On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to sit down and visit with Pastor Mark Larson, the senior pastor at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, Georgia.
Redeemer is a historic downtown church in the Midtown area of Atlanta, which is just outside of downtown. Redeemer is a traditional, historic congregation that has a long history of being an active part of Atlanta’s civic life. Redeemer is the largest congregation in the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA.
Over the last few years, Redeemer has done a lot of work with food ministry for those who are in need. In addition, Redeemer is connected by a walking bridge to “Lutheran Towers,” which has over 270 apartments for seniors, many of whom are also in need. Lutheran Towers is run by its own 501(c)3 non-profit board. But at the same time, those seniors are an active part of the life of the congregation, and Redeemer provides pastoral care, on-site events and Bible studies for those who live there.
Like Trinity, Redeemer seems like a community that really respects its rich history, but also is willing to step into the future and isn’t afraid to change to meet the changing needs in the community around it. They see this as a part of their mission.
Redeemer has also been active with issues around housing in the community. On the day I visited with Pastor Mark, he had been at a meeting of faith leaders in the community, meeting with the mayor of Atlanta. The Mayor is interested in building partnerships with faith communities in the city to help with development of housing in the area. Redeemer owns a small parking lot and grassy lot that could potentially be developed into some form of lower income or subsidized housing, in addition to providing income for the church. Whatever decisions are made, the church is committed to focusing on its mission.
Pastor Mark gave me a tour. The building is beautiful. What once was a courtyard has been enclosed to create a fellowship space that is bright and spacious. Outside of his space is a small, outdoor garden area that contains a columbarium as well. Pastor Mark says that it is deeply appreciated by the congregation.
Redeemer has a strong commitment to connecting with and serving the neighborhood. I think this commitment reflects Trinity’s commitment to our community as well. (Remember #ForOwatonna?)
We also spent time talking about the way that the divisive nature of the world we’re living in right now has affected the lives of our congregations. As the world has become more polarized, both congregations have lost some folks who feel like we are not longer good “fits” for them. Likewise, we have both gained some. We talked about the relational cost (and sometimes the pain) of these shifts, and how our congregations navigate them.
It was a good conversation. And I discovered from Redeemer’s experiences some ways that congregations can better engage with the community and the city leadership.