The Way Things Look From Here

Categories: The Way Things Look From Here

A Letter to the Congregation from Pastor Vern Christopherson

Over the last couple of months at Zumbro, we’ve been engaged in conversations about our facility. By way of reminder, these conversations were going on before I arrived in 2009, but they became much more focused in the fall of 2016. At a Facilities Discernment Night, we asked the 90-100 people in attendance to look beyond basic maintenance issues, and to consider if our building could continue to be an effective platform for ministry going into the future. While many expressed thanks for our facility, they highlighted three primary areas of concern:

  1. They wanted to see improved accessibility on all levels, including the balcony.
  2. They hoped for more inviting gathering spaces on the main level, and particularly spaces with movable walls.
  3. They discussed repurposing some of our rooms on the second and third levels, not unlike the space we currently share with Luther College.

At the February 2017 annual meeting, the congregation heard a report from the Facilities Discernment Night. The congregation gave the go ahead to hire an architect and consider some sketches. A Building Visioning Team was formed to oversee the process. The team began without a definite plan in mind, but they had spent considerable time asking questions, assessing needs, and gathering information. After selecting WSN of Rochester as the architect, the process began to take shape.

Now, a year later, a great many in the congregation have had a chance to view the sketches. These sketches are a first attempt to put your words and ideas into conceptual form. They are the result of years and years of listening to the concerns of the congregation. The Building Visioning Team has attempted to be as accommodating as possible. For instance, people have said they wanted a library on the main level. They also wanted a chapel that could serve both as a place of prayer, and as a gathering area for smaller worship services, weddings, and funerals. Know that there are many details to work out. We are still early in the congregation-wide discussion.

Over the winter and spring, the Building Visioning Team scheduled a series of three Listening Posts, complete with estimates of what these designs might cost, a time for comments and questions, and a visual tour. We heard a good deal of excitement about the drawings. In a nutshell, people saw the new space as warm and inviting, space that would function well in creating a place for all to belong. Here’s a sampling of what we heard:

1) People appreciated the thought of having additional Sunday congregational life on the main floor.

2) They liked the idea of having skylights in the sanctuary, along with glass partitions along the back and side of the sanctuary in an effort to make the space feel more open.

3) They appreciated a new elevator by the front door, with access to all levels of the building.

4) They spoke positively about having ample gathering areas to greet friends, welcome newcomers, and perhaps sit down for a cup of coffee together.

As you might imagine, not all of the reviews have been positive. In a nutshell, while these responders gave thanks for the thoughtful work of the Building Visioning Team, they weren’t as convinced about the why of the project, and thus were hesitant to embrace it in its current form. Here’s a sampling of what we heard:

  1. The overall price of $7.5M felt like sticker shock to many. As far as cost is concerned, some of the expenses are deferred maintenance (new roof), and a number of items – the reflecting pond, a mid-level commercial kitchen, an office remodel, etc. – are strictly optional.
  2. Some expressed disappointment that the new main entrance actually involved more steps than the current main entrance. Granted, there would be an elevator adjacent to those steps, but people had been holding out hope that all could enter on ground level.
  3. Others wondered if we should pack up and move to a more strategic location, much like Autumn Ridge did a generation ago.
  4. Still others wondered if we should even attempt a project of this magnitude, questioning if we should be spending money on ourselves when there are so many pressing needs in the world.
  5. Several were concerned that we might be saddling future generations with unmanageable debt.

Where are we now in the process? Late in 2017 we formed a Building Missions Team. Whereas the Building Visioning Team was charged with guiding the design of a possible renovation project, the Building Missions Team was charged with considering ways to fund the project. Early on, the Building Missions Team assumed that funding would come primarily through a congregation-wide capital campaign, and through monies generated either by selling or developing our parking lot properties on the north side of 6th Street.

Selling our properties would probably be the easier of the two scenarios. If we do, however, we would need to make some ongoing provision for parking, which is only going to get more challenging in downtown Rochester. Developing the properties, especially with a mission component in mind, is another alternative. We’ve heard of a growing number of churches around the country who are funding their ministry and mission by entering into creative leasing arrangements. First Lutheran in Sioux Falls has a Starbucks on their parking lot. St. Andrews Lutheran in Mahtomedi has a Presbyterian Homes on their property. Westminster Presbyterian in Minneapolis just added a health clinic. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Again, finding a partner to develop our properties would probably be more complicated, but it might also open up revenue streams that we haven’t considered before.

This spring we plan to select a fundraising consultant to help us conduct a feasibility study. Then sometime during the summer or fall, this consultant will sit down with 50 or more households and staff in an attempt to listen to the congregation at a deeper level and to gauge people’s commitment to such a project. We see this person as an adviser, someone with considerable experience in building processes who could help us ask the right questions, discern what the congregation is thinking, and keep us moving forward.

This is complicated work. There are lots of days when it leaves my head spinning. Maybe yours too. While we continue to discern, I would ask for your prayers, especially for those on the Building Visioning Team and the Building Missions Team. With the changing landscape of downtown Rochester, and the changing demographics of churches across the country, there is any number of questions for us to consider. Don’t hesitate to be in touch with Building Visioning co-chairs Alan Hansen and Kirk Gill, or Building Missions co-chairs Dave Kinneberg and Kevin Amundson, or myself.

Please know that whatever we might decide to do with our facility – beyond basic maintenance and upkeep – God will continue to call us to build bridges of understanding and peace, to reach out with compassion, and to share the hope of Jesus.