Another Call to Ordained Ministry Story

Pastor Gretchen Luoma Cohan had a degree already from an ELCA seminary when we met. She is now head of Spiritual Care at Skagit Valley Hospital.
Pastor Gretchen Luoma Cohan had a degree already from an ELCA seminary when we met. She is now head of Spiritual Care at Skagit Valley Hospital.

Rev. Gretchen Luoma Cohan

I had completed—graduated from—seminary when I encountered the community which was to become Gift of Grace. But I was struggling with the idea of vocation, the shape of “call” in ministry and how it all could fit with family life.  I began to work a few hours a week to help support this new-cast community with communications and visibility.  I loved this work—though it was very different from what I had expected I would be doing—because the community’s mission “making Christ known here on the corner of 40th and Meridian” flavored every detail and decision.

We hung large colorful banners, offered encouragement and hospitality to the neighborhood. We posted pithy sayings on the new readerboard. The worship style was casual, creative and energetic.  Folk/rock/blues style worship music, scripture studies and Pastor Jami’s frank preaching style set a tone for exploration and deepening of faith.  The community threw parties and delivered daffodils to neighbors.  It hosted a live nativity in which one of the sheep nearly escaped across 40th Ave.  Musicians regularly generated new compositions and arrangements.  We stocked up on toilet paper and opened the doors to be a pit stop for heavy foot traffic during festivals at Gasworks.

Gift of Grace as a new worshipping community benefited from the gifts of grace of its older members.  Anna, Signe, Hilda, Mary, Thor and Amy, among others jumped into the efforts of the new community with surprising verve.  Sometimes they shared their apprehensiveness with me about their new pastor-with-a-pony-tail and how the music was not what they were used to, but they clapped and sang along, learned new things, and offered their support in all sorts of meaningful ways.

Personally, being involved at Gift of Grace helped me come to terms with the challenges of parenting small kids, and challenging questions of earning, gender roles, work and vocation—all in a rapidly changing cultural landscape. Questions were expected, doubts welcomed, relationships fostered and no idea was too wacky to be considered by the leadership team.

The time I spent in this community ignited my confidence in Christian faith communities and especially that they could be relevant (one of my favorite words at the time).  But the insight I needed and that Pastor Jami provided in his preaching and teaching is to be relevant!  To be a disciple of Jesus is to align my life to the things that are relevant as Jesus tirelessly points out—which is both continual challenge and source of joy.   After about 5 years of active leadership and participation at GoG, I joined a staff of a large suburban-parish and brought many of the things I had learned.  For the last ten years or so, I continue to try to live out this “relevant” insight in my current call in healthcare chaplaincy.

Making a Fresh Start in 1996

Congregation 2
In 1996 Gift of Grace (then named Zion American Lutheran Church) became a Fresh Start Congregation. This is what launched us on our way. At that time the ELCA was having much better success with new starts than redevelopments. In the interest of good stewardship the ELCA was reluctant to invest time and money in redevelopments, investing instead in new starts. The North West Washington Synod took a hybrid approach. The thinking was since God called a congregation to do ministry where it was located perhaps the synod could create the conditions to make a redevelopment more like a new start. To that end they were willing to invest time and money toward a very specialized redevelopment, Fresh Start.

Gift of Grace was one of four Fresh Start congregations. Two of the other congregations were in places (suburbs) where the population was exploding. These congregations were relatively new (10-20 years old, I think). They congregations simply needed an energetic pastor dedicated to outreach whose path was cleared so that her or his efforts would not be thwarted by the typical risk-averse habits of congregational leadership. They were bound to grow. And they did.

The remaining congregation was like us: a faithful elderly congregation with few in attendance, located in a landlocked, urban setting, with a large building on which maintenance had been long deferred. The other congregation decided after a year that even with new pastoral leadership they did not have the will to continue. So they closed. They were one of the few congregations I had ever heard of closing at the time.

