Your congregation is without a permanent place to worship. You’ve got enough money to buy a church somewhere. Why in the world would you purchase an old sorority house instead? Isn’t having a church building more important than setting up a campus ministry house?
Many have likely asked such questions about ULC’s decision to purchase Luther House on the U of M campus. Heck, our own congregation asked these questions before we bought it. And it was not the easiest decision in the world to make. But what it came down to was University Lutheran Chapel’s commitment to campus ministry, and specifically to campus ministry at the University of Minnesota.
Oh, we looked at other churches that were for sale. We considered moving off campus. And the purchase of any of the existing church buildings for sale would require (and still would require) a move quite a ways off campus. We thought about trying to establish ourselves closer to another campus, like St. Thomas or Macalester in St. Paul. We considered trying to purchase a warehouse or storefront along the light rail line being constructed between Minneapolis and St. Paul and setting up church that way in hopes that students from the U of M would come to us. We even thought about abandoning campus ministry altogether and just repackaging ourselves as the go-to congregation for liturgical Lutherans in the Twin Cities.
But we kept coming back to our roots – to the reason that our particular congregation exists, that is, to what makes it unique among the many fine congregations in the Twin Cities metro area. At it’s root our congregation is a campus ministry congregation; a congregation that not only grew out of campus ministry, but that also cares passionately about campus ministry now and the spiritual welfare of students today. A campus church is who we are, and who we want to be. How could we abandon our place at the University of Minnesota? How could we abandon our vocation here? How could we leave our students, and the students to come, to fend for themselves? How could we not be here to deliver Christ and His Gospel, His Word and His Sacraments to them?
And so, after much discussion and not a little debate, the congregation of ULC wholeheartedly decided to purchase that old sorority house and establish Luther House as our home base at the University of Minnesota. And we did so with clear intent to not just establish a campus house, but to build a church here too.
Some may say we put the cart before the horse – especially because we value the Divine Service so deeply and see it as the core around which everything else we do revolves. And it would have been a lot (a whole lot!) easier to have just purchased an old church some 2-5 miles off campus and then figure out the campus ministry part later… maybe… someday… But in the end we knew that we couldn’t do that. It would be a betrayal of who we are, and of the position God has put us in within and for His Church.
So here we are. Luther House is in its second full semester of operation. And it has become a hub of activity for our students and for many of our members. Many days the place is buzzing with people from morning through night. Other days it is a place of retreat and quiet study. Our students have really made the house their home (some of them literally so, as we have several young men in residence now), and are organizing their own activities there with friends and classmates along side of the “official” activities of ULC. And our Bible studies and midweek worship services have seen a big bump in attendance, yes, even over that which we had at the old chapel. Luther House has become a place of refuge and recreation, of community and friendship, of study and of prayer; a place where the Word of Christ is proclaimed and taught, and is at work in all who hear it.
Luther House is just the first step though. Though Luther House has become many good things, it is not a place fit for the Sunday service. There is no altar. There is no font. And it is just too small for the attendance we normally have. As I’ve said all along, our students and our congregation need a chapel on campus. We are working hard to make that a reality, right next door to Luther House. Yes, the members of ULC have chosen the harder path. But they can’t make it to the end of that path without your help and the help of the broader Church. Please support the Build-It-Back effort and make the dream a new chapel at the U of M a reality.