In the growing communities east of Phoenix, just south of the Saguaro-cactus wilderness of the Tonto National Forest and north of the endless expanse of desert, three separate campuses of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church are thriving. A singular ministry on three sites. Three in one.
Epiphany Lutheran Church in Apache Junction rose like the proverbial phoenix from the desert sands in the mid 1970s. Then, within five years, it became clear to Epiphany that the growing numbers of Lutherans just to the west, in East Mesa—year-round residents and snow birds alike—needed a “preaching point”—and ultimately a spiritual home. The Mission Investment Fund’s predecessor purchased land, and in 1984, a new church, christened Our Savior’s, was built. Several expansions followed in the decades to come.
BUILDING AT GOLD CANYON
By the new millennium, communities were fanning out east of Apache Junction. Our Savior’s fanned out as well, hosting additional worship services in the town of Gold Canyon tucked between the Superstition Mountains and the vast desert plain. Initially, the pastor beckoned his fledgling flock of Gold Canyon Lutherans to monthly Bible study in the town hall, then the local Best Western. By 2005, the congregation made the decision to build a permanent worship space and approved the purchase of a five-acre site at the far eastern edge of Gold Canyon at the foot of the mountains.
Then the Great Recession hit. Like many other congregations considering large-scale projects, Our Savior’s had to give serious consideration to proceeding as the economy began to decline. A Mission Investment Fund church building consultant provided guidance on the building process, and a local architect who understood the congregation’s vision delivered a stunning and cost-effective design.
“Even though these were tough times, we decided that we’ll dig deep and proceed,” recalls the Rev. Myron Nysether, pastor at Our Savior’s.
The Mission Investment Fund provided a loan for the project. A beautiful, terracotta, Southwest-inspired rambling structure resulted, with a multi-purpose worship space, a central courtyard ushering in the desert sun, and a large kitchen for fellowship and outreach meals. A final phase of construction calls for a more permanent worship space and an all-glass narthex overlooking the Superstition Mountains.
“MIF has been a great partner from beginning to end,” Nysether says. “Gold Canyon wouldn’t have happened without the MIF loan. We also had great support in Gold Canyon and East Mesa. We became committed to a multi-campus approach.”
BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO THE FOUNDING CONGREGATION
Timing couldn’t have been better for sanctioning a multi-campus operation: As Gold Canyon was starting up, the original supporter of Our Savior’s, Epiphany in Apache Junction, was experiencing hard times. With only 20 folks worshipping on a regular basis, Epiphany became slated for closure. The congregation was struggling and contacted Our Savior’s to see if it could help.
“There was potential. And we were committed to bringing Epiphany back to life,” Nysether says. So it wasn’t long before Our Savior’s invited Epiphany to join as a third campus.
Today, as many as 3,000 folks—a seasonal high—worship across all three campuses. East Mesa, with 500 average year-round worshippers, continues as the congregational hub. Sunday attendance soars at this site to 2,100 faithful from December through March. Gold Canyon, the newest location some 25 minutes away, draws 300-plus worshippers in Winter. And Epiphany, not long ago facing closure, now welcomes some 350 worshippers through its doors in the Winter months.
Currently four pastors serve the three-campus congregation and preach at all three campuses on a rotating basis. “People are excited to hear different pastors,” Nysether says. “People love the diversity of our messages.”
A ROUTE TO GROWTH
Clearly, the three-campus arrangement is a success in the suburban communities east of Phoenix. Nysether is a proponent of introducing the concept elsewhere. “This can be an important way for the church to grow in the future. We develop so much synergy among the three communities.”