I could waste a whole lotta space rambling on about the process that led me to my new studio location, or I could just tell you that Emerge Pilates will be opening soon within the beautifully inclusive, warmly welcoming arms of University Baptist Church, at 1219 University Avenue SE, Minneapolis, smack dab in the heart of Dinkytown and the University of Minnesota. And you could stop reading right now, because that’s all the important deets I have for you at this time. Or, you could pause a moment, consider the words “beautifully inclusive, warmly welcoming arms of University Baptist Church” a moment, maybe even think “WTF did she just say?!” And then kick back for another rambling story from ol’ Auntie Jen. Cuz that’s what I do best. Ramble.
Let me just say that the many layers of irony of my new studio location are not lost on me, peeps. She who declared in her last post, “I’m not conventionally religious—hell, I don’t even know if I’m unconventionally religious,” she who talked a lot about her nephew zipping ’round the U of M grounds on Bob’s old bike, she who doesn’t talk much about how the U of M is a source of very sad memories and intense emotions, if she allows herself to go down that path too far …
But as I was analyzing my options for my studio going forward, one recurring vision/urging/idea was to explore options outside of the traditional commercial rental situation. And then I came upon this Craigslist ad: “Bright, peaceful office space in in historic church.” Which made me go, hmmmm … I could use peaceful right now, but that word, “church” … that makes my skin crawl, but evidently not enough to stop me from sending an email of inquiry about the space, which resulted in a phone call from a woman named Sheila, who said she was from the University Baptist Church and would be happy to show me the space. Which then made me go, hmmmm…not just church, but Baptist? Shit…
Truth be told, I have very little first-hand experience with Baptists; the one and only personal encounter I had was with a prom date back in 1984 who was Baptist, whose mother freaked the hell out because he was taking a Catholic girl to prom (little did she know I was of the very diluted, “half-assed” variety of Catholicism, which may or may not have helped my case) and wouldn’t give my date—her own son—financial assistance for prom expenses or allow us to show up at their home for pictures (my mom took plenty of Polaroids to make up the difference—the two of us standing stiffly side-by-side, drowning in a sea of nauseating, horrifying pastel—me in my lavender, billowy Gunne Sax dress—bought on clearance with babysitting and rock picking money, at Jean Nicole in the Mankato Mall, topped with a dollop of a white straw hat and dab of lacy fingerless gloves!—he, in a powder-blue suit cinched with a big, fat striped necktie which may very well have belonged to his father because this was the 80s, when skinny ties were TOTALLY what dudes were wearing at the time. But not this dude. His mother missed out on some fabulous photo ops…). He picked me up in a limousine borrowed from his church (he drove the limousine, I sat up front <–original definition of awkward); he also had a trunk full of booze and a hotel room rented in Mankato for post-prom festivities—who was worried about whom, Overly Protective Baptist Mother? If my own mother had known what was in store for me as that smog of pastel waltzed out of the house, you can bet she would have called her utterly-despised-yet-overly-protective-gun-toting-ex-husband ASAP, fer shur…
For the record, I ditched my date before the night’s end, though I have no doubts he still had a grand time, probably better time without me, evidenced by the liquor-fueled strip poker game raging as I and my many layers of lavender flounced out of the hotel room. So yes, perhaps my opinion of Baptists are slightly influenced from that experience. And maybe by those deplorable, hate-filled Westboro Baptist folks. But for the record, I was moved to tears by the Rev. Steve Daniels Jr., of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in St. Paul, who delivered the highly emotional, earth-moving sermon at Philando Castile’s funeral in July, at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Which is all to say that maybe, because of all that, I had some reservations about the space. Mainly because it’s a church. It’s no secret, the centuries of awfulness of the world that has been done and continues to be done behind the shield of so many churches. But I was willing to check it out, because personally, I didn’t have a lot to go on, Baptist-wise or studio-wise, and c’mon—who doesn’t like a good adventure?
I decided to do a little background check first (praise the Lord for the internet!), so I hopped online to see if University Baptist Church had a website. They do, and to my surprise, the first photo I saw was a sanctuary draped in rainbow flags. Which made me go, Whoa—WAIT. Are those real, live rainbow flags? As in LGBT rainbow flags?! Or is this congregation so out of touch that they think rainbows are nothing more than cute li’l ol’ rainbows?! Digging a little deeper on the website, I found this statement: We are a faith community with a noble tradition of supporting full equality for LGBT people. UBC was the first Baptist Church to appoint an openly lesbian pastor, the Rev. Nadean Bishop, who served from 1992-2000. UBC belongs to the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and American Baptists Concerned for Sexual Minorities. S.T.F.U. For realz?! Digging deeper, I found a beautiful statement on same-sex marriage that you can read here. Then I found this: (a list of partners of the UBCMN). And this: (an impressive monthly music series held in the church basement). And this: (the worship theme of 2016-2017 at UBCMN is “Just Mercy: Proclaiming Peace and Working for Justice” based on the book by Bryan Stevenson, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption”).
Multiple congregations, alongside Baptists—Episcopalian, Methodist, Pentecostal, and others—worship under this roof. Nondenominational, social justice programs operate under this roof—take it away, UBCMN: We value our involvement as individuals and as a congregation in issues of importance to society at large. We use our large building to house many groups including Restorative Justice Community Action, theater groups, five other congregations, and local activists. We structure ourselves in Ministry Teams. These teams are passion-driven. If you are passionate about it, we empower you to do it. As long as it fits within our mission and vision, use our name, invite people to it and thrive. Some Ministry Teams are more formal than others. Some are episodic. The point is that we want people to do ministry that feeds their passion. This is where the Spirit is most active and obvious. Our Ministry Teams include the knitting group, the Worship Planning Team, various study groups, the garden team, the Loaves and Fishes meal program and so on. You do not have to be a member of the church to be on a ministry team. The only time you would ever have to ask permission for anything from the church is if you wanted to use the building or you needed financial resources. We want people to be involved in ministry. Go for it.
Various professionals rent office space in the rooms that used to be classrooms. A gigantic gymnasium that used to be used by the church’s school that reminds me of the “old gym” of my high school, that most recently was used by an alternative high school that blessed the church with its presence by wrapping the walls in stunning graffiti, is below the sanctuary. Why this place calls themselves a church is beyond me—churches, by definition (mine, anyhow), exclude. This place not just includes, but warmly, genuinely welcomes with open arms, everyone. A.B.S.O.L.U.T.E.L.Y E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. All they ask is that you are passionate. If that’s the case, then sign me up, Jesus!
Maybe all these words in this post are coming on the heels of the disturbing Presidential debate I watched last night…thoughts of, “well, okay, I know I have some preconceived notions about something or other, but often, if I take some time and do a little investigating, maybe loosen the binds of conviction a bit, I find that previously held notions aren’t as true or precious as I once thought…” or you might hold on even tighter to those convictions as a result, or you might be thinking “Our world is going to hell in a hand basket…” Whichever way, it’s always a choice. Please, be passionate (and careful, and considerate) with your choices.
I’ll shut the hell up for now and just say that serendipitous encounters continue to happen, again and again, prior to and since finding this space. And here are a few photos. Church, smurch. xxoo