The story through the lens of Living Lutheran:
The church building was old, and worship attendance had been declining for years. But members of Renton Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Renton, Wash., still had a deep desire to serve their community.
They met with other Lutherans in the area, staff of social service agencies and even city officials.
From these meetings, the congregation came to some important conclusions.
It was decided that their church building should be torn down and that the property be used to serve the community in some way.
Members of Renton went through with their decisions, and a new ministry called Luther’s Table was born. The completion of a new community center on the congregation’s former property was completed in the fall, which includes transitional housing for veterans.
“We planned for a future that we might or might not be part of,” says Martha Myers, pastor of the former Renton Lutheran Church. She served the congregation for more than 23 years.
“We wanted more flexibility, and we want to live toward a new future. There were a ton of things we could do for the community,” Martha says.
A vision emerged to provide affordable housing and education on the site. With help from the Compass Housing Alliance, a housing plan for homeless veterans took shape, along with a coffeehouse and café.
Federal, state and county agencies, along with the community, also took part with financial support. On Oct. 8 the Compass Veterans Center-Renton was dedicated.
The Center includes 38 transitional housing units for single veterans and 20 units of transitional housing for veterans with families. There are also a variety of social services, Martha says.
St. Matthew Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in town, developed the coffeehouse and café, calling it Luther’s Table. Some of the materials salvaged from Renton Lutheran Church’s old building, such as pews and stained glass, are being used at Luther’s Table. The new building also has space for other business tenants.
Terri Bowen was council president in 2006 when Renton Lutheran Church closed. She says community support was essential for the plan.
“Every time we made a step forward there was a resounding ‘yes,’ ” Terri says. “It was as if God was leading us. Everything seemed to fall into place.”
Members of the former Renton transitioned into four area ELCA congregations.
And as they pass by the Compass Center, former members say they are reminded of the congregation’s vision that led to the housing ministry and businesses on the site of their former congregation.
“Every time I drive by, I think about how we fulfilled our dream,” says Dean Thompson, a member of Renton.
I absolutely love this story and I wonder what would happen when/if dying/thriving churches seen their communities through this lens ?