Published December 18, 2012
Spiritual center sets new model for inclusion, sustainability
By Jessica Strachan firstname.lastname@example.org
SOUTHFIELD — Cars fill the parking lot seven days a week. Up to 200 parishioners move about the building on any given Sunday, with services running from 8:30 a.m. all the way to 6:30 p.m.
Worshippers of all kinds — from fiery, spirit-filled Baptists to hymnal-singing Lutherans, contemplative prayer-seeking Presbyterians to members of the East Indian worship service — exalt their praise, all under the same roof.
Locals seek help at Alcohol Anonymous (or even Clutter Anonymous) meetings, immigrants sign up for English-as-a-Second-Language classes and good Samaritans plan out upcoming TimeBank activities. Folks looking for an enjoyable Saturday night stop by to catch a play by Rosedale Community Players or sip some joe at the Grounds for Peace Coffee House.
These are just a few of the activities that the Rev. Tim Larson, of Southfield, has brought together in his building at 17029 W. 13 Mile Road.
“When God says to love our neighbor, he doesn’t mean just some people — he means all neighbors,” Larson, Southfield resident and pastor of Peace Lutheran Church, said. “The challenge for our congregation is to find out how best we can love our neighbors with what we have. We’re poor, we don’t have a lot of resources, but we have a big building to be used.”
Peace Lutheran, established in Southfield in 1954, has a long history of partnerships. But in 2009, Larson said, the congregation took a leap to deal with the changing need of the community and the effects the recession had on the congregation, which slowly dwindled down to about 40 members.
On the marquee, they put out a simple call that year: “Is your congregation looking for a home? We’re looking for partners.” Larson said he was met with an overwhelming response of two to three calls each week for the next four months from interested church and community groups looking for new homes and places to grow.
“Today, our building houses five congregations, a community theater, three ‘anonymous’ groups, two TimeBanks, a monthly coffeehouse with live music, a driving school, and various community group meetings. Our building has become a busy place where much good is done,” Larson said. “It’s like a lifeboat — we had a boat and there were other congregations that were in need of a boat to be in, so we’re sharing our life boat.”
For Peace Lutheran, it helps to maintain the building and expenses, while working toward their vision of a vibrant new nonprofit Peace Community Spiritual Center to oversee all the groups.
Feeding the homeless, working for developmentally disabled adults in the area, and health and wellness are also among the missions that stem from the Peace Community Spiritual Center.
“I am passionate about what’s happening here. I believe no longer will congregations be able to build in inner-ring suburbs; most are going to have partnerships. We need to be able to better relate to one another in the Christian church,” he said. “It’s a matter of stewardship. It’s much better to use a beautiful sanctuary four times on Sunday and three times during the week than it is for a single congregation to use it once on Sunday morning and then having it be empty all week.
The Rev. Benjamin Baker of Church of Abundant Life brought his congregation to Peace Lutheran’s building for the first time during the New Year’s Eve Watchnight service to usher in 2010. Previously, they had been functioning as a Bible class at the Lathrup Village Community Center and needed more space to evolve.
“This is a chance to focus on ministries, people and outreach, rather than buildings, budgets and bricks,” he said. “In terms of communities of faith, I believe in a community of people in total respect for each other, in terms of difference and diversity, which transcends denominations and distinctions.”
Baker said it’s been a very “exciting” experience of worship and fellowship among Christians of different doctrines and that there is a strong sense of respect and acceptance.
The Rev. John Biersdorf, the founder and first president of Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit and pastor of Point of Vision Presbyterian, sold his church in Royal Oak to a Korean Presbyterian congregation larger than his in 2009.
“We spent some time looking for the right kind of church. Peace Lutheran Church was very welcoming, so we wanted to share a ministry with them,” Biersdorf said about his group of around a dozen members who meet for prayer each Sunday and Tuesday. “Contemplative prayer and healing is an ancient tradition in the Christian church and was recently rediscovered. We spend some time in silence, some time in prayer.”
Biersdorf noted that, in his work, he has always been interested in working across denominational lines and that the Peace Community Spiritual Center is a “mission to the community” and something he’s proud to support.
The Rosedale Community Players, a volunteer group that brings affordable theater to the Metro Detroit area, may seem like one of the “unlikely” groups to be part of the Spiritual Center, according to board President Barb Malicke. But, while in the process of securing a permanent location, she said they’ve become part of the “family.”
“It has been a lifesaver to us. They opened their doors, and that’s not easy to do — we’re different than the other groups, in the sense that we do theater and aren’t as obvious as an organization to be based here. But it fit very nicely,” Malicke explained.
The group had struggled to find a suitable home for some time and, at one point, was “homeless,” Malicke noted. They, too, saw the marquee sign and thought it would be a space to have rehearsals. They ended up loving it so much that they are now approaching their third season in the building, she said.
“Things just clicked and it worked out. Pastor Tim and that community have been very gracious. There’s always lots of activity there and the audience loves the location. There’s a real family community within that group. ”
Larson said the idea was to have more than just tenants, but a community of believers and positive people to look out for one another, and respect and honor each other. He said the traditional Lutheran way needed to be adapted to the changing times and new face of the community, and so far, it’s proven to be successful on all fronts.
“As much as the Peace Lutheran Church congregation is small and struggling, there is so much good and so many wonderful things that are made possible by our relationships with all of these people. We’re so thankful for that,” Larson said.
He also added that though the groups differ in doctrine, ethnicity or culture, they have more commonalities to celebrate than differences to critique.
Moving forward, the Peace Community Spiritual Center, owned by Peace Lutheran Church, will manage the building. Larson said the new nonprofit will become the identity of the building, administrate building use, initiate new programs to benefit the neighborhood, write grants and better raise the support needed to serve the community.
For more information about the Peace Community Spiritual Center and the schedule, visit www.peacelutheransouthfield.org. Larson also noted that they are always accepting networking and partnership opportunities, and they are currently seeking legal help to secure their application for nonprofit status in Michigan.
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