Changes are still under way several months after two Spokane Valley Lutheran congregations voted to consolidate and create Advent Lutheran Church.
The congregations of Good Shepherd and Christ Lutheran – both members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – started worshipping together in March and took the formal vote to combine in May.
The Rev. Matt Larson of Good Shepherd was selected as the new congregation’s pastor.
Perhaps the biggest change for church members is emotional. Some people gave up longtime church homes. Others had to cope with an influx of new people who changed the dynamic of their worship environment.
“There’s been grief, there’s been joy,” Larson said. “For the most part, it has been and continues to be a good transition, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been hurdles. People do see how much stronger we can be together.”
The consolidation plan originally included a third Valley church, Holy Trinity Lutheran, but that congregation voted against the merger.
The changes since May have been many. The church began with services at 8:30 and 11 a.m. The early morning traditional service quickly filled up. A second traditional service was added and services now begin at 8, 9:15 and 11 a.m. each Sunday at the former Christ Lutheran Church at Broadway Avenue and McDonald Road. About 250 people attend services each Sunday, up quite a bit from the 85 who used to attend services at Good Shepherd. Several dozen of the people at Advent Lutheran every Sunday used to attend Holy Trinity and left after the vote failed.
Some staffing changes are still under way, Larson said. “We’re not even done with all the legal stuff,” he said.
Before the merger, the three churches had a joint youth program and shared a youth minister, who left to take another job. Advent Lutheran is now looking for a new youth and family coordinator along with a parish administrator.
Despite all the changes, many things remain the same. The new congregation has the child care center and after-school homework program started by Christ Lutheran. The preschool started by Good Shepherd is still in the old church at 810 S. Sullivan Road, referred to as the Sullivan campus. “It’s that way because of space,” Larson said. Community groups like the Boy Scouts and Alcoholics Anonymous continue to meet at the old church.
Good Shepherd’s ecumenical relationship with St. Mary’s Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection is being continued by Advent Lutheran. A recent joint worship service for the three congregations drew a significantly larger crowd than in years past.
“That Thanksgiving service was the best attended,” Larson said.
There is no firm decision about what to do with the Sullivan campus, Larson said. There are ongoing discussions about leasing it or perhaps building a new church on the site.
Larson has also had to deal with the changes that go along with a congregation three times larger than his old one.
“I see it more as this is a new call,” he said. “It’s been satisfying to help essentially three churches come together. It’s been a good journey for me and for others.”
Now the congregation is feeling its way toward what it means to be Advent Lutheran Church, Larson said. They have to decide how to worship God, serve their neighbors and be an active participant in the community, he said.
“That’s important for this congregation,” he said. “We’ve come together to do church and to do ministry.”