Gertmenian prepares to say goodbye

Rev. James Gertmenian Credit: Photo courtesy Plymouth Congregational Church
Rev. James Gertmenian Credit: Photo courtesy Plymouth Congregational Church

Rev. James Gertmenian, an advocate for the homeless and a powerful voice for social justice issues, will deliver his last sermon Jan. 25 at Plymouth Congregational Church at Franklin & Nicollet.

Gertmenian is retiring after 18 years serving as the church’s senior minister. He is moving to Maine with his wife Sam King where they have enjoyed summers with their family.

While pastor he helped launch the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation in 1999, which has since become the Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative. The organization started by renovating Lydia Apartments near the church to create supportive housing for 40 formerly homeless people 11 years ago. Now Beacon partners with more than 50 congregations and houses nearly 800 people in affordable housing developments.

When the idea for Lydia Apartments was first proposed, a group of neighbors opposed it.

“The Lydia Apartments were a huge controversy because a group of neighbors felt we were packing their neighborhood with people with needs,” Gertmenian said in an article in “The Flame,” the church’s newsletter. “They picketed our worship services every Sunday for a year and took us to court. We finally won the right to do this project. Now, more than 11 years later, the project has been a model success, and when we’re doing a project in another neighborhood, these folks testify in favor of it.”

Former Mayor R.T. Rybak said he turned to Gertmenian for support when confronting challenging issues.

“Jim has been a large part of the conscience of Minneapolis,” Rybak said in the newsletter. “He has an amazing gift to connect with souls on many levels and has been a tremendous partner on many issues.”

Gertmenian joined Rybak in celebrating the first marriages of same-sex couples in Minneapolis at City Hall on Aug. 1, 2013. He presided over the first ceremony for Cathy ten Broeke and Margaret Miles — a couple he has become close with while advocating for the homeless.

Ten Broeke, the state’s director to prevent and end homelessness, called Gertmenian a “tremendous” leader, advocate for justice and preacher of love.

“I, for one, will always think of him as an integral part of our movement to end homelessness in Minnesota, even if he is hundreds of miles away,” she said. “I may still be calling him on a regular basis so I can hear that voice of conviction and support that I have depended on for so many years.” 

Ten Broeke and Gail Dorfman, executive director of St. Stephen’s Human Services, praised Gertmenian when the Hennepin County Board honored him with a special commendation in September 2014. They said whenever they have asked for his support and leadership, he always says yes.

He agreed to co-chair the joint city-county Commission to End Homelessness when it launched in 2006 and helped lead efforts to raise money for the Currie Avenue Partnership — a collaboration among the faith community, businesses, nonprofits and local government that help secure stable housing for people living on Currie Avenue.

“Jim helped us to believe that we could, we should and we would end homelessness, and he stood by our side,” Dorfman said.

Gertmenian got his start as a pastor for a rural parish near Binghamton, New York, in 1972 and then worked at two other churches before arriving at Plymouth Congregational Church in 1996.

In a letter to the congregation, he said he will “find a place for a cluster of memories called ‘Plymouth.’”

“Some of them are wondrous, most of them quite, humble, ‘homely,’” he wrote. “They are cushioned for the journey, safely, in the inner chambers of my heart. And I will know that when I have made room for that collection of stories, images, and feelings — when I have made room for you — then I will really be home.”

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Farewell events for Rev. James Gertmenian

When: Saturday, Jan. 24: open house with Gertmenian and his wife Sam King, 2–4 p.m.; potluck with families, 5–7 p.m.

Sunday, Jan. 25: Gertmenian’s final sermon (services begins at 10:30 a.m.); reception follows the sermon.

Where: Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Ave. S.

More info: www.Plymouth.org