Each week 120 people or so make their way through the bright red doors of what’s been known for more than a century as Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in the West Central neighborhood. Some are seeking prayer, others kinship – almost all of them, though, are there for food.
The Rev. Kris Christensen and her ministry team are committed to serving the impoverished, which they do through the weekly Dinner Table meal, a community garden and regular cooking classes.
There was just one problem.
“It’s not financially sustainable,” Christensen said. “It’s a common problem when serving low-income neighborhoods.”
So the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane decided to change it. Holy Trinity Episcopal Church is now called West Central Episcopal Mission.
“We changed the status to fit the context,” said Bishop James E. Waggoner. “It’s serving the community without trying to force fit it into a model for a church.”
Its focus is to continue serving the West Central community and to educate people about urban poverty, but it’s no longer held to certain parish requirements, such as holding Sunday services and giving a percentage of its income to the diocese.
Funding for the mission comes from volunteers, grants and the diocese.
For now, Christensen has chosen to continue Sunday worship because that’s what the neighborhood wants, she said.
Waggoner said the change is a reminder that the church is a living organism that’s constantly changing.
“We need to be able to read the signs and adapt,” he said. “I wouldn’t say the church is going away at all. It’s still a chapel, a place of worship and prayer that nourishes people. It’s the church being the church in a way that’s even more focused.”
Converting to specialized missions, he added, is a model that he believes will become more common. Some Anglican churches in Europe are already doing this, but it’s almost unheard of in the U.S.
Christensen said the mission draws volunteers from all over town, and she hopes more will get involved.
“The big picture theology in this for me is that this is a way for us to impact more people. We’re bringing people from all over who are able to help, and we can unveil how the system depends on poverty, then turn them loose so they can bring it back to their home community,” she said.
Waggoner agreed, adding that a transformation ministry that’s willing to adapt to its community is attractive to people who want to make a difference.
Jim Grady, who has a background in social services and is a member of St. David’s Episcopal Church, has been volunteering for the ministry for several years.
“There was a period of time, just watching from afar, that I wouldn’t have given Holy Trinity a chance to make it,” he said. “I would have thought it would shut down. In that neighborhood, in West Central, I thought there’s no way it could ever support itself.”
Inspired by Christensen’s leadership, Grady decided to give Holy Trinity a chance and began volunteering.
He said it’s not a sin to be poor and those in poverty deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, which he said is what happens at the mission center.
“Everybody has a story, and everybody needs someone to hear that story, so if you take time to listen, you begin to realize they’re no different than I am, or you are,” he said. “This is where God’s called me … and it will be interesting to see what happens in 2014.”