In the last 20 years God blessed this congregation by raising up powerful leaders for the wider church through the ministry at 40th and Meridian. Pastor Fecher emailed these leaders and asked them to briefly answer the question: What role did Gift of Grace play for you as you became a pastor?
Here are their answers,
Rev. Chelsea Globe:
I came to Gift of Grace a little bit lost, spiritually and vocationally. Newly graduated from college, I sometimes thought I heard God calling me to be a pastor. But other times, I felt ready to write the whole church thing off completely! It was during this formative time that God plopped Gift of Grace into my life. Two of my friends were attending there, and each of them invited me to come check it out and be part of their new women’s bible study. At GoG, I found church like I’d never experienced it before. Deeply Lutheran in identity and yet open to new ideas; casual in liturgy and yet serious about worship; a pastor with a collar and cowboy boots: this was a different kind of church. This church was filled with people who had been turned away and kicked out of other places. And here we were, all types of people, worshipping together. We were misfits united by Christ. It is truly a “come as you are” place. Here, the Gospel is preached, minds and hearts are changed, and people are fed, always. GoG knows that God has a mission for them, and trusts God to provide the means to make it happen.
The women in that bible study group became my closest friends. With their help, I once again tuned into that small voice within, whispering things like “seminary” and “pastor.” Gift of Grace gave me the confidence to respond to God’s call upon my life, and provided a model for what “real” church should look like.
Rev. Daniel Sorensen:
I had been discerning my call to ministry for several years before Gift of Grace. When I finally began moving toward seminary, my own congregation in Everett was on the verge of closing. My spouse and I were attending a discernment workshop in Oregon where we met several people from a church called Gift of Grace in Wallingford. Even though we lived in Marysville, a significant distance away, we chose to relocate our church membership to GoG. The closing of our congregation was incredibly sad and painful. Yet the bishop gave us a wonderful sermon on Easter Sunday, or last day as a congregation, about the Christian message of new life overcoming death. And so we worshiped with GoG briefly for the summer before setting off to seminary. We tried to stay in connection with GoG through newsletters and giving (when we could). First Call out of seminary was back to Western Washington but it was a difficult and trying time. Pastor Jami was still “our pastor” and was there for us as we struggled through the first three years of ministry. Second Call was better, moving from a congregation into pastoral counseling and social service. In our new church we were glad to show the videos from the ELCA, especially Harold and Debra’s story from GoG. We were able to challenge our church with a local example of what it means to be actively doing God’s work in the world. Now in a third call working as a Pastoral Counselor with CHI Franciscan Health in Federal Way, we are glad to again be able to support GoG through prayer and giving (more consistently now that seminary is over!)
GoG will always hold a special place in our life as the fertile soil that we landed in after the death of our congregation and the place where we were able to grow in faith and love toward a new life in Christ Jesus. Thank you for your continuing witness to the world.
Rev. Kari Reiten:
The mischievous Gift of Grace children changed the course of my life. Through those squirmy little rascals the Holy Spirit awakened my sense of call to professional parish ministry. Pastor Fecher’s dynamic proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ galvanized me to pursue that call.
I loved working with those kiddos. They were not sweet little cherubs (although they had their sweet moments). But they woke me up to recognize that I, along with other Christian adults, need to treat them not as “the future of the Church,” but as full participants in the Church here and now. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:
“The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensible, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor.”
I went to seminary with this deep conviction spurring me on to focus on “lifting up Christ for my youngest neighbors, inviting them more deeply into the life of God.”
The children are all grown up now, but their impact on my life and ministry has not diminished. I am grateful for them and for Pastor Fecher and many other Gift of Grace sisters and brothers who have nurtured and encouraged me through the challenges of seminary, candidacy, and parish ministry. I give thanks for our ongoing partnership in the Gospel.
Rev. Aimee Appell:
Shortly after Kari Reiten left for seminary, I took over in the office. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, and trying to figure out what was next for me. I knew how to do office things, and there were office things that needed doing for a few hours a week, so it was a good fit. And to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. Not the office things, really. But being there, in the church, answering the phones, listening to people’s needs, thinking about how the church might be able to fit into their needs and their lives. So I applied for the job when it came open. Fortunately for me and for Gift of Grace, the search committee had the extremely good sense to hire Christ Carpenter instead for the job of Parish Administrator. But that led to a strange conversation between myself and Jami, in which the upshot was Jami saying, “Look, I’m not here to offer you the job. We’ve hired someone else. However, I would like to offer you a different job, one with more responsibility and zero pay: Council President. And while you’re doing that, it’s time for you to begin discerning whether you are called to be a pastor.”
When someone like Jami Fecher suggests a thing to you, it is best to pay attention. My father had suggested a pastoral calling once, but parental suggestions are easily dismissed. But Jami has a way of putting things that is thoughtful and considered, so that it cannot be so easily dismissed. I began to pay attention to this possibility, and heard it echoed by others. As council president, I found my commitment to Christ, and to the Church, growing and deepening. Much to my surprise, I began to suspect there might be something to this whole Body of Christ thing. One day, during a council meeting, Jami and I were talking theology, asking how God was calling us to be as a congregation, and someone commented, “You guys are swimming in pretty deep waters, there.” And I replied, “It feels more like being sucked under sometimes!”
That is how Gift of Grace has been for me. It was the swimming pool in which I began to test the waters of faith. Early on, it was a safe place to splash about in the shallow end, but I quickly found myself swimming in the deep end. The community helped me explore, and Jami was a lifeguard who helped me navigate the deeper waters, and who showed me how to swim when I was being sucked under. Even now, when I have not lived in Seattle for 9 years, Jami is still my pastor, the one I call when I need pastoral care, advice, or encouragement. And Gift of Grace is still my church, the place I learned what it is to be the Body of Christ in good times and bad.
Rev. Brian Julin McCleary:
Gift of Grace played an incredibly important role in my discerning a call to ministry. The community of God’s people gathered at 40th and Meridian allowed me to be a part of a place that allowed for confusion and mistakes, and treasured exploration that inevitably demands error and course correction. Gift of Grace was for me a gathering of Christians who were delightfully and painfully honest in a way that was very liberating. Rather than being a people that pretended order and neatness, we were a group of folks that treasured the messiness of life because in knowing that reality as fully as possible we were expectantly prepared to receive the re-ordering and life-giving love of God poured out in Jesus Christ. Quite practically speaking, GOG allowed me the space to play with preaching (a task so daunting in my childhood imagination that I’d come to assume there was no way I could be part of such a vocation) and church leadership that opened up a long-simmering suspicion about professional church work.
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.
Rev. Valerie Carlson:
Gift of Grace helped me discern a call to ministry, sent me to seminary, and supported me monetarily, emotionally, and prayerfully there. But before that, you did something much more important to me, you lived out your mission statement: to invest your whole selves in lifting up Christ for your neighbor, inviting them more deeply into the life of God.
When I came to you my investment in the life of God (including Christ and my neighbor) was low. And it remained low for a number of years as I participated peripherally at GoG, but YOUR investment was high and eventually God revealed Godself to me through your steadfastness in the beauty and horror of life together. I found myself grasped by God and pulled more deeply into the life of God.
And, God’s grip has never weakened. Nor has your witness of it in my life. Even now, as I serve as a pastor in San Luis Obispo, CA, 1019 miles away, you continue to lift Christ up for me through my relationship with Pastor Jami (my daddy), who mentors me, does theology with me, and prays with and for me.
Thank you for recognizing me as your neighbor and lifting up Christ for me. Your faithful witness to God’s faithfulness has made and is making a difference in my life.