Our Story: The beginning of this imperfect union we call The Foundry Project
How St. Johns Community Church and University Park United Methodist Church began an amazing journey toward becoming one.
Like a lot of crazy and beautiful ideas in Portland, this one started over coffee.
In February 2015, St. Johns Community Church (then known as St. Johns Covenant Church) found themselves without a home because of a clear and righteous spirit of justice and a commitment to including ALL people in the life, leadership, and ministry of the church. At the same time, University Park United Methodist Church, a small group of faithful disciples who have historically maintained that same commitment to inclusion, found themselves in the midst of their own difficult transition. They also had lots of space, both on their property and in their hearts.
So maybe it is perfectly providential that the pastors of these churches- Andy Goebel and Julia Nielsen — connected over that aforementioned coffee. After some brief introductions (this was their first time meeting) and sharing what God was doing in the lives of their congregations — some of it painful and some of it hopeful — they quickly started to realize that the Spirit might be whispering something about their churches in the space between them. After all, both were praying for a miracle, and it seemed like that miracle might be sitting across a couple of coffee mugs.
By the end of that meeting, Pastor Andy said, “We may need a place to meet very soon”, to which Pastor Jules replied, “When that happens, let us know. We have space for you.”
Two weeks later, St Johns moved into University Park’s building.
Now, originally the two churches only committed to a brief season of joint worship and life together. We playfully called it our ‘awkward experiment’: two churches, two denominations, one congregation. Worshiping together. Working together. Learning together — but only for a season. During that time, everything was shared, and with equal measures of clumsiness and care we sought to bring these two church cultures together.
St Johns Community Church is a 4 year old new church start with many young families with small children, a unique and vibrant music identity, and a deep sense of local community and mercy ministry.
University Park is a United Methodist church that is over 100 years old, with a long history of radical social justice advocacy, tight relationships, and a new vision for building affordable housing on the property.
What a combination, right? Doesn’t this sound like what every church prays for? Children running around, vibrant music, people to care for, new and exciting ministries?
Well, perhaps we should be careful what we pray for, because sometimes the answer to that prayer is not all that easy. In this case, it was extremely hard. After the season of Lent in 2015, both pastors fully expected that their folks would choose to go their separate ways, choosing to share space, but not much else. After all, this was awkward. We were just so different. And the work it took just to get through that initial season was not only very hard, it was very public.
So you can imagine how shocked those two pastors were when the time came to figure out how this space-sharing arrangement would work, and the leadership teams from both churches met together and said to one another, “Actually, we don’t want to meet separately. We want to keep doing this. It turns out you are JUST what we’ve been praying for.”
They said, “We don’t know what this is, but one thing is obvious: God is at work in this, and we don’t want to stop it.”
The “this” they were talking about turned out to be a new church that began to take shape that very day. This would be a very different thing — a third thing — not just two churches in one space, but a whole new faith community, forged together by God’s Spirit and the persistent work of God’s people.
And that work continues in earnest. Since that meeting, we have intentionally had those hard and public conversations — discussions about theology, about inclusivity, about mission, about gender, about decision-making, and about music. The consistent thread that weaves through all of it is faith. Faith in God’s ability to do a new thing, even when our hearts are a little broken or our vision for the future is uncertain.
Both churches say the other one saved them, and we recognize that as God’s ‘both/and’ miracle of saving grace.
That’s the thing — together we’ve discovered that when we seek to truly live into Jesus’ encouragement to not be afraid, when we live face-first into the gospel, and when we remember to keep community at the center — prioritizing collaboration and unity over uniformity — God does what God does best, which is to makes something new. That’s what we’re learning, one year into what we once called an ‘awkward experiment’.
Now we call it “our crazy adventure”. And we call it “our church”.
And together, as we drink our own sacred cups of coffee and then receive the bread and the cup each week, we say “It’s hard to explain, but maybe that’s the way God likes it”.
And we believe it.
Thanks be to God!