Bethany Lutheran’s blaze of glory: Rebuilding a Minneapolis church


Faced with a dwindling congregation and no permanent pastor, Bethany Lutheran Church in Howe had to make some tough decisions: Close the church’s doors? Stay open, but only primarily to provide services for the few remaining congregants? Or, spend the endowment funds on calling a new pastor and give the church one more chance – the plan church leaders dubbed “blaze of glory.”

In a nearly unanimous decision, leaders decided that if they were going to go out, they were going to do so in a blaze of glory. And with that decision they called Jo Bauman, a recent graduate of Luther Seminary and ordained her for her “first call” at Bethany.

Reverend Bauman’s mission? Bring new life into the church by transforming it from it’s insular past to an open place for the community to gather. As she gives a tour of the church, it’s quickly apparent the spaces that have received a make-over and those that have yet to see a paintbrush, new pillows, and fresh furniture. The fireplace room is bright and cheery with art hanging on the walls, newly sewn curtains, and a group of women working on quilts. The youth room is adorned with strings of Christmas lights and comfy furniture.

As we walk through the maze-like building toward the gymnasium, Bauman jokingly notes, “We’ve got to have laser-tag here – the building is perfect for it.”

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Her enthusiasm for the church is seemingly boundless as she shows the work that has already been done to rejuvenate church spaces and her efforts to create interesting events and classes for both members and people in the neighborhood.

Bauman’s efforts are already apparent. A facilitation group uses the space for training, Transition Longfellow holds its movie nights in the building, and Bauman leads a monthly Creativity & Conversation group, where she teaches attendees artistic techniques such as reverse applique, leather work, and meditative doodling.

By opening up the space, Bauman hopes that neighbors see the church as a resource and community asset. “Church to me is about community,” she commented. “Longfellow has such a sense of community, and you can build a church that fits well into the community.”

When asked how her current congregation is reacting to all of the changes, she responds, “I’m watching this church transform right now into outward facing, brave, and risk taking. It’s incredible to see.”

Bauman will be installed as Bethany Lutheran Church’s official pastor this Sunday (10/27) at 2 p.m. She invites people to check out the church and bring their talents. She plans to update the worship service and possibly add a Saturday evening service. “People don’t have to have faith to join the church,” she commented. “Faith will happen as you build community in the church.”

Bethany Lutheran Church is located at 3901 36th Ave. S. in Minneapolis.

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