All are welcome. That’s been their goal from the start.
And anyone looking for friendship, peace, spirituality, fellowship and a great place to worship is welcome at River of Hope — an ELCA congregation under development in Hutchinson, Minn., where members are not the least bit hesitant to extend a welcoming handshake.
Although their goal is clear, members of River of Hope are still trying to establish their purpose, especially as they work toward becoming an official ELCA congregation.
“We believe God has a mission in the world and that River of Hope has a purpose in God’s mission. What we’re trying to discern is what that particular purpose is,” says Laura Aase, the pastor and mission developer for River of Hope.
And as they determine what it means to be God’s people in their particular place and time, they’re being supported. Recognizing that the “new wine” of this community requires new wineskins (Matthew 9:17), ELCA churchwide ministries, the ELCA Southwestern Minnesota Synod and the ELCA Mission Investment Fund are supporting River of Hope with grants and consultation.
“We’re setting goals for growth in worship attendance, stewardship and Mission Support,” says Mary Frances, a pastor who works with new ELCA congregations. Mary has been involved with River of Hope, placing some markers to help the community move toward their goal of becoming an organized congregation.
On May 27, 2012, River of Hope took its first official steps with “Charter Sunday.” About 125 members (45 families) of the worshiping community signed a charter, designed to cement their commitment.
“We trust each other, and we’re taking huge leaps, trying new things and asking questions about our faith in new ways,” says Laura, who’s honored to be “among people who are rediscovering their faith. It’s been really fun for me.” She came to River of Hope in January 2011.
Larry Strenge, director for evangelical mission at the Southwestern Minnesota Synod, says members of River of Hope are also “discovering that God is with them at every corner. They are deepening their trust in God in both the joyful and hard times.”
Larry says the charter itself is visually impressive. With the help of an artist, the “blue river” that runs vertically across the charter is made up of Bible verses — pages taken from an old Bible and cut into pieces reflecting individual biblical verses. “It is literally a picture of a river of hope,” he says.
Also featured on the charter are the thumbprints and signatures of all the members who were present to sign the charter.
It’s “something special,” according to Bishop Jon Anderson of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod.
River of Hope became a synodically authorized worship community in 2010. Initially the community was made up of ELCA members who wanted to remain in this church, when their congregation took formal steps to disaffiliate with the ELCA.
Although the charter will be opened three more times during worship for signatures, members of River of Hope are striving to become an official ELCA congregation in June 2013.
“God’s spirit is up to something at this place that started as a little hope,” says Bishop Anderson, “and has grown into a big River of Hope.”