Pastor’s Column: Loving God. Serving People in Rochester.
For our Pastor’s Column series, pastors in Rochester, MN are sharing how their churches do ministry and outreach in this growing diverse medical community. C. John Steer, Senior Pastor at Autumn Ridge Church, the largest evangelical church in Rochester kicks off our series.
“Loving God. Serving people.” is the mission of Autumn Ridge, a church in Rochester started in 1857 before Minnesota became a state.
We seek to love God by making scripture the foundation of all we do. To support this, we are engaged in an emphasis we call Three Years of Truth. Right now we are taking our people through The Story of Scripture. This is a thirty-one week sermon series covering the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. We have over a thousand of our people in Life Groups which meet in homes or at church, applying God’s word to our lives. In addition to our Life Groups, we have Women’s Bible Study, Men’s Ministry groups, and other Bible study classes throughout the week.
We love God through our worship. Each weekend we have up to four different styles of worship. On Saturday evening our Emmaus Service is contemporary and includes communion where the congregation comes forward to receive bread and wine. The first service on Sunday morning is traditional with a choir, hymns and often an orchestra. Our second Sunday morning service is contemporary with a band. Once a month my wife and I lead Evensong on Sunday night. This is taken from the exquisite Book of Common Prayer and appeals to Lutherans, Catholics, Episcopalians, and others who miss liturgy.
We seek to serve people in our community by taking backpacks filled with food to two local elementary schools. These help families who do not have the resources to feed their children. We are also in partnership with Next Chapter, a prison ministry which grew out of our church. There are four homes in Southeast Rochester where men and women can stay after being released from prison and be discipled and learn work skills. Local employers offer them job opportunities and people from our congregation mentor them. Next Chapter also has an outreach for children who are at risk of going to prison when they are older if someone does not guide them on a better path.
Beyond our community, we serve others as we help build Compassion Evangelical Hospital in Guinea, West Africa. We have raised funds for a clinic, wards and operating suite. We purchased the first digital x-ray machine in Guinea. Most recently we installed solar power to provide free electricity for the complex. Rochester is a medical community and many in our congregation work at the Mayo Clinic or Olmsted Medical Center. Each year we have short-term mission teams visit our hospital in Guinea to do health care, train staff, install IT systems, and present biblical teaching. Medical and dental teams also go to Kenya and Cameroon. Our present goal is to send twenty of our members in long-term, cross-cultural missions by 2020. So far we have commissioned six.
Every two years we sponsor a pastors’ conference in South India. I have had the joy of teaching at this event for over twenty years. Our most recent conference was in February. The Indian pastors asked us to take them through the Minor Prophets. We discovered that these church leaders relate well to these last twelve books of the Bible as they are in a sense living in exile and are asking with Habakkuk, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
A Chinese congregation worship in our chapel each Sunday morning. Some of these dear brothers and sisters join us for our annual summer Family Camp in Fort Wilderness, Wisconsin, when about 200 of us enjoy a week of Bible teaching and great fun.
My wife Gretchen and I have had the privilege of serving this extraordinary congregation for almost twenty-seven years. Our three children came in faith to Christ here. We work alongside an incredibly hard working and dedicated staff.
We daily see the Lord Jesus in our congregation as they love God and serve people.
C. John Steer is the Senior Pastor at Autumn Ridge Church, the largest evangelical church in Rochester, Minnesota.