East Harriet’s Bethlehem Lutheran Church spawns new congregation

Katherine Anderson and her husband Dan Miller were looking for a new church experience.

The hymns, sermons and scripture readings of traditional Lutheran services left the couple unfulfilled.

“We were looking for something different, with music we listen to on a daily basis and a message that’s more applicable,” Anderson said.

On Sept. 17, they found what they had been looking for at a South Minneapolis middle school.

The Diamond Lake, community couple sat with their 9-month-old son, Cadence, in the back row of Field Middle School’s commons during the first official service of Jacob’s Well. Pastor Greg Meyer, who spent 15 years serving Bethlehem Lutheran Church in East Harriet, founded Jacob’s Well with the financial and moral backing of the Bethlehem congregation.

The new church is meant to attract people who might have had bad experiences with traditional-style churches in the past or those who distrust Christianity and the church as an institution, Meyer said. Jacob’s Well features a rock band that plays Christian rock and popular music, a casual setting and an interactive service void of the rigid structure found in many traditional churches.

For the little ones, Jacob’s well offers a youth ministry program called H20.

The middle school setting is not temporary, Meyer said. No church building is planned.

“One of the problems with being involved in a church is the institutionalism of it,” Meyer said. “It’s hard to think beyond the building. Helping people realize it’s about the movement, not the institution, is very important.”

Some Bethlehem members had a hard time wrapping their brains around the idea of raising money to send away a well-liked and respected pastor when Jacob’s Well was proposed about a year ago, but the Bethlehem congregation is known for being proactive. Jacob’s Well isn’t the first new congregation the church has spawned – Bethlehem started the edgy Uptown Spirit Garage in the late 1990s. Bethlehem members saw Jacob’s Well as another opportunity to reach individuals who didn’t want anything to do with the traditional church scene.

“It’s hard to see Greg leave, quite frankly,” said Bethlehem Pastor Chris Nelson. “But he felt a call for a long time for people who we weren’t getting.”

Some of the people Bethlehem was getting have started attending Jacob’s Well instead. Nelson said Bethlehem is growing and the migration allows room for their new members. Bethlehem sees roughly 1,300 attendees each week.

Kingfield resident Erik Lindseth and his family are among them. Lindseth said he supported Jacob’s Well, though he had to think about the idea a bit first.

“I thought this is like a church cutting off it’s own arm, sending a pastor out,” Lindseth said. “It’s sort of a radical idea, but I thought it would make sense to try to spread the gospel among people who don’t regularly attend. That might be the most Christian thing we could possibly do.”

Meyer said less than half of Jacob’s Well attendees are from Bethlehem.

Jackie Fredericks, from Longfellow, said she hadn’t attended church in more than 20 years before receiving a post card in the mail about Jacob’s Well. She said she had bad memories of the Catholic church she was part of growing up, but she hadn’t given up her faith, so she decided check out a Jacob’s Well service.

“When you go to church, you go to get some food for your soul,” she said. I wasn’t getting that.”

Fredericks said she felt accepted at Jacob’s Well and Meyer’s message stuck with her for weeks.

“Nothing ever really touched me until now,” she said. “So I guess I’m ready.”

A friend told Anderson and Miller about Jacob’s Well. The couple said they enjoyed the songs and the day’s discussion about what it means to be a Christian.

They said they’d be back.

“We liked it,” Miller said. “We know the music and the message was relevant. It’s something we can take home with us.”

For more information about Jacob’s Well, go to www.jacobs-well.net.


Jake Weyer can be reached at 436-4367and jweyer@mnpubs.com.