There’s a new church in Spokane Valley, but it didn’t come together in the usual way or even how it was planned.
The congregations of Christ Lutheran Church, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church decided months and months ago that the Valley had a glut of Evangelical Lutheran churches and that they should consider merging. They already held joint events and had hired one youth minister to serve all three churches.
Last Sunday the congregations voted on whether to dissolve and create a new church, Advent Lutheran, in the building used by Christ Lutheran at Broadway Avenue and McDonald Road. The vote failed at Holy Trinity, but the other two churches voted to go ahead with the merger.
But that doesn’t mean the doors of Good Shepherd at 810 S. Sullivan Road are going to be bolted shut and the building abandoned, said the Rev. Matt Larson of Good Shepherd. “We’ve been worshipping together over at the Broadway campus since March,” he said. “We’re still going to have our preschool. Our community groups are going to continue to meet here. It’s still going to be utilized.”
At least for now. With so many things up in the air, the future of the building hasn’t been decided yet. There has been talk of possibly building a new church on the Sullivan site, Larson said.
Larson will lead the new church during its transition period, a job he was supposed to share with Holy Trinity pastor James Kashork. The two had already been taking care of the Christ Lutheran congregation after its interim pastor left. But Kashork resigned his position at Holy Trinity a week before the vote to dissolve Holy Trinity failed.
“There’s some division in the congregation,” Kashork said. “It became pretty clear to me that if the vote to consolidate did not succeed, it would be pretty difficult for me to continue to serve. It would be fundamentally a different congregation than the one I was called to.”
Holy Trinity had about 90 to 100 people attending Sunday worship. The vote on whether to dissolve was pretty much down the middle. Many of the people who wanted to merge with the other two congregations moved their membership to Advent Lutheran, Kashork said, leaving Holy Trinity with a very small membership.
“I think this division has probably been in the congregation for a long time,” he said. “It really hindered the church’s ability to get anywhere. Although it was a painful way to get there, I think this is probably a good thing.”
Congregation president Kelly Peterson said he’s not sure how many people have left Holy Trinity. A temporary board is in place and elections will be held for a permanent one in a few weeks. Meetings are being held to determine what to do about getting a new pastor.
Kashork said he’s still willing to work with Larson to lead the new church until a permanent pastor is hired. Advent Lutheran will elect a council and adopt bylaws on Sunday and then it can make a decision about Kashork’s participation during the transition.
Many other things are still up in the air until the new council takes over. “The staffing hasn’t worked out yet,” Larson said. “There are no decision makers right now.”
Larson said that while he’s disappointed the majority of the Holy Trinity congregation won’t be joining the new church, there are no hard feelings. “I’m respectful of the decision,” he said. “I think everyone has accepted it and we’re just going to move ahead.”
A meeting will be held next week with Holy Trinity to work out which of the joint programs and events might continue, including the youth minister. “There are just some loose ends to wrap up,” he said.
Meanwhile Larson is looking forward to the future of the new church. “It’s been quite a journey for everyone and a lot of people have put a lot of time and effort into this,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy, but it also has been a very good process.”