The Fresh Start program had several features intended to set us up for success.

1) The pastors were called to a three year term call by the synod, overseen directly by the Bishop (then, Rev. Don Meier) rather than receiving the usual open-ended call from the congregation itself. At the end of three years Fresh Start would end and the congregation could decide what it wanted to do about pastoral leadership.

2) It was stated from the beginning that the pastor would spend about 50% of the time in evangelism, which certainly included outreach.

3) The congregation leadership was expected to cooperate with the innovations the pastor might suggest.

4) The pastors would participate in continuing education emphasizing evangelism, and the synod would pay for it.

5) The pastors would be a cohort that met together monthly with the bishop.

This worked well for Gift of Grace. We received tremendous support from the synod, the bishop, and the Region 1, Director of Outreach. The meetings of our pastor cohort helped us glean best practices. The continuing education pushed me to be more daring. The directors of outreach for Region 1, first Dick Wendt, and then Red Birchfield, were extremely good coaches for me, especially supporting and challenging me in taking risks. Of all the things pastors need I think collegial support and challenge is among the most important. Few pastors are willing to accept it. It is time consuming and it means competition must be set aside, but it is vital.

In 1999, my synod call as a Fresh Start pastor ended and Gift of Grace officially called me as their own pastor. We give thanks to God for three years of support we received through the Fresh Start program. That program set us up for the 20 years of mission in Wallingford we are now celebrating

 

20th Anniversary Photos – Seminarians & Pastors

Through the years, Gift of Grace has been blessed by many people who have shown particular aptitude for public leadership of Word and Sacrament ministry. We have been the “sending congregation” for 5 such people who went to seminary. We have also been the temporary home to several pastors on their way to serve else where. In every single case  we have been and still are greatly encouraged and enriched by their participation.

Check out these folks here.

20th Anniversary Photos-Early Years

Introduction to the all the photos. These photos were picked by me, Pastor Jami Fecher from among the photos we had on hand. We do not have photos from all 20 years. Most of the photos we have were taken when Kari Reiten was acting as parish administrator. She was careful to document our main events. The descriptions of the photos are told from the faulty memory of Pastor Fecher.

Click here to view.

Celebrating 20 Years of Ministry Together

Dear Friends in Christ,
April marked 20 years since I came as pastor to Gift of Grace, as part of the NW Washington Synod’s Fresh Start Program. We will be celebrating the exciting past 20 years of ministry together at our regular Sunday morning worship on June 12. Pastor Ryan Marsh will be preaching. (He’s being ordained the week before!)
The focus of this celebration is on the work God has done among us in these past 20 years, placing us in intense situations in which we needed to trust Christ, and them proving to us repeatedly to be our trustworthy, loving, steadfast, surprising God. This building was dedicated June 1, 1953, but the first congregational constitution was signed January 7, 1884! Praise to God and thanks, for the community that paved the way for us to be able to participate in this ministry the past 20 years.
Because many of us will be unable to be physically present for this celebration (we are spread out across this country and even Canada) we will be also celebrating interactively via the internet. I’ll send more information about you can participate in a few days. For now, I want you begin rejoicing and to anticipate more rejoicing as we lift up our time together.
Peace and power to you from Christ,
Pastor Jami Fecher

