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Lutheran, Episcopal churches unite to stay sustainable in Baltimore

Lutheran, Episcopal churches unite to stay sustainable in Baltimore

The Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter in Baltimore, Md., is selling its buildings and moving in with the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in an unusual marriage of two churches:

“People are saying that we’re moving to a post-denominational time, that young people don’t care if you’re Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian,” said the Rev. T. Stewart Lucas, the rector of Nativity. “They just want good, authentic worship and service to those who are in need. So, in a way, we’re going back to the basics of studying the Word, praying together and serving together, and I think there are lot of people who are hungry for that message.”

Each church was struggling to survive, with declining membership and challenging finances, and the hope is that other churches facing the same difficulties might see this as a possible solution.

[Holy Comforter’s pastor, the Reverend David] Eisenhuth said two years ago, a member of his church’s governing body took a hard look at the organization’s finances and forced them to confront the reality that they were on shaky ground. The building, in the 5500 block of York Road, had been built in the 1950s for a peak congregation of 3,000. Yet weekly attendance was down to about 150 people, he said. Nativity was also facing declining attendance and financial challenges.

Both churches have ethnically diverse congregations, and after some research on the part of Holy Comforter, the two congregations decided to merge.

Lucas said jokingly that the hardest part has been combining the two church kitchens, as some members are proud of their roles there. Worship will be combined using elements of both faiths, and the church leaders said there are many similarities among how Lutheran and Episcopalian services are held, so the combination didn’t seem like too much of a leap. Congregants and high-level church officials on both sides signed off on the change.

Read the entire story in the Baltimore Sun.

Photo: Episcopal Church of the Nativity.

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Bill Ghrist

Christ Church Episcopal and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Sheffield, Massachusetts (http://christtrinitysheffield.org/) have operated like this since 2007. I happen to be aware of this because it is where I worship when I participate in the Berkshire Choral Festival (now Berkshire Choral Institute) in the summer. Since ELCA and TEC are now in full communion and the clergy are free to serve in congregations of both denominations, I can't see how this should be so surprising.

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Jay Croft

Leslie, if I might ask: What is your experience with, and understanding of, the Episcopal Church?

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Leslie Marshall

Jay, it's a joy to oblige....My parents (from Washington, DC) were Episcopalian and I was baptized by Los Angeles Bishop, Francis E. Bloy in 1956, and confirmed by Bishop Bloy in 1967. My father was Senior Warden of our church.

Over 44 year period, I religiously attended St. Gregory's, (Long Beach, CA), St. Augustine by the Sea (Santa Monica), St. Peter's (Fairfield , IA), St. Andrews (Encinitas, CA), St. Luke's (Long Beach), St Alban's Anglican Church (Tokyo, Japan), & St. John's (Guam, USA).

Our sons were baptized Episcopal and active in youth ministry. We enjoyed countless trips to Family Camp (Camp Stevens, Julian, CA). I served many years as Vacation Bible School Leader, Sunday School Teacher, Music Worship cellist, Outreach ministries, Women's leader, and Bible Study Leader. I love the Prayer Book, I love the Eucharist, I love(d) the National Cathedral, I love the history of TEC.

('But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ --the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith".) phil3.7

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Jerald Liko

The cello is such a wonderful instrument in worship. I hope you're still playing it somewhere!

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Mark Mason

"That isn’t the same as claiming that a pro-GLBT message would drive church growth. There are also other factors involved in why the younger generations list themselves as Nones."

There has only ever been one reason David. Every generation has had it's factors galore all the way back to the Garden. I have a new wife, I bought some new oxen, I bought a new field, the congregation isn't hip enough with divorce equality or out-of-wedlock birth rates or whatever the factors may be, there is but one reason. Most of Christ diciples that walked and talked with him deserted him in the end. Seems even for the marginalized and outcast of society Christ didn't live (as God incarnate) up to their expectations. Whose acceptance is Christianity about? There are many factors but only the same reason that has passed through the generations.

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Leslie Marshall

good points. Re the early followers, I think that its not that Jesus didn't live up to their expectations...it's that they loved darkness more than light. Same is true today.

Jesus himself said, '...but small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.' mt7.14

...for many years I participated in a myriad of good deeds ('outreach') with the church...(which resulted in nothing to speak of.)

...but because time is short, ('Look, I come like a thief ! ') I go where believers & soon-to-be believers are hungry for the Word of God.

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Mark Mason

"…for many years I participated in a myriad of good deeds"

We are talking about the joining of Lutheran and Episcopal congregations. Considering Luther's view of the Book of James, I wonder if either congregation has shifted their theology as in regards to works. "By faith alone" on one side and "Faith without works is dead" on the other?

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Anand Gnanadesikan

Seems to me that the big problem that the Episcopal/Anglican tradition has is that while it has sometimes stood for Jesus, it has always stood for bourgeois respectability. Going to an Anglican/Episcopal church use to mean that you were a right-thinking member of the ruling class. As church attendance no longer signifies that, why bother to attend?

