By: Christa Meland
Carrie Callaghan’s friend Jane invited her to church again…and again…and again. So Callaghan finally decided to finally go one Sunday—if for no other reason than to satisfy Jane. But she and her husband were surprised to discover that they loved worship, the people, and the warm welcome they received, so they kept coming back.
That was 26 years ago, and Silver Lake United Methodist Church in Oakdale has been their spiritual home ever since. Callaghan has prepared meals for Vacation Bible School, served as a greeter, cleaned the church, and been involved in countless other ways. A small group helped her think about and offer grace in a way that has stuck with her ever since.
But in recent years, the congregation has declined in number while its population has aged. Money became tight, and members got scared. “We were so focused on how to bring people into the building that we lost our focus,” Callaghan explained. The question of whether the church should close its doors loomed large.
Discerning the future
In 2019, Rev. Amanda Lunemann was appointed to Silver Lake as its interim pastor to help the congregation discern its future. The two big messages she communicated from the beginning: 1. God is not done with you; and 2. You have agency, and I’m here to help you claim it.
She led the congregation through a study around the book “Choosing the Faithful Path,” and then COVID hit—which presented its own set of challenges and sped up the decision-making process. Lunemann organized listening sessions via Zoom to hear members reflect on what they felt God was calling them to do.
“It became clear that the whole church, albeit very sad and in a state of grief, they were ready,” she said. “There was a true consensus amongst those who were participating: It was time for God to move us through legacy.”
While struggling with feelings of guilt and pondering the next right step for the church, Callaghan said something came into her heart in the middle of the night and told her, “You didn’t fail; you succeeded, and now it’s time.” She reflected on those words the whole next day, and eventually realized that it was God telling her: “Well done, good and faithful servant. I need you to rest, breathe, take sabbath, mourn, celebrate, and know that I’m not done with you.”
On Aug. 2, 2020, the people of Silver Lake UMC voted unanimously in favor of a legacy proposal developed by a team from the church. They would sell the building, donate proceeds to some beloved organizations, and support a new mission outpost of the Minnesota Conference.
After worship that day, Lunemann wanted to help members process their brave and difficult decision. So a potter in the congregation made small clay pots, and during the service, African violets were positioned between the pots in the sanctuary. After the vote, each person was invited to come up, take a pot, and plant a flower in it; it was a way of symbolically planting their grief and a sign that God was going to grow something beautiful and new.
“It was amazing to watch these folks trust God—they trusted life,” said Lunemann. “They could have chosen the easier way, to throw up their hands and say ‘I am tired so I’m gonna let somebody else do this’ and walk away heartbroken. They walked the path of life.”
Silver Lake’s last worship service was on All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, 2020. Lunemann created a labyrinth through the church as a way to tell the story of God in ministry with the church over three decades. Family pods stopped at various stations in the church to reminisce and to say goodbye.
Leaving a legacy
In February 2021, Silver Lake UMC sold its building to a Pentecostal, non-denominational church that had been praying for just such a space. Of the $780,000 that the church pocketed, members tithed 10 percent to organizations that represented the 30-year ministry of Silver Lake—most on the east side of the Twin Cities, as well as the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). The rest will be invested into a new house church ministry led by Rev. Steve Reiser.
“This is an example of how God works in these moments that seem like death,” said Lunemann. “The process taught me that sometimes, sometimes, taking one step at a time is the best way to stay faithful in the moment.”
Reiser is working to create a network of house churches, starting in the northeast metro. Since March, a small group from Silver Lake has been meeting weekly on Wednesday evenings—sometimes at a park, other times on Zoom—as the first “house church.” Reiser hopes to launch many more in the coming months.
“My prayer is that we’ll be living out the mission of The United Methodist Church and, more specifically, the mission and vision of the Minnesota Annual Conference to make disciples for the transformation of the world,” said Reiser. “I hope that for the folks on the east side and beyond, the house church gives them community where they can build their faith, where they can disciple each other, where they can support each other in their times of need…Five years down the road, I’d love to have 50 house churches that meet at different times and hire more clergy to make it work.”
Hopes and dreams
Callaghan is one of the members of the inaugural house church and serves as its informal leader. “I am absolutely loving it,” she said.
At each gathering, members of the group eat together, share how it is with their souls, read scripture, and pray for each other out loud. Then they end with communion. At some point, Callaghan says, one of the members of the house church will break away and start a new one.
She hopes that the house church network will grow far and wide. Perhaps eventually, all of the house churches can all get together monthly for worship or an activity—and can help each other meet the needs of people in their respective communities.
“My dream is that we just opened a church everywhere,” said Callaghan. “This gives us so much more opportunity to serve our mission field, not just to study and learn and serve and grow our own faith, but to somehow cause that ripple that turns into a wave.”
One thing she knows for sure: “God didn’t bring me this far to just bring me this far,” she said. “I’m excited. The possibilities are endless.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church