"What do you do?" It's taken me about nine months to come up with a short answer for that question. Nowadays, I usually answer as simply as possible: "I'm a pastor starting a new congregation in Uptown." For people familiar with the Twin Cities, the one word "Uptown" says a lot.
People here know Uptown as a neighborhood strewn with coffeehouses, ethnic restaurants, small art theaters, natural health stores, and eclectic gift shops. It is home to an upscale day spa as well as tattoo parlors. For at least 30 years, Uptown has been the area where young people settle when they first arrive in the Twin Cities.
There are more than 20,000 young adults in and around Uptown, and the vast majority of them do not have a faith community. Spirit Garage, the congregation I am developing, is a church with an alternative flavor intended to reach this population, but you won't find the term "Gen X" in any of our material. Although most "attenders" are under 40, it is attitude, not age, that defines us.
We call ourselves "The Church With the Really Big Door." We have found that many Spirit Garage people feel extremely uncomfortable in traditional churches, which tend to focus on the needs of middle-class homeowners with children. When you don't have children, a spouse, a permanent job, a house, or even a car, it's easy to feel a bit out of place in such churches.
There are remarkably few models of how one can build a church community with a younger population. It takes a lot of energy to keep up with people in constant transition, and it's no wonder most churches don't try. But thanks to the generous support of a visionary traditional congregation, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Spirit Garage is meeting every Sunday in worship, studying the faith in small groups during the week, and regularly working with local agencies in service to the community. Our worship space, a small comedy theater, is bordered by a Vietnamese restaurant, an antique shop, "St. Sabrina's in Purgatory" (a clothing store), and Condom Kingdom. When you walk through the doors on a Sunday morning, you find good coffee, music that ranges from rock to classic jazz to acoustic folk, lots of single people, and a decidedly informal atmosphere.
The typical Spirit Garage attender would be annoyed by the notion that there is a typical Spirit Garage person. We dislike sweeping generalizations about our generation, but there are several things I hear again and again at Spirit Garage.
"Denominations don't matter much to me."
In fact, some SG folk would never have come if we had called ourselves "Lutheran." We're tired of the church's habit of splitting theological hairs, and ready to learn from, not compete with, communities that share a vision of a church that proclaims "good news" to our generation. This Lent we cooperated with two other churches—one United Methodist and another American Baptist—in celebration of the season through art, music, and drama.
"If you want me here, accept me for who I am."
Then we'll talk about transformation. It's not that this generation is uninterested in personal change. We're just as caught up in the latest natural health trend or James Redfield book as our baby boomer counterparts. But when it comes to building community, these city dwellers recognize that the challenges of diversity are worth the effort, and that if someone is left out on the basis of color, class, or sexual orientation, the whole community loses.
"Don't just tell me what to think, give me something to do."
In direct contrast to the stereotype of self-centered, angst-ridden slackers, the people of SG want more than philosophizing. SG people understand, almost instinctively, that they can meet God in serving their neighbors, even if they aren't so sure yet about this Jesus character who told them to do so. And they want to find places to serve their neighbors in hands-on, practical ways.
At Spirit Garage, the closest thing we have to a credo are the closing lines of the Prayer of St. Francis, which we regularly use in worship. With one voice—and God-willing, with our actions—we affirm that "it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."
Pam Fickenscher was pastor of Spirit Garage in Minneapolis when this article appeared.