Church #43. Meet Pastor Jo Gast. She is the pastor-mission developer at Augustana Lutheran Church in Grand Forks, ND. With an average worship attendance of 80 people on a given Sunday, Augustana will celebrate 125 years of ministry in 2022. Located on the fringes of downtown Grand Forks and a mile away from the university, the neighborhood surrounding the church is diverse, low income, and transient. Gast after years in ministry noted, “Augustana really accepts people for who they are from this neighborhood. They are sincere in welcoming all people!”
Augustana in 2014 entered a Synod led ministry review process, and the congregation finalized two important foci: the first was a commitment to the neighborhood and the second to the recovery community. As a congregation, they jumped in right away with getting their recovery outreach ministry up and running. “Grace for the Journey” already has a presence and at work in a newly completed housing-first recovery apartment complex!
With the recovery ministry on track, Gast continues to prayerfully utilize her mission developer skills. One thing that people have remarked is how the neighborhood lacks meeting space. But space is one thing that the church has to offer the neighborhood. This was the aha-moment for Gast and others in leadership at Augustana!
Like many churches, Augustana has a library, which in olden days was a popular use of space, but now is under-utilized. The library space over the past couple of years was cared for by a dear church member. But the problem was the library had limited possibilities. The church librarian was only there on Sunday mornings causing the space to become stagnant, and in the end it became more like a storage space. The library was in need of new life!
After several leadership led conversations within the congregation, a new goal was formed to re-imagine the library into a functional co-library and gathering space that will benefit both the congregation and the community. Building-wise the library is handicap accessible, has a small kitchenette, located near parking, and has lots of natural light. So here is what they are in the midst of doing to the room itself:
- Downsize the current library books and hold a book and bake sale to help offset the cost of re-purposing the space. Thrivent Action Seed monies will assist with this project.
- Access to WiFi for people who need a work space.
- Add two computers for individuals to use for work, networking, study, or training.
- Add a smart TV for DVD studies, movies, or presentations.
- Safe space for people to gather and meet from the neighborhood.
Gast and Augustana’s leadership can imagine different groups using this new gathering space: The neighborhood association holds their monthly meetings there. Since there is a sink and counter space people could easily hold baby showers or other small parties. With WiFi-access, students and/or self-employed people could use the room as a work space. Computer or other training are a possibility as well. Opening the doors to the community allow Augustana to widen their vision of being a church that is not just located “in” a neighborhood. But a church that strives to work and walk “with” and “among” a neighborhood for the greater good of all.
Why does space ministry matter? It is because of what Jesus says in John 1:14: And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. Jesus came to dwell and live among God’s people. God was active then, and God is active and alive in our churches now. And just as God did then, God wants our churches to be an active part in our communities now. No doubt that is what is happening at Augustana.
For more information on this story, please contact Pastor Jo Gast at 701-775-3187.