Joyce Church: A home for Uptown misfits

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People passing by Joyce United Methodist Church on the evening of Tuesday, October 11 may have caught some live music coming from the portico on West 31st Street. The community event, organized by church staff and local musician Barbara Meyer, was a candlelit vigil featuring peace and protest standards and original music, along with speakers calling for nonviolent action.

David Booth, a local singer-songwriter-activist, was Barbara’s musical counterpart at the vigil. Prior to the event, he had never encountered the building or the people who call Joyce their church home, but that night he could tell there was something different about the community there.

“It was a place where generations came together,” Booth said. “People were working to connect the immediate concerns of daily life to a larger sense of the meaning of life in general. People focused on, and celebrated, their common humanity and didn’t much sweat their social differences. Joyce seems like a strong counter-current, where trust and companionship are the guiding spirits.”

Standing in front of Joyce Church, you’d have no idea there’s a beautiful sanctuary lined with stained glass windows and stunning architecture inside. Joyce’s white stucco exterior tends to blend into the background but the people of Joyce decidedly do not. They refer to themselves as “a community of misfits,” a phrase they say was coined by pastor emeritus Bill Morton. It’s a namesake the congregation has embraced.

Meet the Misfits

Mary Cravens has been a member of Joyce since 1988 when she lived in the neighborhood. Now a Richfield resident, Cravens still makes her way to Uptown on Sundays, despite the church’s lack of parking, because “Joyce misfits are very good friends.”

Part of “becoming better people” for Joyce members, it seems, is not only embracing the LGBT community, but fighting for its inclusion in the church marriage covenant, even if it means their church is going rogue. Joyce pastor John Darlington explains:

“Joyce is a ‘Reconciling’ Congregation. That status within our parent denomination means that we vehemently protest Methodist policy and official language that discriminates against and marginalizes the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” Darlington said. “We also protest and are working to defeat the proposed marriage amendment in Minnesota that would enshrine discrimination against gay couples in our state constitution. At Joyce we are unabashedly devoted to marriage equality and the inclusion of the LGBT community in all facets of society. We believe that our compassion and inclusive ways do not ‘go against the bible’ but honor its basic intent.”

Meredith and Matt Pfister, a young couple who live in North Minneapolis, drive to Uptown on Sundays because the church and Pastor Darlington do not shy away from difficult and sometimes controversial topics. “He could avoid those topics, but he doesn’t, and I appreciate that. We might not always agree, but at Joyce it’s o.k. to have different points of view,” said Meredith, a science teacher.

As a Joyce Church member of 23 years, Susan Marsh has seen the congregation ebb and flow with the years and changing cultural climates.

“My story has changed over the years,” said Marsh, a junior high teacher. “I am currently the wife of a nursing home resident who has dementia. My husband was an active member [at Joyce] until he became too disabled to attend. You can imagine that I have had some struggles over the past few years with my husband. But my church family has always been there for me.”

“I am the mother of a wonderful young man who is not a Christian, but a humanist, and in many ways more moral than many churched people I have known,” she said. “You don’t have to believe to be [at Joyce].  We have many people who are seekers.”

Joyce Choir member Sharon Monthei says the thing she loves most about her church is that “people actually sit down and talk about their lives with each other after the service. Joyce has the distinction of lasting for 125 years so far. It was slated for closure as long ago as the 1980s but we’re still here, growing and changing with the times and the needs of our community.”

Dental student Allison Zank, a CARAG resident, stopped in at Joyce one Easter Sunday eight years ago and has been there ever since. “For the first time in my life, I felt that I had come home,” Zank said.

Joyce Church Is My Other Family

The church operates the Joyce Uptown Food Shelf across the street from the church that serves 1,400 people each month in the Uptown area. It houses Joyce Preschool, a two-way Spanish-English immersion institution (one of only two in the nation).

But, can being hip to the culture and located smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood compete with Minneapolis’ other options for community and spiritual exploration?

“We have all walks of life in our congregation,” Marsh said. “The poor, the poorer, the comfortable and a few who are more than comfortable. We have gay and straight. We have folks with physical and mental disabilities. We make no distinction about whom God chooses to love. We are multi-generational. I love that some of our newer younger members are joining because they want that multi-generation piece in their life.  Perhaps it’s because our birth families have all moved so far away. Joyce Church is my other family.”

For details about Joyce Church, its mission, and programs, visit www.joycechurch.org.