina Nelson has already developed some great relationships with kids and their parents from elementary through high school. First NEEDS a full-time youth director, and Tina is a gift from God. There are over a dozen people willing to tell stories as Mission Interpreters (you’ll know what these are soon). This ministry will be at the center of a renewed effort to grow our financial and use-of-time stewardship. Pastor Karyn is growing into a new job description that emphasizes greater connections to individual member families. Kathryn Pedretti is renewing her passion in hospitality as we built a welcome center among many other ideas to be overtly hospitable. Our custodial staff is great. Our office support staff is excellent. All in all, First Lutheran’s staff is as strong and stable, creative and competent as I’ve ever known and I’ve heard longtime members tell me the same. It’s an exciting time to be here.
And so… we’ll keep working the plan. Perhaps in a couple years, when we write a new strategic plan, we’ll consider facility needs. Maybe we’ll need to grow. Maybe our attendance and giving and energy and vision will show how to make faithful use of some other space near us. But for now, we’re building a staff that seeks to challenge and nurture your faith development. Thank you to all who have asked about the house. And thank you to all who continue to support the plan!