By Neil Ellis Orts
In January, 94-year-old Grace Lutheran Church in the heart of Montrose held its last worship service and officially closed. At that same worship service, a new community known as Kindred was born.
Still affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, still a Christian community striving to offer radical welcome to all people, and still the site for many community programs (such as Montrose Grace Place, a ministry to homeless youth), Kindred is a “restart”—a chance to try new things in an old setting.
At present, Kindred is meeting at 6:30 on Wednesday nights at Café Campesino (2602 Waugh Drive) for prayer, study, and community-building. On March 20, they will begin weekly Sunday worship in the original church building at 2515 Waugh—but not in the mornings. They’ll be gathering in the late afternoon at 5:30 p.m. “It’s going to be ‘dinner church’—the idea of church, but over dinner,” explains pastor Ashley Dellagiacoma. “We’ll be worshiping at tables and chairs, much like Jesus might have gathered with his friends and disciples and shared sacred stories and contemplated their significance in our lives.”
I chatted with Pastor Dellagiacoma about what she hopes this new venture might offer to their Montrose neighborhood.
Neil Ellis Orts: Let’s start with the obvious. Why the name change and restart?
Ashley Dellagiacoma: Churches and communities get stuck in the same patterns and rhythms. That’s a cycle into which new life can’t enter very easily. So the idea of the restart is that you have a community that values diversity and justice and the gospel, the radical idea that God loves us no matter what. We’re looking to the neighborhood and the community for who it is now, and let that shape who we are as a Christian community. That means actually getting to know our neighbors and figure out how to be good neighbors [to them], which is what we’re called to do as the Church—to care for our neighbors as ourselves. We get to take the tradition of the Lutheran Church and play with it a little and take it where the Spirit and God’s people lead us. Montrose is still a vibrant community, and that says to me God is still on the move and doing things. It’s up to us to figure out where we can jump in.
You write in your first blogpost on the Kindred website that this is a chance to bring the church back to “zero.” What does that mean to you?
We’re asking, “If you had a blank slate to do anything, what would you do?” Everything is on the table—except for us being welcoming and inclusive for people of all orientations and identities and racial make-ups and socio-economic status. That is the only thing that is not negotiable. We’re still Lutheran—that’s the foundation of who we are. But we’re not stuck having to do everything the way we’ve always done it. We’re not tied down by the way it’s always been.
Do you have a core group of people coming with you from Grace?
We do. Grace made this decision to restart. It wasn’t decided for them by the powers-that-be in the Lutheran Church. They made this bold choice. There are people who were part of Grace who are anxious to see what is possible. These are people who have been committed to the Montrose community. They’re just good people. They really care for one another. They call and check in on each other. That love remains, and we’re trying to mobilize it and invite more people into that relationship.
If you were going to extend an invitation to people who don’t have a history with church, what would you say?
I think one of the barriers to church is language. The church often comes across as a foreign language. A meal is a common language that we can all participate in and contribute to. My hope is that by gathering around a table for worship, [it won’t look like] a spiritual hierarchy. A meal is a common language. A meal is something we can share in a sacred setting, in our homes, or in a bar. I hope it is something that people feel like they can contribute to. If it’s just me and this leadership team of dreamers sitting at 2515 Waugh Drive trying to think of what might be interesting, or what we think God is saying, we’re going to miss something. We’re going to build a church that looks just like us. There’s more out there, so I hope people will lend their voices to this.
What would you say to people who were once involved in a church and left for one reason or another?
Let’s be honest. The Church has hurt people and left them out to dry when they needed this unconditional community the most. We need to be honest about that part of our history. I think it’s true of all of us—we’re broken people and we screw up, but we can’t figure it out on our own. I don’t want to sugarcoat it for people. I don’t want to say Kindred is totally different—we’re still going to mess up and we’re still going to put our foot in our mouth. But we’re creating a culture where it’s okay to say that. It’s okay to say we messed up, and let’s try something new. Let’s invite our critics into the tent and let them shape us, too. But more than targeting an audience, it’s about getting back to the simple act of following God and loving—not in an overly flowery or romanticized way, but in a risky and profound and earthy way. I think that takes out some of the parts of church that have been poisonous in the past. Again, we’ll [mess up]—we’re really good at it—but the motivator and the core of it is just going back to this crazy gospel thing. I think that connects with people who have been broken and hurt.
Neil Ellis Orts is the author of a novella, Cary and John.