More on St. Francis House

As I wrote early this morning, our proposal was approved by the Plan Commission. Now it’s on to the Common Council.

Here are the comments I made during last night’s public hearing:

Good Evening. I am Jonathan Grieser, the rector—priest, at Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square. I am a member of the board of St. Francis House, and have shared in the deliberations over the future of that ministry. The proposal that comes before you is the product of three years of prayerful discernment and consultation with our neighbors. We have adapted the proposal to address Luther Memorial Church’s concerns. I believe this project deserves Plan Commission approval. It accomplishes some long-term goals of the city—in-fill development, moving student housing closer to campus. Moreover, by returning this property to the tax rolls, it will add to the city coffers in this time of fiscal challenges.

I do not want to downplay LMC’s concerns about noise, congestion, and vandalism. Their concerns are common to urban churches across the country, including my own. We struggle with parking restrictions for everything from Ride the Drive to the Ironman Triathlon, with noise from protestors, parades, and Capitol Square events like Art Fair on the Square or Taste of Madison, which in addition to noise and parking, offers our worshippers smells from countless food carts. It is a rare Sunday that doesn’t bring some event or group to the Capitol. As the site for the men’s Drop-In shelter operated by Porchlight, our efforts to put our faith into action bring their own set of challenges.

Urban ministry can be a challenge, but I’m sure my Lutheran colleagues would no sooner abandon their location than we would abandon ours on the corner of N. Carroll and W. Washington Ave. Whatever the challenges, the opportunities for ministry and mission are much greater. For us, those opportunities involve our neighborhood on Capitol Square; for Luther Memorial, it is the opportunity of sharing God’s word in the heart of a great university. The passionate involvement of so many LMC members in this process is proof of the vitality of that congregation and evidence of the bright future that lies ahead for it, no matter what happens tonight.

None of the challenges I’ve mentioned, nor the issues raised by LMC, constitute a threat to ministry. They are opportunities that require careful attention, cooperation, and adaptation. The board of St. Francis House seriously considered the possibility of abandoning our location, but we rejected that option, convinced that our location offered exciting opportunities for campus ministry that could not be met in any other way. Our decision to stay and our commitment to this development proposal is also a commitment to the neighborhood, a commitment to make it a vibrant and livable community for all of its residents and all those who work and worship in it.

We don’t know what the future holds. We do know that the status quo cannot be maintained. We know that we must adapt to meet the changing needs of students, and the changing nature of our larger community. This development is our attempt to do just that, to create sustainable, exciting, adaptable ministry into the future. We look forward to working closely with our Lutheran neighbors to ensure the vitality of our ministries and our neighborhood. I urge you to support this proposal.



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