Mount Olive connects to community

Blue and purple light spills through the stained glass window and mixes with the glow of candles, cascading down the steps of the altar onto the stone floor in front of the worn wooden pews.

The window belongs to a large stone church that stands on Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. The stained glass illuminates a congregation that is just as colorful.

"We have 560 members of all ages," said Bill Heisley, pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church. "Everyone from newborns to a 96-year-old, our average age is somewhere in the mid-40s."

Mount Olive has been serving Minneapolis and more specifically the Phillips community for nearly a century.

"Our members are highly educated, a lot of them have PhD?s and we even have about 35 members who had attended seminary and were previously ordained," Heisley said. "About half of our congregation is from the neighborhood and half is from the surrounding metro area."

Members of Mount Olive feel a deep connection to their faith community. "Mount Olive is not just a church for me," Marie Williamson, a member, said. "It?s a home."

The current Gothic church was completed in 1931 and has housed the congregation ever since. After the main section of the church was completed, two other projects were added to it: a parsonage and an educational wing.

Today the church plays host to a vibrant community that extends its message beyond its doors and into the community with numerous outreach programs.

"Mount Olive has a lot of programs to help the community and to bring people to a better life," Williamson said.

The church has six major events for the community. It has a free legal clinic once a month for those need help with immigration questions, landlord questions or other legal problems. Three times a week a "Diaper Depot" is open so that low-income families can obtain diapers for their children.

Mount Olive also has programming for children. They have "Bible for big kids," a Bible study for middle and high school neighborhood youth. There?s also tutoring help and a work program for neighborhood children from the ages of 9 to 14. The program has neighborhood youth work for the church for four to six hours a week during the summer and two hours a week during the school year for a stipend.

"We hire kids, mostly in junior high, to help us with the church?s needs," Heisley said. "It?s small things like grounds keeping, stuffing envelopes and flyers."

Mount Olive also reaches out to the community with large events.
"The program that I think is the most successful is our community meal," Williamson said.

On the first Saturday of each month Mount Olive?s congregation serves a free meal to the local residents. Each month they serve over 100 people, said Williamson.

Part of what makes Mount Olive stand out is its pastor, said Williamson.
Heisley came to Mount Olive Lutheran eight years ago and became the sixth pastor in the church?s history. Originally from Pennsylvania, he attended seminary in Gettysburg and Philadelphia and was ordained in 1980 and served as a pastor to a Pennsylvania church until arriving at Mount Olive in 1998.

"The choice to come here was easy, it is a well-known and highly regarded parish," Heisley said. "It?s known for its enthusiastic worship and great music."

Every Sunday in the fall and winter, from the weekend after Labor Day until Memorial Day, Mount Olive celebrates two services. During the summer months only one service is held. The Sunday services are traditionally Lutheran and offer Holy Eucharist each weekend.

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Mount Olive is my "home

Mount Olive is my "home church" and the place I was married 41 years ago. Paul Manz was the musician there then and it was a very important part of church life then too. It is most pleasing to see that the church has changed to meet the needs of the community. That is often not the case, and churches die and close their doors.