Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Church profile: First Lutheran Church of the Trinity

So, the benefit of being unemployed is that, in an effort to expand my network, I get to meet with all sorts of interesting people. I decided that while I was doing this, I would work on behalf of up/rooted and find some leaders of spiritual communities that might not self-identify as "emergent" but who are walking down the same types of paths toward God. If you know any of these folks, please send their contact info my way and I'll try to have a little coffee and write up a profile for you, the readers of this blog.

Yesterday, I had lunch with Tom Gaulke, the pastor at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity. Tom is probably around my age (late 20s, early 30s) and speaks with that slightly twitchy passion that I have come to associate with folks who have seriously bought into Jesus's commandment to give up their wealth and serve the poor. It's like the personality equivalent of the giant pores on a nun's face: who needs uber-refined social skills when there's work to do? I find that my life is much better when I interact regularly with folks like this. It's like they have gotten to a point where their self-confidence in being a loved child of God lets them be more vulnerably themselves with other people rather than spending all of their energy on controlling their image. He smiles a lot above his clerical short-sleeve maroon button-down shirt and ducks his head boyishly when he realizes he has talked for awhile on one subject.

One of the topics that he is was clearly quite passionate about was the Monday afternoon study group. He told me that an extremely diverse group of about 8 people gather every week to study primary source theology. You know, Augustan and the like. They meet at noon since a lot of folks work afternoon or night shifts so evenings are not available to them. His twitchiness got super-intense as he talked about his excitement that these folks - most of whom don't have formal educations - are doing graduate-level study about how people throughout history have thought about God. I knew that I could recommend this community when he said, "There is this elitism in seminary that I hate. It's like people believe that they have learned the right way to follow God and then they become pastors to teach others how to do it that way." This girl is a sucker for flat social networks.

The church is located in Bridgeport, which has a local history of being an Irish Catholic enclave and does, in fact, house the Daleys. However, Bridgeport is also in the top five neighborhoods in the city for diversity and so the rest of the population that isn't wealthy, white and Catholic end up needing churches like First Trinity. Tom ended up there as a supply preacher while he was studying for his MDiv and made a connection with the congregation which led him to stay on after graduation even though the congregation had been without a pastor for 12 years. He is currently bi-vocational and works a second job to afford to lead this community. I don't necessarily agree that all pastors should live in penury and we had a lively discussion about it but I have to say he was somewhat persuasive when he pointed out that if he made what others starting pastors make, he's earning three times what his parishioners earn and that's a major justice issue. I'm not in his camp on this one yet, but that particular bit of truth got me one step closer.

The church runs a clothing pantry and has an intentional community of about 15 people living in the building itself. The Sunday services are traditional liturgy with hymns and gospel music but the people Tom described were a variety of spiritual identities and cultural backgrounds. He pointed out that the mess of human need and diversity in this community is similar to the mess of the stable in Bethlehem and it is only in that mess that God can be born.

Powerful stuff.

You can get more information about First Trinity at their Facebook website here. If you have trouble accessing their site, email us and we'll get you connected. You can also take a look at Tom's blog here to get a sense for the types of sermons he preaches.


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