St. John’s Lutheran Church is a welcoming community in Christ whose mission is to celebrate in Word and Sacrament God’s gracious actions for all creation, cultivate growth in faith, encourage service and witness, and proclaim Christ as the hope of the world. St. John’s has a long and unique history with music and the arts. Our congregation has been gifted by musical leadership from world-renowned organists and conductors like F. Melius Christiansen, G. Winston Cassler, and Carolyn Jennings. This congregation also boasts a large number of published composers, including Kenneth Jennings, Robert Scholz, and John Ferguson who worship with us each week. We hold our connection with St. Olaf College closely and look forward to the first Sunday in January each year when the St. Olaf Choir (which began as the St. John’s Lutheran Choir) sings for worship. Because of this tradition, we have the challenge of loving our past while still creating a music program that lives in the present. St. John’s is located in Northfield Minnesota, a town of 20,000 on the southern edge of the Twin Cities Metro area. Its largest employers are Malt-O-Meal, St. Olaf College, and Carleton College. While it has long had its own identity as the place of “Cows, Colleges and Contentment,” Northfield is increasingly a bedroom community for commuters as well as a place college employees commute to and from the Metro.
Project: Cross-Shaped Generations
St. John’s is a congregation that on paper is fully multi-generational: we have paid staff whose mission it is to tend to young children, to youth, and to the aging and homebound; our choirs span kindergarten through seniors. The presence of two colleges in town means that we regularly see twentysomethings as well, even though both campuses have robust ministries of their own. In practice however, the generations reflect larger trends in the culture: younger generations worship less regularly even though they might be engaged in service and learning programs; new St. Olaf professors are no longer necessarily Lutheran or even Christian; retirees are committed but also pulled in many directions by grandchildren, vacation homes, and travel; efforts to meet the particular needs of one demographic segment are often followed by “me too!” cries for specific ministries.
To its credit, St. John’s has never put worship in competition with learning, nor has it separated out its worship services by style – but changing patterns of attendance make it difficult to build relationship across generations. In 2013 a new Senior Pastor and Minister of Music have begun wondering together about how our worship life can be seen as the place where new relationships are formed and where common commitments to ministry and mission are discerned. We are asking once again, “what does it mean to be church, when the options for relationship, music, learning and community service abound outside the church too?” An example: for thirty years a high school choir ministry at St. John’s was a distinctive ministry in Northfield and a centerpiece of our youth ministry. Now, however, even musically inclined youth are overcommitted in activities, including fine community choirs and orchestras, and the “critical mass” has been lost. There are still plentiful opportunities for high school students to participate in worship life and music, but they must take on a new shape, perhaps more in cooperation with younger and older generations. How can these efforts be lifted up and encouraged, rather than viewed simply as a loss of what was?
Our project will reshape this sense of “ministry to every generation as a segment” in the hopes of being “church together with no generation forgotten.” Perhaps we will name some losses, but trust in that cross-shaped ministry will bring new life as well.
500 Third Street West
Rev. Pamela Fickenscher, Senior Pastor
Rev. Jonathan Davis, Associate Pastor
Nathan Proctor, Organist/Director of Worship
Christy Hall Holt, Shared Ministry Coordinator