Photo: Andrew Robin Gladstone
Closing a congregation can be a difficult, emotional process. Just ask the former members of Gold Gate Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in San Francisco that closed in 2006.
But in the midst of their pain, members made a decision to be creative about their legacy to the city and church they loved. They chose to generously help other congregations in San Francisco and in the wider ELCA by thoughtfully distributing the congregation’s assets.
Members presented $20,000 in gifts to nine ELCA congregations in San Francisco.
They also gave $12,000 to Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif., and $12,000 to Lutheran Social Services of Northern California.
Members gave $1.7 million to the ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod based in Oakland, Calif.
“We’re San Franciscans,” says Harry Velleno, a former member. “Our church has been a part of this city for so long. It just seemed appropriate to return a portion of what we had to the other Lutheran churches and ministries.”
Larry and his wife, Dianne, belonged to Golden Gate for 40 years. Now they’ve joined St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Harry and Dianne, along with Midge Franusich, oversaw the distribution of Golden Gate’s assets.
In 1989 Golden Gate’s sanctuary was damaged by an earthquake. Faced with dwindling membership and the reality of a building it could not afford to repair, the congregation decided to close in 2006 after 125 years of ministry.
The church building was eventually condemned by the city. The property was sold to a developer.
“It became apparent that the congregation was not going to be able to stay together,” says Dianne. “We looked at all of our options and got a pro bono lawyer who was fantastic. Without her, the building may have defaulted to the city. She managed to help us through it.”
Dianne says the congregation gave its kitchenware and furnishings to local soup kitchens and charities, sold the pews and pianos. It sold the pipe organ to a congregation in Washington.
Mark W. Holmerud, bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod, says the synod council made two decisions about its $1.7 million gift from Golden Gate.
A portion was used to offset some of the synod office’s transition expenses to three new locations in the synod, and it gave $170,000 to the ELCA churchwide organization. The remainder will be placed in the ELCA Mission Investment Fund until the synod council decides how to use the gift.
Holmerud says the former members of Golden Gate Lutheran Church are caring and committed people. Their decision on sharing assets “reflects the intentionality of the church’s ministry throughout its life.”
Members of the former Golden Gate presented its gifts at a meeting this fall to representatives of each recipient ministry.
“We’re Lutherans at heart, and we wanted to keep the assets in the Lutheran church,” says Dianne. “We’ve managed to keep the church open for 17 years after the earthquake. We’re proud of that. Now it’s time to move on.”