By: Christa Meland
Eighteen years ago, Kathy Huber embraced a lifelong call and headed to seminary, intending to become a pastor. But after her grandson was born prematurely and her husband lost his corporate job, she had to take a leave of absence in 2009. A former Baptist, Huber had participated in various ministries with (the former) Joyce UMC in South Minneapolis. But when her path to pastoral ministry was put on hold, she needed a reset and opted to start over in the pews.
The former physical therapist began attending Sunrise UMC in Mounds View as it seemed like Sunrise had lots of opportunities for everyone in her three-generation household.
“Next thing I know, I’m lay leader,” said Huber.
The pivotal moment in returning to her call to pastoral ministry came when her pastor unexpectedly collapsed and died on the floor of the fellowship hall one evening in 2012.
“I knew I needed to take my pastor out of the closet,” said Huber, who had recently finished a master of arts in religious leadership. A new lead pastor was appointed to Sunrise, but Huber—who already had strong connections to members—became its care minister. She loved providing pastoral care and using her gifts for ministry in this way. But her path changed again when she felt called to become involved with North Summit Church, a United Methodist church start in Blaine targeting Millennials. Its worship time conflicted with Sunrise’s, so she made the choice to leave Sunrise so she could participate.
Huber later returned to Sunrise—and at that point, the church was in steep decline. Members eventually made the painful decision to discontinue. Sunrise’s last service was June 27, 2021, although the church remained legally intact through the end of the year.
When Huber visited Sunrise for the funeral of its last charter member, she planned to turn in her keys, but she was struck by the members sitting at a table unsure of where to go since their beloved faith community was no more.
“Pretty soon, I’m wrestling with God and going, ‘I think I need to lead them,’” said Huber. “I’ve got pastoral stuff I thought I’d never be able to use again. This is my chance to do things in way that’s not status quo because I believe that a big part of the struggle with institutional church in general is the way we’re telling the story.”
On Jan. 1, 2022, Sunrise became a fellowship. It still meets in the same building—which also houses Sunrise Christian Academy, a thriving daycare, and two other congregations that help cover the bills. But there is no appointed pastor, there are no paid staff, and the church doesn’t pay apportionments. Huber is the fellowship’s spiritual leader; she works closely with Rev. Lynn Gardner, a retired United Methodist pastor from the Iowa Conference who attended Sunrise before entering pastoral ministry and decided to return in her retirement. Gardner has the authority to administer the sacraments.
“She pulled me kicking and screaming into the digital age to preach in front of a camera,” said Huber, only half-jokingly.
The fellowship isn’t quite up to 20 people in worship, but it started live streaming last Sunday and is now reaching some additional people online. Worship takes place in the fellowship hall, where attendees sit in a circle facing one another. At first, Huber took a more informal approach and led discussions—but she now she delivers a thoughtfully prepared sermon each week. She’s passionate about connecting the age-old Jesus story with modern science and telling it in a way that speaks to young people. She also leads a Bible study every Wednesday.
“I never thought I would get this opportunity to pull out all those gifts and grow them some more,” said Huber, who’s 67. “I’ve been preparing my whole life for this. It’s the fulfillment of my life calling and purpose.”
When asked what’s next, Huber said the first order of business is “to revisit the wounds because Sunrise died for a reason. Those old wounds are not healed and they have to do with old patterns…There is work to be done there.”
As far as her dream for this ministry, she’d love to see it grow. Three children were recently baptized through the fellowship, and Huber wants to find ways to spiritually nurture them and other kids.
“What I really hope is that we can be this authentic community that’s focused on the teachings of Jesus,” she said. “Most people, even if they were burned by the church, don’t have an issue with Jesus. I want to talk about Jesus in a way that’s compelling to younger generations that have given up on church. God’s doing a new thing with the institutional church.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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