Hundreds of faithful Lutherans from three congregations, one spirited pastor and one thoughtful Director of Evangelical Mission (DEM) in suburban Detroit lived out these contrasting experiences recently as they charted their future—together.
Several years ago, these three congregations joined together as one—with a new name expressing their new-found joy: Celebration Lutheran Church. Last year, they moved into a new spiritual home in Westland, Michigan, appropriately located on Joy Road.
“When I came to Christ the King Lutheran Church in Livonia, Michigan, in 2006, my colleagues and I shared our belief that there were too many ELCA Lutheran churches in the area,” the Rev. Jim Fogle says. The suburban area some 20 miles west of Detroit was home to seven ELCA congregations at that time. “With the help of our DEM, we began to talk about coming together for the sake of mission and ministry.”
One traditionally Finnish congregation, St. John’s Lutheran in Redford, Michigan, with declining membership, had made the difficult decision to close and opted to merge with Christ the King. Another congregation, Prince of Peace Lutheran in Westland, Michigan, began relying on Christ the King’s Pastor Fogle to provide pastoral leadership. After some time of doing ministry together, in 2013, Prince of Peace and Christ the King made the decision to consolidate into a single congregation.
“As a newly consolidated congregation, we all wanted a new, neutral site for worship—not my building or your building, but our building,” recalls Pastor Fogle.
The newly forged congregation also adopted a singular mission: to celebrate God by reaching out to one another, the community and the world. And “Celebration” became the chosen name for this joyous congregation.
Transitions can be trying. “We had promised to relocate to a new, neutral site, but it took longer than expected to find the right home for us,” Pastor Fogle says. The congregation reviewed nearly 100 locations—churches, schools, banquet halls, empty lots. “During this long search, we lost some members.”
Celebration finally met success. The Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit was undergoing a change process of its own, with parishes closing and consolidating. Divine Savior Catholic Church in Westland proved to be an optimal site for Celebration, and congregation members voted overwhelmingly to purchase this church building. This new site was positioned at the juncture of four suburbs— three of which did not have an ELCA congregation. The Catholic parishioners, meanwhile, were ecstatic that another church would buy its property, and the sale to Celebration was completed in August 2016.
MIF’s loan enabled renovation
With a Mission Investment Fund loan, Celebration went to work on some renovations. Plans called for doubling the area for the altar and pulpit and installing a ramp for ease of access.
The dramatic backdrop to the altar is a hanging wooden cross—a new one expressly designed for this new, consolidated congregation. As a nod to the traditions of the three original congregations, Celebration retained each congregation’s altar cross and installed each in a different location on the property. Christ the King’s cross greets members in the welcome space, St. John’s graces the great hall, and Prince of Peace’s cross oversees the chapel.
As so many churches are doing these days, Celebration added glass panels to separate the sanctuary from the fellowship area. Members who aren’t feeling well—or who have active children—may choose to stay in this area and fully participate in the worship experience via a state-of-the-art sound and video system, complete with two 70” monitors. Throughout the sanctuary and fellowship area, congregants sit in chairs, not pews, to allow flexibility as needed.
Celebration also built out offices in a large, available space and refurbished its Sunday school area to accommodate the youngest members.
The consolidated congregation held its first worship service in the newly refurbished church in January 2017. Over this past year, the congregation grew its attendance back to 120 folks worshipping on a typical Sunday—the original number of Sunday attendees before the consolidated congregation began searching for a new home. 2017 also saw the congregation welcome 17 new members and baptize 9 children.
This consolidation turned out to be a true interreligious and ecumenical project. The original Prince of Peace Lutheran Church was sold to an Islamic group, an increasingly large population in the suburban Detroit area. Christ the King’s building was sold to an Evangelical congregation whose church was being razed for a new highway. And of course, Celebration’s new building was most recently a Catholic church.
“When we completed our renovation and hosted an open house, we invited the members of Divine Savior Catholic Church to attend. They returned, along with members of another Catholic church, for our Reformation commemoration,” says Pastor Fogle. “The priests and I offered a joint sermon, and the Catholic-Lutheran relationship was just perfect that day.
“We went a long way to reach out to our new community—and that is our combined mission.”