August 1, 2014

A light to the world

A young mother of two was homeless in Minneapolis. By gathering her children and fleeing their household, she had managed to save them from an abusive situation. But with no home, no money and no solid income, their future was bleak.

But that was before she found Family Promise, and Zion Lutheran Church, in Anoka, Minnesota. Because of Zion and the other Family Promise partner congregations, the family was able to move out of its car and into church facilities. There, they received food, shelter and the love of Jesus Christ. With the expertise of Family Promise staff members and the devotion of the congregations, the mother was able to find a stable job, move her family into an apartment, and enroll her children into good schools—only 45 days after entering the program. For this family, the cycle of poverty had been broken.

This is just one of 16 families that Zion Lutheran Church has sheltered in the past year. And Family Promise is only one of Zion Lutheran’s major outreach programs, which range from helping to provide food, construction and education.

But whenever they brought the surrounding community into their doors, the staff and congregation found themselves struggling with their own uncooperative 1950s-era facilities. “It’s never great when you’re in the middle of a service, or a wedding, or a funeral, and the lights go out,” says Dee Ann Cameron, director of administration for the church, “or you’re putting up a family in the middle of winter, and it’s in the negatives outside, and you lose your heating.” The congregation realized that if they were going to live out their outreach vision for the local community, things had to change. “We really had to overhaul everything,” says Cameron. “We renovated the fellowship hall, the places we shelter the families in need, plus we needed new plumbing, new wiring, new HVAC, new fixtures, a new sound system—and then we gutted and remade the sanctuary.”

A loan from the Mission Investment Fund made these renovations possible. In September 2013, the new sanctuary was dedicated for service. And the congregation couldn’t be more pleased with the results. 

“The new sanctuary is just wonderful,” says the lead pastor, the Rev. Peter Nycklemoe. “We opened up one of the interior walls and installed three glass-paneled doors. This really connects the sanctuary to the rest of the building. On days like Christmas and Easter we can open up the doors, and the people whoare sitting in the overflow areas feel like they are part of the sanctuary. We also opened up the ceiling and put in skylights. On a sunny day, the whole place is just flooded with God’s natural light.

“My favorite feature would have to be the altar. Originally it was up against the far wall, and we moved the whole altar platform forward, so it’s a free-standing table. Now when we lead the congregation, it’s like a family gathering.”

In addition to the modernization and reconstruction of the sanctuary, Zion added a new chapel and columbarium —a sacred resting place for cremated remains—within its large building. 

“Getting a loan from MIF was really an easy decision,” says the lead pastor. “We liked knowing that our money would be going to a good place, and that it would keep working for ministry, even after we spent it.

“I’ve been a part of so many church building renovations in my time, and I’m used to seeing some part of the process just not working. But a nice part of working with MIF was that everybody was just so helpful from the beginning to the end of the process. From the application, to the construction drawings, to closing the loan—if we had questions, the loan processor was extremely helpful.”

Both Cameron and Pastor Nycklemoe agree that Zion Lutheran Church is heading in an exciting direction. Even outside the congregation, the community is starting to appreciate the change. “We haven’t had this new sanctuary for a long time, but we’ve already hosted concerts for wonderful, nationally recognized choirs, like the St. Olaf College choir,” says Cameron, “and we have more planned for the future.”