The gay rights issue cuts both ways on this. On the one hand, there are gay folk like my organist who gave up a corporate job to become a church musician out of his love for the church. Examples of transformation like his are threatening to the status quo, but have challenged those of us who come from more conservative backgrounds to change our minds. Hopefully, it results in a church which, even if it has fewer believers, has folks who are there for the right reasons.

On the other hand, I've seen plenty of advocates for LGBT rights within the church who were basically pushing a sexual prosperity gospel. Thing is, that kind of teaching drives of those who are there for bourgeois respectability without replacing them with dedicated believers.

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Jean Lall

The amount of abusive, off-topic commentary on this thread leaves me feeling despondent. Instead of celebrating, or at least respecting, a creative decision by two particular local congregations to move forward faithfully together, some commenters seem to be experiencing an anxiety reaction that moves them to shift the focus to sweeping generalizations, statistics, moralistic judgments and (above all) blame. Anand opines that while "the Episcopal/Anglican tradition . . . has sometimes stood for Jesus, it has always stood for bourgeois respectability"; then he goes on to attack some Episcopalians for "pushing a sexual prosperity gospel." As someone whose Gospel sensibility and love of Jesus were nourished in an Anglican Sunday school some sixty years ago, and who as an adult chose confirmation in the Episcopal Church both because of its concern for justice and service to the poor and for its theological and liturgical depth, I find these generalizations deeply insulting. More to the point, they have nothing whatsoever to do with the joining together of Holy Comforter and Nativity churches.

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Jean Lall

Sorry -- in my post above I mis-named the Episcopal Church of the Nativity as Church of the Redeemer (another fine North Baltimore parish which was on my mind because they will be offering a wonderful service of Evensong tomorrow!). Sorry for the confusion.

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Jean Lall

This is in response to Anand's reply to me dated November 7 (I hope it falls in the right sequence).

Anand, your reply only reinforces my point, which is that we should be respectful of local situations about which we are ill-informed and not simply pile on with our own biases and vexations about the church as a whole.

The church which, according to the news reports, was built in the 1950s to accommodate a congregation of up to 3,000, but which is now serving about 150, is not the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer but Holy Comforter Lutheran. We as Episcopalians, even those of us in the Diocese of Maryland, are not answerable for that decline, and I fail to see the point of uninformed speculation about the reasons for it.

Besides not even having read the post carefully you are leaping to conclusions, assuming for example that you know the makeup of the neighborhoods where these parishes are located; that the churches are declining in membership due to cultural snobbery; and that they are failing (and indeed deserve to fail) because they aren't preaching enough about chastity and fidelity and other matters having to do with "family formation and preservation. . .in communities where that's a primary issue in prosperity." So it is you (rather than the LGBT rights advocates you mentioned in your previous post) who are really putting forward a "sexual prosperity gospel"!

You write that you don't know whether it's true that the Church of the Nativity is failing in this regard, but opine that "it is a question worth asking." Do you plan to write to the Rector (the Rev. Stewart Lucas, who has posted on this thread) and ask him how often he preaches about chastity and fidelity, or might you inquire of parishioners at Nativity what they are doing to support family formation and preservation? The question is only worth asking if it is directed to someone who could actually provide answers. Otherwise it is merely recreational speculation.

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Anand Gnanadesikan

Jean,

Fair enough. And I wish these churches (which are in my diocese) well.

But isn't it a reasonable question to ask why a particular Episcopal church has gone from 3,000 members to 150? And to point out that this may be related to issues of cultural self-definition? Especially in an area that has transitioned from white to African-American?

In this particular case the LGBT issue is likely a side-issue to issues of racism and classism-but may not be independent of it. It's the latter issue I was trying to get at with my comments on bourgeois respectability.

I think the connection is this. Chastity and fidelity are important virtues for all of us, straight and LGBT people. I know that there are those on this site who are gay who have said so. But when was the last time you heard a sermon preached on them? I've never heard them preached on in my current church. Perhaps not a big deal in the suburbs, but still telling. But likely more of an issue in lower middle-class communities. A church that does not deal with issues of family formation and preservation is not going to survive, and does not deserve to survive, in communities where that's a primary issue in prosperity. Don't know if that's true for the Church of the Nativity- but it is a question worth asking.

-Anand

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Jay Croft

To Leslie Marshall:

1. The so-called "liberal denominations" have plenty of very conservative members. Particularly with the Episcopal Church, we have a "big tent." Hey, they even accept me!

2, The Episcopal Church is very much a "Bible-based" church. Haven't you noticed how much Scripture is read at each service, how much the prayers are based on Scripture, how the Eucharist is based on Jesus' Last Supper and on Acts 2:42?

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Leslie Marshall

that's good news. 🙂

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