Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sabbatical Visit 4: Portland

Here's stop 4 of the sabbatical journey -- St. Andrew and All Soul's Episcopal Church in Portland.  The text is below, if you prefer the story that way:

Portland may not be quite as hip and funky as the series Portlandia makes it out to be, but it’s close.  Even the pancake houses offer free-range this and vegan that.  You find literally scores of local breweries, nearly as many as the coffee shops.  I can personally vouch for the lovingly restored movie palaces featuring amazing burgers and craft ales, as well as the food trucks that gather in several neighborhoods. If you find yourself downtown, look for the Egyptian couple with the shwarmas and falafel – amazing.

But at least one of Portland’s districts is definitely not Portlandia, and that’s North Portland.  The city guide in the hotel room describes many neighborhoods, but you barely find a mention of North Portland, roughly a fifth of this city.  It’s long been a working-class area, and urban gentrification hasn’t made its way there yet.  The diversity is great, and so are the challenges of poverty and homelessness.

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church has served North Portland for 119 years now, with three buildings on a busy block.  As the church has seen its neighborhood change, it’s also gone through its own difficult years, especially recently.  As of two years ago, about 15 people were worshiping here on a Sunday – nearly all over 70 – and the worship music was a parishioner playing his accordion.

Today, the church has new faces and a new name:  St. Andrew and All Souls.  Almost two years ago, the Rev. Karen Ward came here with a prayer group of about 10 young adults.  Well-known in emerging-church circles for her success planting Church of the Apostles in Seattle, Karen’s following a different model here.  From the start, this combined community has had both a traditional, by-the-book Eucharist, as well as an emerging liturgy on Sunday mornings.  At the early service, the organ leads God’s praise; at the late service, it’s a singer with a guitar and a percussionist.  The sermon or conversation about scripture also includes “open space” time, when worshipers light candles, have a cup of coffee, or meditate with icons written by a church member.  It’s definitely a work in progress, but both the traditional service and the emerging service are growing, with 40 to 50 people now worshiping here on a Sunday.

But the growth isn’t just about liturgy; it’s also about the Spirit uniting the congregation’s gifts with the needs of the community.  In Portland, the music-and-arts scene is huge.  So St. Andrew and All Souls is welcoming artists and performers to use its generous spaces, as well as offering a summer arts camp for kids in the neighborhood.  The church’s food pantry continues its long history of serving hungry neighbors.  And there are plans to turn the old library building on the corner into a neighborhood coffee house.  It’s about redefining what the “parish” of St. Andrew and All Souls really is.  Certainly, some would say it’s the congregation and its properties there in North Portland.  But Karen Ward would say the parish is North Portland itself, because this is the only Episcopal congregation there.  The story of St. Andrew and All Souls will be this transition – seeing itself through a missional lens and deepening its connection with the people God gives it to serve.

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