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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Becoming the leaven

Oregon congregation rises to the challenge of transformation

A mission startup in Portland, Ore., demolishes any notion that the ELCA is opening cookie-cutter, "franchise" churches.

The Leaven Project owns no building, holds no standard worship services and describes itself as "a motley mix of Lutherans, spiritual types, nonprofits and neighbors." It was born when members of 91-year-old Redeemer Lutheran Church — who still hold services and remain active in their community — agreed to cede their long-term future to the project by mid-2013.

Redeemer averages 50 to 60 worshipers a week, and 75 percent of its annual $120,000 budget depends on members aged 60 and older, said Terry Allen Moe, its pastor for the last 30 years.

Melissa Reed, mission developer for the Leaven Project, said the community appreciates Redeemer's history of service and congregation-based organizing. "But [newcomers to Redeemer's services] would say, 'This doesn't speak to me,' " she said. "Some didn't want to join a church. Some used the analogy of trying to put new wine into old wineskins. It wasn't working."

Mark Ylen <BR><BR>Cheryl Lohrmann (left)
Cheryl Lohrmann (left) and Ali Ippolito show some of the soap products their Leaven Project creates to help residents with unemployment and underemployment.

Leaven Project's biggest success happened Sept. 18, 2010, when people began closing their bank accounts and opening new ones at a credit union. The effort will create a shared lending pool with low-interest loans for community projects. It's also aimed at taking money away from banks and financial institutions that contributed to the country's financial crisis, expanding upon a 2009 idea called "Money Move."


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