A Third Space

Church #5. Meet Nicole VanderMeulen. She is the Director of Children, Youth and Family at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Renton, Washington. With a worshipping attendance of around 300 people, VanderMeulen says, “St. Matthew’s is committed to loving all people.”

This vibrant church has five core values, which are based on these title headings: Welcome, Story, The Cross, Dirty Hands, and Humor.  At first glance, these five core values seem somewhat unconventional or even a little quirky, but after spending just five minutes on the phone with VanderMeulen, it was easy to see how these core values have impacted her congregation.

My favorite of these core values is “Dirty Hands”. The website gives this description:

“A congregation that takes the pain of the community seriously has to be willing to become involved in the acts of caring. When we care, we do not do it from a distance. You have to enter into relationship with the other person. You have to be willing to get your hands dirty.”

 After years of planning and dreaming, St. Matthew’s decided to get their hands dirty. Along with a grant from the ELCA, they created and opened Luther’s Table, a non-profit café shop that opened in April 2011. Luther’s Table is what VanderMeulen called a “third space,” a place where the church could meet people where they were at and have conversations.

Now, Luther’s Table is a thriving establishment that serves food, drinks including wine and beer, provides a weekly storytime for children, supports local music and the arts, and has become a place to host meetings and events, or just meet a friend for coffee. Luther’s Table was built on the site of a former Lutheran church and does have a Sunday evening congregation called “Roots of the Table”.

Now, here is the amazing part: Luther’s Table for the most part is supported by the hands of volunteers.  There were approximately 42 different volunteers that gave about 3,600 hours of service in 2016. They serve the meals, wash the dishes and clean the space. Being a volunteer for Luther’s Table means “getting your hands dirty” for the sake of the Gospel.

It’s a third space where non-Christians encounter the Christ incarnate through hospitality, warm smiles and real world conversations. VanderMeulen says, “Following Jesus is not just about hanging out with fellow Christians. It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone to engage with someone you don’t know. To do that, we have to be willing to meet people on their turf. As a church, we are all in this together.”

Why does the work of Luther’s Table matter? It matters because what Jesus does in Matthew 9:9-13 in the call of Matthew. VanderMeulen says, “Jesus did not wait for the people to come to him. He went to the people.” Jesus walked up to Matthew the tax collector and said, “Follow me.” As people of God we are called to follow Jesus. But not to just hang out with people who are like us and insulate ourselves from the realities of the world. We are called to something bigger – to serve and love and care for all those we find in our own third spaces. Living the Gospel is about getting our hands dirty.

For more information on this story, contact Nicole VanderMeulen at 425-226-2420 or nicole.vander@comcast.net

 

 

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