By Mischa Webley | Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods
On Killingsworth Street, across from Vernon Elementary School, a small, modest building is evidence of a solution to a changing community. This is the home of Leaven Community, a nonprofit incubated by the Salt and Light Lutheran Church, previously Redeemer Lutheran, which has been in the northeast community for decades.
Starting in 2010, church members began to rethink everything.
Seeing the neighborhood change rapidly around them – and the feelings about church and religion changing with it – they decided the answer was to lean into the change wholeheartedly and embrace it.
To do that, they hired a community organizer and spent three years soul searching and simply listening to their neighbors: they knocked on doors, held public meetings and heard about what holes in the community they could fill.
They had decided the key to moving forward wasn’t to serve the community in a one-way relationship. Rather, it was to build a platform that could become whatever it was the community decided it should be.
The result was Leaven Community. It’s an organic and constantly evolving project that, among other things, hosts a variety of grassroots community organizations as well as the Salt and Light Church of Christ. The change has been an undertaking that’s much bigger than a single church. In fact, most of the groups are not faith-based at all.
“It’s a practice-based community,” said Mira Ayala, a Leaven Community member and organizer with Oregon Synod, the regional arm of the Lutheran church. “It’s about practices, not an expectation to subscribe to any set of beliefs.”
The groups on-site are diverse, and decidedly agnostic:
- The Portland Tool Library, which loans out tools to neighbors
- A Buddhist meditation group
- A feminist women’s group
- A food collective
- An innovative Salt and Light program called Intercambio
- An intercultural language exchange that hosts dinners for people who speak different languages to come together and learn from one another
It’s all part of a broader philosophy that defines the role of the church as providing the journey, but not necessarily the destination.
In the words of LaVeta GilmoreJones, Leaven Community co-executive director, “We create spaces for people to be who they are through the exploration of their spiritual journeys and to act together out of our stories and the love we have for one another to do systemic and structural change so that we have more thriving neighborhoods.”
Editor’s note: This story was reprinted with permission from NECN’s Hey Neighbor! newsletter. See more stories at bit.ly/NECNHEY