As the offspring of Spirit of the Lakes UCC and Minnehaha UCC, Living Table UCC carries with it the legacies of inclusivity and progressive witness that characterized Spirit and Minnehaha. As a church in covenant with the United Church of Christ (UCC), Living Table is a part of their history as well. The UCC as a denomination traces their roots back four hundred years in the U.S., and officially formed in the present day iteration in 1957. You can learn more about the history of our denomination on the UCC website.
About the History of Minnehaha UCC
Minnehaha Congregational Church was founded by a small group of local protestants in 1904 in a small building about a mile north of Minnehaha Falls in South Minneapolis. In 1905 the church had 16 members. Membership figures from historical documents show that the church grew to 95 members by 1925 and a new larger building was erected in 1929 at 4001 38th Avenue South (now 3805 East 40th Street).
The church continued to grow through World War II and in 1955 had a burgeoning membership of 325. Reverend Wolstad, who served as pastor during this time, saw the church through a significant period of growth and change and led the charge to build and expand again to add a new sanctuary and social hall with room for the 100 children who attended Sunday School each week.
The work of Minnehaha UCC continued through the next 5 decades with the operation of a food shelf, sponsorship of refugees, various ministries of service and compassion, as well as a clear focus on the need to follow the example of Christ in the world. However, the demographics of the community changed, congregants aged, church school numbers dwindled and, by 2008, the church leaders began to think about how the church might gain strength and value in the community by merging with another UCC congregation.
At this time Minnehaha was served by an interim pastor, Rev. Tony Clark, and Tony and several church leaders began having conversations with the pastor James Pennington and members of Spirit of the Lakes UCC, a primarily LGBTQ+ congregation, about those ideas.
About the History of Spirit of the Lakes UCC
Spirit of the Lakes began as an ecumenical, non-denominational congregation in 1988, after a group of twelve pioneering individuals broke with All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Minneapolis. That small group met as a “house church” for several months, then discerned that the time was right to try out the first public worship service.
Dozens of people, predominantly LGB-identified, crammed into the “Upper Room” at the Aliveness Project on East 38th Street. They gathered to be with each other as queer people and straight allies, to hear The Word read and preached, to break the Bread and share the Cup, and to have social time afterward. As the numbers increased, two pastors were eventually called to serve the community.
After about a year of meeting together, conversations began with the most logical denominational match: the Minnesota Conference of the UCC. In spite of a small number of opponents, in 1992 Spirit of the Lakes became the first LGBTQ+ congregation to join, rather than leave, a mainline denomination, thus making history right here in Minneapolis. During the years of rapid growth, the congregation acquired its own building, a former warehouse at 13th and Lake streets in Minneapolis.
How Minnehaha and Spirit of the Lakes Came Together
The years and many changes brought a reduction in members for both Minnehaha and Spirit. This inspired the leadership of both churches to begin exploring how we might partner together and share a building as well. The discussions led to what was creatively called a “blerger” (blending our communities with an eye toward merger). During this time we first lived together in Minnehaha’s building, and experienced what it would be like to worship and sing together, and to learn from one another. By 2012, a formal plan of merger was prepared, the members agreed to be governed by a consensus model of church governance and Living Table UCC was selected as the name of our newly merged church through a consensus process that involved the entire community.
Hello, Living Table UCC
Living Table remained at the former Minnehaha UCC location until it became clear that, even with a merger and expanded membership, the demographics of our community would make it impossible to maintain a full-time pastor, a minister of music and administrative staff unless the church could reduce costs, particularly ongoing and rising building costs. Therefore, in 2017, led by Pastor Rachael Keefe, church leaders began conversations with Lake Nokomis Lutheran and another local church to consider moving to a common space in order to focus more effort on ministry and to collaborative social justice work and less on building maintenance and management.
Ultimately, Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community came in as the third partner and after nearly 5 years of discussion and planning and the sale of the Living Table building, Lake Nokomis agreed to remodel their building and pass ownership of the property to a newly formed 501(c)25 corporation that would be wholly owned and managed by the three congregations of Living Table United Church of Christ, Lake Nokomis Lutheran Church, and Spirit of Saint Stephen’s Catholic Community.
Hello, New Branches
Living Table and St. Stephen’s agreed to provide 1.1 million in funding towards the remodel. The three communities moved in together during the first half of 2021, named themselves New Branches, and began learning anew what it is like to become church in another place with an expanded group of friends and partners from other faith communities, all in pursuit of new pathways of cooperation and service to Christ. The adventure in faith continues.
The above historical account is as best remembered and written by Greg Owen and Douglas Federhart, December 14, 2022.
This page is begging for a few well-chosen historic images. If you have them, please share them through the pastor. Note that we cannot use photos that show people’s likeness without their permission, but if you are the people in the photos, and would like to give that permission, please send those along.
Below are some other articles of Living Table’s history
- Read Church of Christ (sic) Accepts Gay Congregation from The Washington Post (1989)
- Read A Church Where Everyone is Invited to the Table from the Longfellow-Nokomis Messenger (2017)
- Read Living Table UCC Finds Creative Solution to Sustainability from the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ (2021)
- Read Ecumenism at Work: Three Churches Create Worship Space from the Minnesota Council of Churches (2022)
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