Inspiration for a New Church

Kyle Kae MarkMercy Seat started in the playful, brilliant, mischievous, loving, gracious minds of our pastors the Reverends Kae Evensen, Mark Stenberg and Kyle Halverson in 2004. What if we could start an urban church that was “a creative response to a growing need for critical-thinking, grace-based Christian orthodoxy?” (Rev Mark’s brainy-speak — he’s a smart guy) What would a church like that look like? Rev Mark’s 10 years of work at House of Mercy in St. Paul had developed a framework for a church that might just engage people in this way. House of Mercy was a Baptist Church blurring its denominational lines and embracing a more liturgical, orthodox tradition; What would the same technique and theology do to a Lutheran Church? In 2004 we could only guess. Rev Kae moved from a church in Maplewood, Rev Kyle moved all the way from Indiana, and Mark said goodbye to House of Mercy in St. Paul to take up this challenge. Today we still find ourselves guessing but feel true to the original mission.

Partnerships are Formed

Before we could even begin we needed a place to meet. After looking around town quite extensively we found the perfect partner in St. Paul Lutheran Church (now Northeast Community Lutheran Church) and their pastor the Rev. Craig Peterson. St. Paul’s graciously offered up their Church building in Northeast Minneapolis for us to use during Sunday evenings. Beyond the building they have also become great friends and allies.

A small committee was formed called the “Family Circle of Trust.” This committee was made up of future parishioners of Mercy Seat, Pastors from other congregations, and financial supporters. The goal of this committee was to offer guidance during the formation stage of the new Church and to offer different perspectives outside our three pastors visions.

Mercy Seat would not have ever been possible without the support, help and guidance from Bishop Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA); The Minneapolis Synod’s “Making a World of Difference” initiatives for 2006; Rev. Craig Peterson, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran and his congregation; St. Andrew Lutheran Church of Eden Prairie; and Tim and Jan Maudlin of Normandale Lutheran Church. We are forever grateful for these and many others for their support.

What About the First Service

Mercy Seat debuted its first worship service to a packed sanctuary on March 4th, 2006. We introduced the world to the first of the many home-grown liturgies we would eventually make and continue to make. The liturgy was a Jazz liturgy written by our Music Director Jonathan Pemberton and Rev Kyle. Several attenders that evening had spent some informal time during earlier worship sessions learning the liturgy to bolster the congregation in its efforts to sing this completely new liturgy.

It was a joyous beginning. A Grace based message flowed out from our pulpit in word, music, and song. We knew that the packed sanctuary was partially filled with well-wishers from other congregations, but there were a healthy amount of people attending that now call Mercy Seat their Home. Things had begun! Exciting things were going to happen.

The Jazz Church, or is it?

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For the first year the press was favorable to us and printed many articles about the new “Jazz Church” in Northeast Minneapolis (“All jazzed up; Holy hipsters birth a church“). While we appreciated the press it was hard for Mercy Seat to find itself pushed into a labeled box. After all, we wanted to be know more by the grace we lived and preached then by the style of music our liturgies where in. For better or worse we broke the “Jazz Church” mold in April of 2007 with an original Punk Rock liturgy that our then intern Travis Gerjets wrote and performed with his band “Dirty Butter Knife.” This was a the beginning of a very exciting and eclectic set of Mercy Seat Liturgies.

An Early Commitment to Children and Youth

One of the struggles of a new church like ours is how to support our children. From the beginning we knew we wanted people to be able to visit the church and feel safe about leaving their children in our nursery. So, from the get-go Mercy Seat has offered childcare staffed by professionals who have been fully background checked. We never want a parent to feel like their child is not well cared for and have that be the reason they don’t attend.

Over the years our Mercy Seat youth experience keeps expanding:

  • Sunday school class meet during our church services.
  • In 2007 our Youth group was formed.
  • In 2009 we saw the emergence of “The Youth Group of the Future.” This group of elementary aged kids meets with our pastors Kae and Mark for a quick lesson and some creative play.

A Firm Commitment to the Arts

Northeast Minneapolis, Mercy Seat’s home, is a thriving arts community. Thousands of artist studios can be found in the area and we have always celebrated this at Mercy Seat. We would like to believe that our commitment to the arts would exists if we didn’t call Northeast Minneapolis home, but living here sure makes it easy. We feel that the art express the authenticity we want to welcome into our congregation. Mercy Seat has curated and hosted many art show:

  • 2006 we premiered “The Tomb Show” which included the works of 12 local artists who designed their own coffins, caskets, containers or urns.
  • 2007 we produced a show called “CAPAX: Show Us Your Ordinary” as part of Northeast Art-A-Whirl festival.
  • November of 2007 we hosted an art show called “Desert Star: Works on Blessing, Loss, Exile & Return” featuring work from more than 12 artists.
  • August/September of 2008 we participated in “In Transit, part of Beauty That Speaks,” a collection of exhibits by multiple faith communities in Minneapolis, addressing wholeness and justice in the community.
  • March of 2009 as a church we created an icon that hangs in our church every Sunday.

Mercy Seat on the Town

We love to see musician from our congregation and our extended musical family playing around town and always try to promote them when they have a gig. Occasionally, however, we force a concert out of theses fine musicians by arranging a show of our own. Mercy Seat has hosted two Fat Ash shows (Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday) shows:

We arranged several Mercy at the Nomad events booking various artist.

Most recently we hosted a fundraising event to help fund the recording of our original liturgies. The show was hosted at the Turf Club. We ironically dubbed this show the Mercy Seat Family Sing-Along featuring Romantica, The Small Cities, Chris Koza, John Hermanson, Linnea Mohn, and Wes Burdine.

Liturgies, Liturgies and More Liturgies

Mercy Seat, from its infancy, has been committed to preserving our rich church heritage but in a way that will keep it relevant and authentic for today. From the original Jazz Liturgies, we have now moved into an eclectic curating of local musicians who have been writing liturgies in various genres. Local musician Wes Burdine became our Liturgical Coordinator in the Summer of 2009 and since then we have been commissioning more liturgical settings from great Minneapolis musicians like John Hermanson and Chris Koza. These liturgies are not meant to “make the church relevant.” Rather, in commissioning local musicians to create these liturgies, we are adapting and “working through” the Lutheran liturgical tradition. These liturgies are like old, communal shoes, they are the ancient tradition that begins to mold around the shape of our congregation’s foot (nice image, right?).

Our Nomadic Years

Mercy Seat has changed locations 4 times since its inception, but in the Summer of 2010 we joined our partners at Northeast Lutheran Church in their move to create the Grace Center for Community Life in the old Holland School in Northeast. This new building will house several different church communities, a charter school, a food pantry, substance abuse support groups, and several other ministries for the Northeast community. With this move, we hope to have put down our roots in the Northeast community.

The Future