Dear Spirit of Grace Church,
I’m writing to let you know about exciting new opportunities and important changes coming to our church in 2019. As we look forward to moving from “congregation under development” status to being a full-fledged congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in just under six months, God has given us the opportunity to take stock of our blessings, marvel at how far we have come in our nearly eight years of existence, and take proactive steps to address future challenges. To set the stage, I would like to share with you what I see as four distinct stages of our life together so far as Spirit of Grace Church:
The first, of course, began as a concerned group of Lutherans wanted to remain a part of the ELCA when their church became embroiled in conflict. From that crucible experience emerged a weary but determined root that eventually became known as Spirit of Grace. That first phase is what I would call our “Upper Room” experience, from the first service at Holdrege Memorial Homes on January 2, 2011, to the half-year of ministry from Pastor Tom Wilson, to my coming to Holdrege in July, and onward to the end of that year. Like the disciples, huddled together in the upper room after the death of Jesus, we shared a time of mourning and healing.
Like those first disciples, there was a lot of fear and wondering about the future. But heeding Christ’s call to “Go, make disciples,” at the turn of 2012 we began to strike out on our own in the second phase of our life together. We began to make preparations to move from the comfortable environs of the nursing home to a place of our own. There was still so much that we didn’t know about where God was leading us, but a few things were clear: we knew that God was calling us to mission and service in our community, we were dedicated to making sure that everyone who walked through our doors felt welcomed and loved, and we were confident that God was calling us, in the words of Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, to “take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”
The third stage of our life together was a time of maturing in the Christian faith. Like so many other churches, we knew that we wanted to follow Jesus, but we lacked a clear vision of where God was leading us together. Through the leadership and financial support of the ELCA Churchwide office and our Mission Investment Fund, in 2013 we undertook a process of consultation, discernment, and training designed to help us know who God was calling us to be. Out of this work came some of our most beloved ministries across our community: SpiritSprouts and SpiritKids, Sanctuary youth, the Halloween Spooktacular, and more. It also helped us to discern and solidify our congregation’s unique identity: we learned that our mission is “to reach Holdrege and the surrounding community with the hope of Jesus Christ.” We committed to a bold vision for the future, we became known as the church that strives to be “Great Neighbors to Holdrege,” and we laid claim to our core values: radical hospitality, worship, service, and community. We began to deepen our spiritual lives, engage in small group discipleship, and stretch to reach new families with the Gospel. As a pastor (still!) in my first call, I feel like this time was when I came into my own in ministry.
In September 2014, we moved into the fourth stage of our budding congregation’s story as we launched our Connexion worship service and embraced a life of ongoing, intentional outreach and service directed towards people with less church background. By this point, our multi-faceted ministry was taking shape, and we began building new relationships, meeting new friends, and learning how to serve our community well. This has been our biggest all-out, all-hands-on-deck effort to live out God’s mission towards our community with faith and integrity. We have learned how to coordinate ourselves on a larger scale, how to be a church centered on our Lutheran heritage while reaching out in love, and what it means to be a laboratory for ministry. During this stage we have become known as a congregation bucking the trends, taking risks, trying new ministries, and serving as a beacon of hope across the Nebraska Synod — and even beyond! As I reflect on this time of growth, it has been gratifying for me to see people with little or no church background grow into fully-committed disciples, to see young people I knew as children graduate high school as faith-filled adults, and to watch as we have established new traditions and built up the strong bones and ligaments of the Church, the Body of Christ.
Now, in 2019, it is time for us to embrace a bold new step as we move into the fifth stage of our mutual ministry of hope. There are a number of factors that your Leadership team and I have been considering as we discern our future together:
Starting on Sunday, January 6, 2019, we will switch out our two current worship services (Classic and Connexion) for one newly envisioned worship service. This new service will combine the best of the depth of the liturgy and tradition that our 9:03am Classic service represents with the spontaneity, joy, and positive energy of our 10:33am Connexion service. While we’re still working on many of the details, here are some we can share:
There is one more minor change that is coming at the start of the year: we will be discontinuing the Spirit of Grace app, which has not garnered the traction or usefulness for which we had hoped, in favor of making good use of email, texting, and our church’s website for online communications.
Your Leadership Team and I believe that, as a results of these changes, we can hope for:
Remember to place the best possible construction on these decisions. Pray for your leaders in ministry in the coming weeks as we work to implement these changes. Honor your commitment as a participant at Spirit of Grace to the covenant of discipleship that we have all committed to. And, most of all, look forward with eager anticipation to the joyful new worship life that we will share together. I am convinced that the best is yet to come!
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Ted Carnahan