A question was asked at our Town Hall that I thought worthy of an extended answer. The question raised as we mentioned the possibility of at some point buying the building we are currently renting was (this is a paraphrase), “Given the relative affluence of the Laurelhurst neighborhood, is this really where we want to plant ourselves?” I think it’s a good question, particularly as it embodies one of our core values, that of Justice.
To really understand where we’re at, we need to understand where we’ve been. Evergreen started in SW portland in Multnomah Village, at the Lucky Lab Pub. We were about 16 or so people, none of whom lived in that neighborhood. As we grew, we began to see not only some folks come from the surrounding neighborhood, but also some Evergreen people move into the Village. When we outgrew that space, we had been in talks with a dying Nazerene Church in Sellwood about the possibility of sharing their space. Through conversation and prayer with the community we made the decision that we wanted to remain in rented, more-public space, though at the time we were careful to say “Let’s not let the Pub become our identity.” We knew we’d outgrow that kind of meeting space at some point and also feared that “Pub church” would overtake our identity as Church- that is, as a covenant community centered on Jesus and His Kingdom.
We decided to take up the offer of the Lucky Lab’s owner to relocate to the Hawthorne location. Throughout our time in the Village we had consistently asked the community “How do you want to serve this neighborhood?” We thought the stretch of Barbur Blvd a half-mile away was particularly in need of a serving community. Interestingly enough, we never really received much traction on that question.
As we entered our time on Hawthorne, we began to ask that question again, even going so far as to walk up and down Hawthorne in prayer, listening for how God might speak to us.
When we were forced by growth to move to NW Portland, we again asked.
Throughout all these moves, what we began to discern was that there was GREAT energy for Evergreeners in serving in their local neighborhoods, and where needed in Portland, but that serving in and around the place where we happened to worship on Sundays was never much of a priority. It may be that with a large number of Evergreeners historically coming from NE Portland and SE Portland (but not the Hawthorne area), there just wasn’t enough bandwidth for people who were already engaging in so many good things to think about other neighborhoods. It may be that other than serving the homeless together and occasional other one-off ministry opportunities, Evergreen people prefer to engage justice other ways than as a large group. I’m not sure.
Throughout the last few years, as we saw our children’s ministry grow, we knew we’d have to eventually find a space that could be ours for more than a couple hours a week and that was larger, with more rooms and flexibility than the spaces we had usually occupied. Refuge PDX was an interesting interlude in our community history, and though it provided more room and flexibility, it came with a host of other problems.
When Refuge was shuttered unexpectedly on a Thursday evening, we were left scrambling as to where we would meet, not just the following Sunday, but from then on. Providentially, we had been in talks with the Presbyterian Church of Laurelhurst, which was shutting down, as to what it would be like to occupy their space when they were done. This connection was made for us through one of our Evergreen people whose dad had been a Presbyterian pastor, and who was connected in friendship to PCL. Though we had to share the space for a season this last Fall, we can see God’s provision in getting in there in such a timely way.
But the question is, will we stay?
Over the last few years there have been numerous teams committed to looking for space for us without success. We have drawn circles on maps and identified areas where we thought we’d like to be and looked for opportunities within those circles. Nothing ever came up. It seemed as though the question was between deciding where we want to be and then looking for space there OR seeing what doors God opened for us and then asking “What can we do out of this space for each other, the neighborhood and the City?” God has definitely opened a door for us in this building!
Will we stay at 935 NE 33rd? I don’t know for sure. We don’t know how long the Presbytery will rent to us beyond our current 18 month rental agreement. 2 Years? 3? 10? At some point they may want to sell the building- should we buy it? I think those are questions for community discernment, but what we can probably all agree on is whether we buy the building or not, we need to be financially ready for whatever happens. And while we’re here, we need to be asking how we can continue to serve and invite into the Kingdom the poor and marginalized in the City of Portland, and we need to expand to asking how we can serve and invite into the Kingdom the not-so-poor who live in the neighborhoods around our building, those who may have more money, but just as great a need for a community of witness, love and service.
We plan on having some prayer and discernment times in the future as we ponder what God might be saying to us about this space. We’ll also be talking more and explaining more about how we’d like to see our building/space fund grow. In the meantime though, continue to lean in as we attempt to grow in worship, be bound together in community and are sent out to serve on mission.