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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Shawn Vestal: Two congregations, two directions, and one historic church

Pastors Dave Kappus of Central Lutheran Church, left, and Asher Ernst of City Covenant Church, along with their congregations, now share the church on Bernard Street near downtown Spokane where Central Lutheran has been located for decades.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

It’s a tale of a church and two congregations.

One is nearly a century old. The other is six.

One worships in a structured liturgical tradition dating back centuries, with a robed pastor leading the services and traditional hymns.

The other is a bit more casual and informal: The pastor might wear jeans, the music is led by a well-known, local singer-songwriter with a playlist on Spotify.

One serves a shrinking congregation of primarily older people. One fosters a congregation that is distinctly younger.

But both worship God in Christian tradition, and both do so in the same lovely chapel, lined with stained glass windows, on South Bernard Street near downtown, where Central Lutheran Church has been located since 1959.

The newer church – City Covenant – rented space from Central Lutheran for about five years. It’s grown to 150 to 175 members and recently bought the church. City Covenant rents space back to Central Lutheran.

“It’s a total win-win,” said Asher Ernst, lead pastor at City Covenant.

Pastor Dave Kappus, who’s been at Central Lutheran since 2010, agrees.

“For churches in general, partnerships are going to be the wave of the future,” he said.

Central Lutheran is approaching its 100-year anniversary in Spokane in 2029. Part of its mission has been to serve and minister to the downtown community. Like many mainline or more traditional churches, it has seen its membership waning and its congregation aging. There are about 90 members of the church. Each Sunday about 25 people attend in person and another 10 or 15 watch online, Kappus said.

“Our congregation is older and has probably been changing at a rate similar to other mainline congregations,” Kappus said.

His congregants find comfort in the formal traditions of the service – a connection to the historical ways of worship going back to the earliest days of Christianity.

But the church is now unable to sustain larger programs such as Sunday school, and has shifted its focus to helping its members carry out their personal ministry in the community – providing support for their efforts to volunteer or otherwise “live out their faith in meaningful, tangible ways.”

Meanwhile, about six years ago, Ernst and a group of other members of First Presbyterian Church decided to plant a new church downtown, and they began renting space for the new City Covenant Church at Central Lutheran.

City Covenant, which is affiliated with Evangelical Covenant Church, has a dual focus on sharing the Gospel and on the Biblical imperative to care for widows, orphans and sojourners – working with refugees, for example. It has an informal spirit in many ways, and its music leader is Marshall McLean, a local indie-rock mainstay. But Ernst emphasizes that such differences are more on the surface than in the substance – the church remains orthodox in many ways.

“What’s unique about us is the way we live out church life together,” he said.

That means the church works to build a deeply connected community beyond the Sunday services.

“I grew up in a small town, and I think our church feels like a small town,” he said.