Salem + Lyndale + Brighton = Greenleaf


Two Minneapolis churches and a local developer broke ground on Friday, November 19 for a new building at the northeast corner of 28th Street and Lyndale Avenue. In the process they celebrated a groundbreaking collaboration that benefits all parties and the larger community.

Salem English Lutheran Church, Lyndale United Church of Christ and Brighton Development have been working for the last four years on a partnership that will revitalize the neighborhood and strengthen two religious communities. When the project is completed in 2011, the neighborhood will have new affordable housing and retail space and Lyndale and Salem Churches will have a renovated historic ministry center that they will both call home.

Greenleaf is the name selected for the new project, inspired by its location in the Whittier Neighborhood that is named after John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier was one of the American “Fireside Poets” of the late 19th Century.

Through this agreement, Brighton Development is building 63 one- and two-bedroom affordable housing units along with some commercial space. Brighton’s purchase of that land from Salem, along with Lyndale’s sale of their old building, will allow for the rehabilitation of part of the historic Salem church facility which was built in 1904. Salem and Lyndale will then share the renovated ministry center to serve their congregations going forward. As the historic portion of the current project is renovated, the more recent addition will be demolished and replaced with new construction.

“This project shows that when people come together around a common goal, amazing things can happen,” said Rev. Don Portwood, Pastor at Lyndale United Church of Christ. “We are emerging from a creative wilderness time for our congregation with renewed spirit, a strengthened sense of community and a deep appreciation for all the people who helped make this project happen.”

Four years ago, Salem and Lyndale were both struggling to survive, trying to maintain large, old churches with small congregations. That’s when Salem decided to move out of their building to share Lyndale’s facility, saving on costs and allowing time to redevelop the land for good uses and ideally a space for ministry. In the spring of 2009, Lyndale sold its building to New Wine Church, forcing both congregations to set up temporarily at the nearby Intermedia Arts building. Now, with the groundbreaking of Greenleaf, the two churches can see the finish line of their combined journey for a permanent home.

“We’ve been in the ‘wilderness’ for four years now and that brings challenges and blessings. We continue to grow in numbers and to become a stronger community,” said Rev. Jen Nagel, Pastor at Salem English Lutheran Church. “The old Salem Church was on the verge of collapse and limiting our ministry. To renew it as a ministry center that we can share with Lyndale and the wider community is a great opportunity. We’re grateful for the many people and organizations that have worked tirelessly to bring this project together.”

The renovated church will have two separate sanctuaries with a gathering area in between. Salem and Lyndale will continue to operate independently, but will share responsibility for the building. It’s an arrangement that could become a model for other churches throughout the country that are facing their own challenges maintaining large, aging facilities. Figuring out how to bring together all the right parties to make this deal happen was a major challenge, but it is one that brings great satisfaction.

“This kind of project can’t happen without a lot of creative thinking and dedication,” said Peggy Lucas, Brighton Development partner. “We have been amazed at the incredible support from the state of Minnesota, Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Council, along with both of the church communities. It’s a great example of how groups can come together to find innovative solutions in seeking the common good.”

The groundbreaking ceremony featured remarks from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Commissioner Dan Bartholomay, City Council Member Robert Lillegren and Christine Hobrough regional president of U.S. Bank. After the ceremony, attendees walked to Salem Church for a look at the renovations that are already in progress.

The project is being financed by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, U.S. Bank and Park Midway Bank. Salem and Lyndale will move into the renovated church in late summer of 2011. Greenbrier will open in the fall of 2011.   

Phyllis Stenerson is editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News and lives in CARAG.