Center of their uinverse

  • Sue Waldburger<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:26am

If those dear Lutheran ladies of old could see what’s cooking in the former St. Matthew Lutheran Church at Edmonds’ Five Corners intersection, they’d drop their infamous potluck-bound casserole dishes along with their jaws.

Now called the Jeremiah Center, the site has been the hub of teenagers’ activities sponsored by the Edmonds Lynnwood Lutheran Parish for nearly two years. But this clearly is not your father’s Lutheran youth group.

Today, the artistic Jesus on the exterior beckons all teens, especially those who may have never darkened a church doorway. Kids from throughout south Snohomish and north King counties are responding, organizers said.

The center is “run by people of faith but is not a place where faith will be pushed on anyone,” reads one of the center’s fliers.

A nonprofit organization run by a board composed of adults and teens, the center’s stated mission is to be “a place to share with all people Jesus’ unconditional love.” Among its state core values, wrote Eric Anderson of the student leadership team, are hospitality to all, speaking in the language of the culture and recognizing that community is where faith is formed.

Board member David Greenlee promises no “bait and switch” in which kids are drawn to the culture-specific programs just to be proselytized. “We don’t have to ‘talk Jesus’ to ‘be Jesus,’” he emphasized, adding that “relationships … and not giving answers but discussing questions” is the focus of Jeremiah Center activities.

Daylight still streams through stained glass windows of the center into the cavernous sanctuary, but the pews have been replaced with well-worn sofas. Some pews have been turned into the counter at an afternoon coffeehouse where kids stop by for conversation and fair-trade (important to teen organizers) coffee.

Both the inside and outside of the building are a bit run down, but the facility is maintained by volunteers who “get to it when they can,” Greenlee said.

On Saturday nights, a foosball game is a major attraction in the foyer where congregants once held their post-service meet-and-greet.

Monday nights finds middle-school students gathering for a Christian outreach called Zoe. High-school-age students take over on Sunday nights for NET, a program that incorporates teaching, games and small-group discussion on topics such as whether sex and love have much in common.

Saturday nights the center is transformed into the kaz-ba coffeehouse, where 100-plus teens with similar fashion taste (anything black) gather to connect with friends and listen to live bands. (See accompanying story.) Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 1:30-5:30 p.m. the afternoon coffeehouse is open for inexpensive snacks, free Wi-Fi or just hanging out.

The center, an incorporated health-and-human-services nonprofit, shares the property at 8330 212th St. SW. with parish staff and administrative offices but the two are separate. The parish is a mutual ministry of Edmonds Lutheran Church – created by the merger of three Lutheran congregations in Edmonds in 2002— and Trinity Lutheran Church of Lynnwood.

Jeremiah Center’s $100,000-a-year budget is fueled mainly by the largess of Edmonds Lutheran Church, which owns the building and pays the bulk of utility costs, Greenlee said. Donations are an important source of income. Grants, Greenlee added, hopefully will be, too.

Four part-time staff members rely on volunteers from within and outside the parish to keep programs running. Many of those volunteers are teens. “Leadership development is one of our core values,” Greenlee noted.

Referring to himself as the “steward” of the students’ vision,” Greenlee, who is the parish’s director of student ministries, said future plans call for a low-cost counseling center, tutoring, art programs and an amateur film festival. Support services to local youth sports-league coaches, a clothes bank and a skateboard club also are on the wish list.

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