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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Congregation stops, looks around, sees what's going down — now up

North Emanuel in St. Paul, Minn., breaks out of rut by reaching out

Kathy Payne, former council president of North Emanuel Lutheran, St. Paul, Minn., said that her congregation had been "in a rut of despair and negativity for some time."

The 120-year-old congregation began to hit a period of decline in the 1990s. Member Larry Biermeier said simply, "NELC was an existing family oriented church, and the families were declining." In addition, the congregation had gone through a pastoral crisis and was experiencing a rapidly changing neighborhood.

It became clear, current council president Leslie Snow remembered, "that we would be closing the doors if something radical didn't happen."

scott streble Congregation members
Congregation members serve one of the monthly free breakfasts that North Emanual Lutheran, St. Paul, Minn., puts on to attract people from the community.

The something radical took the form of a neighborhood crisis — a triple murder. Sean Whelan, serving as an intern at that time, helped launch the congregation into community outreach in response to the murders, Snow said. Rebecca Thurman, the intern who followed, helped the congregation continue its efforts by applying for a grant from the ELCA.

By the time Kisten Thompson was called as part-time pastor in early 2009, the congregation "knew they needed to connect with their community," said Paul Erickson, assistant to the bishop for evangelical mission in the St. Paul Area Synod. Shortly afterward, the congregation committed itself to the synod's Mission Renewal Process.


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