The congregation of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church has been picking up the pieces and moving forward after a failed merger vote last year led to a divisive split.
Holy Trinity was exploring consolidating with Christ Lutheran and Good Shepherd Lutheran, all Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregations. The churches were all fairly small and had jointly hired a youth director and had other joint programs.
In May 2011 the congregations of Christ Lutheran and Good Shepherd voted to combine and create Advent Lutheran Church. But the vote failed to get a two-thirds majority at Holy Trinity. “The other two congregations were pretty committed,” said Holy Trinity church council president Charlie May. “From the get-go Holy Trinity was split.”
After the vote nearly half the congregation left to join Advent Lutheran. The church’s pastor also quit. May said it was an ugly split with some members refusing to speak to other members. “People took sides,” he said.
While it has been hard to move forward with between 40 and 50 people attending Sunday services, May said the church is going strong. Because the church can’t afford a full-time pastor, a series of fill-in pastors have led Sunday services.
“It’s worked out phenomenally well, in the sense that there’s a renewed commitment and spiritual awakening,” May said. “Everybody in the church has stepped up.”
After the split, the remainder of the Holy Trinity’s congregation decided to leave the ELCA and join the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ. The nonhierarchical denomination doesn’t have bishops or synods but is instead run by two elected boards with minimal paid staff. The denomination has its roots in the WordAlone Network, a conservative group that formed in the late 1990s because its members believed the ELCA was straying from the historic and orthodox teachings of God.
The Rev. Jaynan Clark, Holy Trinity’s part-time on-call pastor, is a past president of WordAlone. “I was on the original board that formed LCMC,” she said.
There are close to 800 LCMC churches in the country, including a few in Montana, North Idaho and the Tri-Cities, she said. “This would be the first church that has left the ELCA for LCMC in Spokane,” Clark said.
Clark describes LCMC as moving away from “institutional” religion. “More Jesus, less church,” she said. “More discipleship, less membership.”
Some member churches are new starts while others come from various denominations, including Lutheran. “It’s a mixed bag of churches that are trying to leave behind what is happening in mainline denominations.”
May called the break from ELCA “amicable” and said there are also no hard feelings between Holy Trinity and Advent Lutheran. “I think a lot of the ideas for consolidations were sound and good,” he said. “We wish them all the best. It’s just that they were going in a different direction than we felt we wanted to go. We want them to succeed as much as we want ours to succeed.”
Now that the denominational switch is complete, the congregation will focus on growing and moving forward.
“We have attracted new members, but we’ll push even harder now,” May said. “Our goal in the future would be to have a full-time pastor.”
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