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Church's new building includes technology

St. Luke Lutheran's staff team includes Jim Johnson, Nikki Cerenzia, Jaque Larson and Taran Denning. Photo courtesy of St. Luke Lutheran


Building a new sanctuary while doing church virtually during the pandemic, St. Luke Lutheran in Spokane incorporated the technical capability to "do church" both in-person and virtually. They did that not only in the sanctuary but also in rooms throughout the building for committee meetings, Bible studies and small groups.

Now, in addition to drawing 350 to 400 in person to three Sunday services, the same number join their live stream on Facebook. Before the pandemic, 500 worshiped at the three services—8 and 9:30 a.m. for the traditional, Lutheran liturgical worship and 11 a.m. for a contemporary, less formal worship with a praise band.

In August 2021, the building for the new sanctuary was completed, along with remodeling the old building and enlarging the parking lot.

Those who were ready to be back in person came there, and those who wished to continue to worship online have continued to do that, "attending" the 9:30 a.m. service livestreamed on Facebook at any time.

Jim Johnson, lead pastor for 21 years, believes it's important for worship to be convenient and safe.

The online congregation includes those not comfortable in crowds, as well as those around the country and world—in Houston, Boston, North Dakota, Montana, England and Saudi Arabia.

Six of 20 in an evening men's gathering join online from Colville, Newport and Moses Lake. One young woman joins a Bible study from Houston.

"Our congregation is more than people who live in the church's neighborhood," he said.

Jim said his passion is to preach the gospel both "to share the good news of God's grace, forgiveness, love and salvation through Jesus Christ and to invite people to compassion to serve their neighbors in need."

Jim grew up in Spokane, the son of Wally Johnson, who was pastor of Calvary Lutheran in North Spokane until he retired in 1987.

After Jim graduated from Pacific Lutheran University in Seattle with a degree in secondary education, thinking he would teach social studies and coach basketball, he took a year off to explore questions "that led to 100 more questions," and to his decision to go to Luther Seminary at St. Paul Minn., where he met his wife, Lori.

Before coming to St. Luke in 2001, he was associate pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran in Sedro Woolley from 1993 to 1996, and pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran near Lake Stevens from 1995 to 2000. When they came, he and Lori had three young sons, and were soon joined by a baby girl.

In 2000, St. Luke had 250 worshiping on a Sunday. Although it was experiencing a time of struggle, Jim saw that it had strong lay leadership.

The congregation's average age is now 42, with as many over 60 as under 20, he said. The church includes students, faculty and staff from Whitworth and Gonzaga universities.

Along with being diverse in age and economic status, it is diverse in political ideology but not to the point of polarization, he said.

"We are willing to live together with our differences. We do not have to agree on social issues, but we are united by our call as Christians to live our faith in different ways. We recognize we are all sinners and here by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. No one is entitled to or deserves God's love, but we are all loved and called by God," Jim said.

Over his 21 years, he said new members said they were drawn because the church is welcoming. They were also drawn by its music, preaching, youth programs, and community and world ministries.

Jim said as members are involved with outreach ministries, they find fulfillment in their call to help people.

"We keep the congregation aware of opportunities," said Jim, "and aware of their calling as Christians to reach out and be the voice for the voiceless, to advocate for the outcast and those in need, all based on forgiveness of sin, and God's grace and love. God brings the powerful down from their thrones and lifts up the lowly."

St. Luke encourages members to be involved in community outreach at Crosswalk homeless teens program, the Family Promise shelter, Habitat for Humanity home building, the Mead Food Bank, All Saints Lutheran's Meal Program in Browne's Addition, Lutheran World Relief quilt donations, Bite2Go and Holiday Packs at Brentwood Elementary, Easter baskets at Mead Elementary schools, a neighborhood after-school program twice a week, Lutherhaven camp ministries and support of global ministers.

Three ministers are among the seven other staff.

Nikki Cerenzia, congregational care coordinator for six years, is responsible for the "people ministries," which include the social outreach listed above, as well as visitation, new members, small groups, senior meals, adult education and holiday meals "to bring people closer to God and one another," she said.

Nikki, who was previously a TV news director, began attending church in 2008 with her husband.

Jacque Larson, youth coordinator, is in charge of middle school and high school youth groups, young adult gatherings and youth mission trips.

Until COVID, the church took 15 to 35 youth to the Dominican Republic every other summer. Youth helped build basic houses and latrines, played with children and improved dirt roads in Dominican Republic.

"Most have never visited another country or seen extreme poverty, so the trip was life changing, leading some to enter law or social services," said Jacque.

Alternate summers, they did outreach projects in the Pacific Northwest.

Jacque grew up in the Sedro Woolley church Jim served and came to Spokane to study at Gonzaga University from 2014 to 2018.

She joined the staff in July 2019. There were no summer mission trips in 2020 or 2021.

Taran Denning, her predecessor in youth ministry, was ordained last year as associate minister.

He took groups three summers to the Dominican Republic, alternating with mission service on the Yakama Indian Reservation and at Lutherhaven's servant leader camp.

Taran, who had been active in a Helena, Mont., Lutheran church youth group, came to Spokane to study biology at Gonzaga University, planning to be a dentist. After graduating in 2011, he began serving as youth coordinator at St Luke. That stirred his call to ministry. He studied in Luther Seminary's online program with one-third of the time on campus.

For his intern year, he served a church in Vancouver, Wash. In 2020, after graduating, he was called to St. Luke.

Taran now shares ministry with Jim, preaching, and doing baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals and crisis visitations.

The worship coordinator just retired, and the church is hiring a new one. That person is responsible for music.

"Music is central," said Jim. "We provide a variety of music and musicians, including Whitworth students, a church choir, a percussionist and a violinist."

Jim summed up with comments on COVID and protocols. In the new, big sanctuary, people—who are required to wear masks—can spread out. There is no passing of the peace or offering plates. For communion, worshipers pick up individual cups with bread.

"We long for the day when more will come in person, when people can sing without masks and fill the room with boisterous music," he said. "We long for a lot, but we are grateful to be able to celebrate word and sacrament after a long time of isolation.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January, 2022