Most churches believe that they are welcoming and friendly. It doesn’t matter what size, shape, type, or denomination/tradition; churches take pride in their sense of community. And it’s true—many churches are genuinely and authentically warm and hospitable, and do a wonderful job of assimilating people. We also know there are some churches that believe they are welcoming, but visitors might tell you otherwise.
There is one community here in the Minnesota Conference where everyone, and I mean everyone, is welcomed for who they are. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you’ve experienced or done in your life. You will find radical hospitality at Spirit River Community. Rev. Guy Sederski, the pastor there, often says, “We are a place where broken hearts become open hearts.”
Spirit River Community began as a food giveaway program in 2007 and was chartered as a new church in 2014 under the leadership of Rev. Jim Crecelius and a group of gifted laypeople.
In 2016, the conference created the Spirit River Foundation (a nonprofit, community development organization) to help fund and manage this important work. Spirit River strives to provide a community of acceptance and welcome for those who are facing daily and complex struggles in life. The congregational arm of Spirit River provides a worshipping community for spiritual growth and nurture.
The foundation is dedicated to providing help for physical and emotional needs such as financial insecurity, food scarcity, divorce care for parents/children/adolescents, and other types of family issues. The Spirit River Foundation is modeled after the United Methodist nonprofit Community Development for All People (affiliated with the Church for All People) in Columbus, Ohio.
The vision of the Spirit River Foundation is to “catalyze collaborations with key strategic partners to improve the quality of life in the Cambridge-Isanti region through individual and community services.” The core principle is: “As we serve in partnership with our community, we are tangibly demonstrating God's love in practical and meaningful ways. We send the message that God cares deeply about who we are and is intimately involved with people's daily struggles and victories.”
Elaine Heath writes in her book, God Unbound: Wisdom from the Galatians for the Anxious Church: “We are in a full-blown systems change in how we think about and practice being the church. In our time, the inherited church faces decline, and new forms of church are emerging” (p. 57).
Spirit River is one of these new forms. God decided to do a new thing in Isanti County, a region in Minnesota that was hard hit by the recession. There are very few communities in our country like Spirit River. A new participant in this community recently said, “The church, the people have really touched my heart and life. It has been like a light switch flipped!! I have never felt these feelings of love or belonging for a church home.”
Over the past two years, significant progress has been made to find a financial model that will support the mission that God is calling us as an annual conference to accomplish through Spirit River. I am proud to say that Spirit River is now largely sustainable and, more importantly, is positioned to extend its impact!
Gail Sederski joined the staff in the summer of 2017 as the new program director for the Spirit River Foundation. She brings many years of experience in county extension services and through her work as chair of the Minnesota Council on Family Relations. She has the perfect background and skillset to expand this work. Gail has been so excited to join this ministry. “There’s just something unique about Spirit River that you feel every time you walk in the door,” she said.
Guy Sederski, who grew up in extreme poverty, understands the experiences of those who find their way to Spirit River. Guy’s childhood experiences combined with his successful business knowledge and pastoral heart have transformed the Spirit River venture.
I would like to personally invite everyone to pray for Spirit River, to attend worship there sometime, and to contact Guy and Gail to talk about how you can partner with Spirit River. I want to also invite you to join Bishop Bruce and Char Ough on Sept. 8 for a benefit to support Spirit River.
Spirit River is located right next to the Sanbrook Golf Course in Isanti, so we thought a golf benefit would be a fun way to collaborate with our neighbors. Even if you don’t golf, come for the picnic and a tour of the facilities to learn more about the work that Spirit River is doing. Or, consider sponsoring one of the holes to maximize your donation.
Rev. Susan Nienaber is superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference's Big Waters District.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church