Pentecost

Jesus threw his followers into a crisis 40 days after he raised from the dead by ascending to the Father’s Right Hand. The disciples were left behind. Jesus knew their experience of him as absent would be difficult for them, so he comforted them at length, promising that he would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate, who would teach them everything and remind them of all Jesus had taught (John 14: 16 & 26).  He said it was even better for them to have the Advocate than to have Jesus, himself, physically present (John 16:7).
Luke tells us (Acts 2) that 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost (a first-fruits, thanksgiving feast), the Holy Spirit was poured out like fire on the disciples, and the Church was born. Here’s the before and after of it: Before the Holy Spirit was poured out the disciples had done nothing public. According to John they were in hiding. Then the Holy Spirit was poured out on them like fire and they began preaching in the street in such a way that people could understand.
As soon as the Church went public, (which was immediately) public opinion was mixed. Some heard God’s good news and rejoiced. Others sneered and said the preachers were drunk.  Peter gave the proper interpretation of the events; God had poured out the Holy Spirit as promised – promised not only by Jesus, but before him, by the prophet, Joel. And the Spirit was poured out like fire for one reason; so that people could call on the Lord and be saved.
So, that is what the church was born to do: lift up Christ so the world can come to salvation through him. Let this fire burn in us and just watch what happens. It should be good!

SHARE

This is a letter I sent to several officials regarding SHARE:
Dear

I am writing to encourage you help SHARE continue to do their mission of keeping homeless people together, sheltered and safe. It is well known they provide the largest number of beds for the lowest cost in King County. Although they certainly provide social services SHARE is not a social service agency, but a self-help group of homeless and formerly homeless persons dedicated to supporting persons experiencing homelessness.

Our congregation has benefitted greatly from SHARE in the ten years we have hosted an indoor shelter at our church. Although SHARE has an entirely different mission from ours they have helped us steward the resource of our property so that we can more fully do the ministry that is our main mission. SHARE makes it possible for us and many other host churches to participate in aiding persons we otherwise would not have the means to aid. In addition, the persons of SHARE have taught our congregation how to be more respectful to those whose life situation is radically different from ours. The lesson was not pleasant for us to learn, but SHARE taught us by remaining true to their own values and priorities while encouraging us to clarify and remain true to ours. They did it with a humble, patient, tenacity which we sometimes mistook for obstinance, not realizing the obstacles with which they were already coping.

From my viewpoint the social good SHARE provides King County far outweighs whatever criticisms might be rightly made of SHARE (since none of us are above criticism or beyond improvement). SHARE is transparent in its goals and remains steadfast to them. In light of the crisis of the sheer numbers of our people in King County experiencing homeless right now, today, I encourage you to use your influence to immediately clear the way for SHARE to get the relatively small funding it needs to do the job to which it is dedicated, to which it has remained faithful for more than 20 years and which has proved already to be a profound success.

Pastor Jami Fecher
Gift of Grace Lutheran Church
2102 N 40th street
Seattle, WA 98103

Holy Week Schedule

MAUNDY THURSDAY 7 PM

Our celebration calls to mind Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples. We will move through the main parts of that “night in which He was betrayed,” including; Holy Communion, foot washing and the stripping of the altar, which leads us into the austerity of Good Friday.

Lamb of God
Behold the Lamb by Jonathan Mayer

GOOD FRIDAY 7 PM

A sparse and somber worship, including the reading of the Passion of Jesus, the great Bidding Prayer of the Church and the Adoration of the Cross.

EASTER SUNDAY

Our celebration of Christ’s Resurrection begins with Easter Brunch at 9, provided by Grace Gospel Chapel. Worship is at 10:30. It blends ancient rites of the Church with current cultural expressions of who we are & who we shall be by God’s  grace. Following worship, about 11:40 is GraceFeast Sunday dinner, a continuation of the Easter brunch.

Pulled Pork Picnic hosted by the Power of We

You are invited, this Sunday, March 20th, from 5-7PM to  a ‘Pulled Pork Picnic’ in the Gift of Grace basement, hosted by the ‘Power of We’.  ‘Power of We’ is a youth service group made up of ten local kids ages 12-14 years old who will be helping prepare and serve the meal in conjunction with Matthew, a talented chef that has been cooking outrageously delicious meals in people’s kitchens for special dinner parties and gatherings. There will also be live music performed by some of the kids.  Matthew is part of the Facing Homelessness community (www.facinghomelessness.org).  Please come and enjoy yourself for this FREE community gathering and get a chance to sample Matthew’s chef skills!