Diocese ‘repurposes’ Holy Trinity Church
|Kris Christensen is often at the rectory, which is now St. Lawrence House.|
The Episcopal Diocese of Spokane “repurposed” the chapel, fellowship hall and rectory of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in West Central Spokane in 2013 to be the West Central Episcopal Mission (WCEM).
The mission’s purpose is to repair the neighborhood’s class, cultural and relational ruptures by addressing stressors that feed urban poverty,” said the Rev. Kris Christensen, director.
“Isaiah calls us to be ‘repairers of the breach,’ so we seek to repair community ruptures, while emphasizing the importance of all community members’ participation in healing divisions,” she said.
The stressors include the lack of income, deteriorating infrastructure, inadequate transportation, substandard and scarce housing, substance abuse, unemployment, isolation, mental illness and trauma, Kris added.
The mission also addresses historical barriers to community in West Central Spokane through practical, relational, spiritual support for people struggling with hunger, poverty, hopelessness and homelessness.
The mission incorporates relational contexts for healing through chapel services and the new Arts Center.
The fellowship hall building is the site for the Breakfast Table, which serves about 60 people at 8:30 a.m., Saturdays, and the Dinner Table, which serves about 100 at 6 p.m., Wednesdays.
These meals “model the communion of Christ,” Kris said.
The former rectory, St. Lawrence House, is open from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to people in the West Central community for service referral, pastoral guidance, a home-like environment with heat and air conditioning, healthy snacks and social gatherings. In addition to being a safe place to come, it also provides a free laundry, library and showers.
The West Central Episcopal Mission is a specialized mission of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane.
In 2013, the diocese and the West Central community decided the Holy Trinity chapel and property should be dedicated to serve others through “a direct hands-on model in keeping with Jesus’ message,” said Kris, “rather than providing a more traditional model of worship.”
The Diocese of Spokane provided 20 percent of the budget in 2015. This support will decrease over the next four years, making support from individuals, congregations and organizations more crucial, she said.
Kris came to Holy Trinity in 2007, three months after she began attending the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
After 20 years away from organized religion, she found the Episcopal Church was where she belonged.
When she walked into Holy Trinity Chapel, she knew it was where she was called to serve. She was ordained a deacon in 2011 and a priest in 2013.
“Many of our volunteers have been or are currently homeless. They find meaning in serving others,” she said.
“We trust God enough that we do not try to fix people. We seek to be present and in relationship with people, loving them as children of God,” Kris said.
“Seeing people as ‘projects’ or ‘clients’ sets up a power differential that is not in keeping with the ethos of many religions,” she pointed out.
“Many in the community, including our homeless members, are seekers and resonate with Jesus as an itinerant preacher who had no place to lay his head,” Kris explained.
“We try, like Jesus, to meet people where they are without judgment,” she said.
Instead of going to seminary, she chose local formation through online classes, local courses and periods of intensive study. She already had earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1988 and a master’s in creative writing in 1999 from Eastern Washington University.
As director and priest in charge at the mission, she uses skills gained from being in partnership with her husband, as a small business owner, from teaching college English and from working with the March of Dimes. Her work blends entrepreneurship, coaching and pastoral care.
“West Central Spokane is a unique environment,” said Holly Garrabrant, West Central resident, member of Holy Trinity since 1981 and the West Central Christian Mission assistant director.
“The historic neighborhood, including the Nettleton Addition, includes a broad range of classes, races and cultures,” she said.
“Many families, including my own, have neighborhood roots that go back three to five generations,” she said. “In the 1920s, it was a working class neighborhood. After World War II, it began an economic decline from which it has not recovered.
“West Central’s many generations embrace and treasure the neighborhood’s diversity and cohesiveness across socioeconomic boundaries so they have stayed and welcome new neighbors,” said Holly, who has an interdisciplinary studies degree in art history and religious studies, psychology and fine art.
Volunteers include some low-income West Central residents, as well as people from outside the neighborhood.
Kris said there are at least 30 homeless camps in West Central Spokane because of the displacement of people as the City of Spokane seeks to beautify the downtown corridor.
The city’s annual homeless count may have missed many of the people in these camps, “because few know their locations and fewer realize that the homeless population has not decreased as economic pressures throughout the U.S. have increased,” she said.
The everyday challenges of West Central require specialized knowledge of the community, Kris said.
“The mission’s goal is not to deny the struggles but to lift others into a place where they can discover their own light,” Kris said.
“My goal is to keep people alive, so that I don’t have to preside at funerals for members of our community from preventable deaths,” she said.
“The first step is to provide people with a place for authentic family-by-choice connections that replace less healthy connections and offer them hope,” she said.
The West Central Episcopal Mission partners with Project Hope, which teaches leadership development, agricultural skills and entrepreneurship to at-risk youth. Six months a year, youth use the mission property for outdoor activities, skills development and meal services.
Holly is amazed by changes in youth after one year with Project Hope.
“Children who were in trouble last year for vandalism or petty theft now volunteer at Dinner Table and assist elderly neighbors. Five are now on their schools’ honor roll,” she said.
The ecumenical partners support the West Central Episcopal Mission community and its work.
They include Salem and All Saints Lutheran; St. John’s Cathedral, St. David’s and St Stephen’s Episcopal, and St. Joseph’s Catholic and West Central Life churches in Spokane; All Saints’ Episcopal in Richland, Holy Trinity Episcopal in Grangeville and Grace Episcopal in Dayton. Their support is both through financial donations and through volunteer teams.
Other key partners and supporters are Bishop James Waggoner, Jr., his wife, Gloria, and Steve Dodds, director of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane Foundation.
Another key partnership is collaboration with All Saints Lutheran and the Spokane Community Mental Health Chaplaincy, which matches trained companions with individuals diagnosed with mental illness. Richard Sola, who works with the Rev. Alan Eschenbacher of All Saints, is chair of West Central Episcopal Ministry’s Executive Advisory Committee.
“Through the Mental Health Chaplaincy, we offer relational support, because poverty and mental illness intersect. People need mercy, a sense of belonging and meaning,” said Kris.
Along with considering traditional measures of success like employment or housing, West Central Episcopal Mission considers “a lateral exchange of equal and just relationships across socio-economic classes” an important measure of success.
That’s critical to its goals of strengthening community and providing tangible hope, she explained.
The West Central Episcopal Mission will offer training for people interested in volunteering from 6 to 8 p.m., Mondays, March 14 to April 18.
For information, call 326-6471, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit westcentralmission.org.
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