By David Taylor
Klamath Lutheran credits the divine creative process with guiding them through the challenges of the past several years as they have strived to preserve the “best of church.” Led since 2013 by Pastors Jack and Dawn Coffey, the church has strong lay leadership and a commitment to outreach to the larger community.
Prior to Jack and Dawn answering the call to co-pastor, the church faced numerous transitions, difficult circumstances and leadership transitions. During the period, the congregation engaged in much self-reflection and soul-searching which ultimately led to a stronger congregation and more effective lay leadership. “It was a big growth period.” say Rachel and Chris Gabauer, members since 2005. Members stepped forward into leadership roles with increased responsibilities. When Jack and Dawn arrived, they pioneered changes ranging from lifting carpets to expanding the liturgy. Their leadership included increased utilization of lay leadership. One of many examples is the enhanced quality of music, drawing off their member’s expertise, including Caresse Lemieux’s choir leadership.
Another big change? In 2015, they became a Reconciling in Christ church, making them a witness for LGBTQIA+ equality in a conservative community. The church practices “Bounded Consciousness” which is a way of holding different viewpoints while striving to understand, be respectful, and inclusive. More progressive than the mainstream of beliefs and perspectives of most congregations in Klamath Falls, Klamath Lutheran welcomes all to worship, and to serve. They are rooted in the belief that being LGBTQIA+ is a part of God’s beautiful and holy intention for equal diversity in the body of Christ.
As Christ welcomed all people, we also desire to welcome without regard to age, race, culture, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or political views. We seek to be united in God’s gracious love.
In 2020, like all churches they faced the challenges brought on by the pandemic, asking the question “What does it mean to do church when we are not together in the sanctuary?” They knew they needed to be creative to reach the members of their community.
- They asked their members to pray every day at 10 am
- They learned how to use technology to broadcast (and attend) services
- During the Advent season, Pr. Jack made wooden bases for Advent candles which volunteers delivered to every household
- Before Lent, they asked members to compose personal devotionals, which they then compiled in a printed booklet and delivered to members’ homes.
This generosity of spirit has long been critical to preserving the interconnectedness of members and the fabric of their church.
They were also concerned with how to keep their youth “plugged in” to the life of the church. One creative idea was soliciting youth participation in making a group video of the Los Posadas hymn. Edited by high schooler Linnea Gabauer, the video depicts Klamath Lutheran children going from house to house playing the role of Mary and Joseph being turned away by Bethlehem’s innkeepers (church members at their front doors) until they were finally welcome. (The lead singer is Jerry Lemieux.) This video was shown in congregant’s homes and played over Zoom during their Christmas Eve service.
These actions were part of their inspired response to the pandemic, connecting them to each other and their faith, while maintaining the physical distancing required at the time. Once Covid restrictions eased, the community was able to return to a revitalized sanctuary to worship together. This is a tight-knit community who missed their time worshiping together in-person.
As part of their commitment to community outreach they operate a food pantry (with support from the Oregon Food Bank). Church members are encouraged to bring gifts of food and to volunteer their time to help run the pantry (acquisition, transport, stocking, assisting clients, cleaning up, etc.) Many of the volunteers are teenagers. Folks in need are able to come to a designated area and anonymously receive their allocations. An important beneficiary of the food pantry are houseless high school students, who lack food on weekends and during school vacations. In collaboration with Klamath Union High School, the church received a grant to help feed these teenagers, as well as provide backpacks for them to carry their books and personal belongings.
The future of the church includes more challenges. Pastors Dawn and Jack are retiring soon, and they will again be undergoing a leadership transition. As is true of many congregations, their membership is aging. Yet, as member Chris Gabauer says, “Our mission can be taking care of an aging congregation. Being a community for older folks is a sense of calling.” Regardless of the challenges, Klamath Lutheran Church, with its strong lay leadership and committed members, has always consistently found the resilience and spiritual solidarity to move forward, from strength to strength. They are a community guided by the dismissal:
Go out into the world in peace,
hold on to that which is good,
return no one evil for evil,
sustain the fainthearted,
help the poor,
honor all creation,
honor all people,
love and serve the Lord, go in peace!”
And they reply:
All right, we will!