By DAWNE LEIKER
Members of St. Michael Episcopal Church are opening their doors to provide space for another local congregation's educational programs.
Liberty Fellowship Church, 120 W. Ninth, has been faced with space concerns as its active children's ministry expands. Through conversations with St. Michael's leaders, a decision to move midweek Liberty Fellowship services to the St. Michael campus, 2900 Canal Blvd., recently was reached.
Liberty's Royal Rangers and Girls' Club programs, which feature six- to eight-week classes taught by church leaders, will begin meeting at St. Michael starting Wednesday.
"It's a really good program," said Pastor Steve Dinkel of Liberty Fellowship Church. "We introduced it three years ago and it's just grown and grown.
"Now we're using parking lots and sidewalks and everything downtown, and we just have to have more space."
Other Wednesday Liberty classes moving to St. Michael include a pastor's Bible study, worship service and classes for young families. Sunday services will remain at the 120 W. Ninth location.
Sharing church space is a phenomenon that is becoming more common across the country as congregations evolve from growing to aging groups.
"What I like about sharing with St. Michael's is our desire is that St. Michael's continue and flourish and their desire is that Liberty would continue and flourish," Dinkel said. "And it is possible to be able to economize on what we spend on infrastructure costs so that we can both spend more of our resources to reach and help people."
It's a new experience for the folks at Liberty, who, although having shared rented space with other congregations in the past, have not shared a space in a permanent structure. Dinkel said he is excited for the opportunity.
"Sometimes you see it, where a church is going out and another is going in, but that's not the case here," he said. "St. Michael's is continuing and so are we.
"So I think it's going to be a good experiment."
In lieu of rent, plans are for Liberty to reimburse St. Michael with congregants lending a hand to help with tasks around the church.
Casey Rohleder, lay leader of St. Michael, said church leaders in her congregation view the collaboration as a good opportunity for both churches.
"They asked if they could use our space, and we thought, 'Well, you know we are called to be good stewards of what we have as Christians, and we have space to offer,' " she said. "We really believe in the God of abundance.
"We want to share what we have. ... But it is nice that they can use their gifts to help us as well."
This sort of collaboration on space rarely has been seen locally in recent years. However, St. Michael has partnered with other churches such as First Presbyterian and Trinity Lutheran Church on other projects and events.
Pastor Lesley Radius of Trinity Lutheran serves as supply pastor for St. Michael two Sundays a month. Although not seeking a full-time pastor at the current time, St. Michael is undergoing a "time of visioning for the future," Rohleder said.
"We don't have the funds for a full-time position by any means," she said. "But there are other creative solutions out there, both within the denomination and in collaboration with other churches."