MINNEAPOLIS (Outlook) Here’s a question – one raised by a big, exciting, expensive, forward-thinking renovation and expansion project now underway at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis.
As Meghan Gage-Finn, the congregation’s executive associate pastor, put it: “How can our building be mission?”
That’s one of many questions the Westminster congregation has considered as it’s taken on the “Open Doors Open Future” project that will basically transform half a block near Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. The vision is “to open our doors to the city,” said David Shinn, who serves on the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and is associate pastor for congregational care at Westminster.
This $81.5 million project:
- Began with demolition in May 2016 – including razing an office tower and an apartment building that the church bought when it came up for sale, purchases that made the church less land-locked and the expansion project possible.
- Includes growth of the church complex into new space, as well as renovation of parts of the historic church building, which dates to 1897, as well as an addition from the 1930s.
- Is expected to be completed on Feb. 8, 2018.
- Includes $52 million in construction costs (“sticks to bricks,” as Pat Block, the project manager from Mortenson Construction, put it).
- Incorporates sustainable features including rainwater recycling and a green roof.
- Was financed with help from the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, as well as “an incredibly generous gift from a donor that set all this in motion” (Gage-Finn said the amount and the donor’s name aren’t being publicly released).
- Includes $8 million for mission support – including supporting affordable housing in downtown Minneapolis, global ministry work in South Sudan and other places, and providing space for a new ministry partner, St. David’s Center for Family & Child Development, a nonprofit preschool for children on the autistic spectrum, children’s mental health clinic and pediatric therapy clinic.
Through all the construction, Westminster has remained open for worship – although it has lost all its parking during the project (along with its kitchen, some restrooms and other space) and has had to make other arrangements for things like choir practice and Wednesday night gatherings.
This is a huge project – undertaken by a congregation of 3,100 with deep pockets. On July 18, members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board’s executive committee came for a visit, while the committee members and representatives of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s national staff were in the Twin Cities for their July retreat.
That visit included a tour of the construction site – complete with hard hats and safety vests, glasses and gloves. Block – raising his voice to be heard above the cacophony of power tools, the beeping of trucks in motion, the sounds of work in progress – described both the big scope of the work (showing the four-story tower crane) and design details, such as where a wood ceiling will have cutouts to let light shine through.
There also was conversation about ways in which this extraordinary expansion project might provide ideas for other Presbyterian congregations – including smaller and less wealthy ones that also are considering questions such as “what is our changing role in the community” and, as Gage-Finn said, “how can our building be mission?”
For 160 years, Westminster has stood in the heart of this city – building a long tradition of serving “the city, the community, the broader denomination,” Gage-Finn said. In considering this project, congregational leaders spent more than five years getting ready for construction – planning, dreaming, having conversations with community partners about “how to be an opening and welcoming congregation,” as she put it.
The project was made possible by a “once in a lifetime” chance to purchase the apartment building and office building, said Dennis Alfton, Westminster’s director of operations (who came out of retirement to do this work, after many years as director of operations of the Metrodome stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings formerly played). With this project, “we’re taking steps to position the church for the 21st century and future growth,” as both the population of downtown Minneapolis and the Twin Cities metropolitan area are increasing, Alfton said.
While many old churches in cities are shutting their doors, Westminster’s expansion is an example of urban ministry that connects a church to a city, where “God’s spirit is alive and at work,” Gage-Finn said.
Church representatives met with people in arts and theater organizations (Westminster sits just across the street from Orchestra Hall), with nearby restaurant and business owners, with people from other congregations, with community groups. The idea was to “not duplicate services that already exist in the neighborhood,” Gage-Finn said, but to “complement what already exists.”
About a quarter of the space in the new complex will be available for use by community partners. The design includes green spaces (including a meditation garden) and glass – to make the building seem less imposing and distant – and facilities designed to allow Westminster to host visiting mission groups. The complex will be connected by skyway to the Minneapolis Convention Center.
As the old buildings came down and the new vision started rising up, “we continued to be a worshipping, breathing, living community,” Gage-Finn said.
While the construction inevitably has resulted in some disruption for the congregation, the leadership decided to approach that positively – “we decided to call it creative time,” she said. “Our biggest hope is that we will allow ourselves to be changed by that.”
The executive committee retreat will conclude mid-day July 19.