FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Thirty-three-year-old Margaret Kelly cuts a distinctly unorthodox profile. Street pastor in blue jeans and collar, lesbian and recently married, and, she insists, completely orthodox.
REV. MARGARET KELLY (Shobi's Table): I am a company girl. I love the Lutheran tradition, I love the Lutheran theology, the message of grace. But there’s also a time and a place to not be High Church.
DE SAM LAZARO: Her place is nothing like High Church, the sidewalk in a struggling neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota, every Thursday at 11.
REV. KELLY: If you have someone with limited access to money, and now they have to get to education, work, their children, maybe treatment, maybe probation, church is the last thing that you can expect someone to use that minimal resource access to get to.
(speaking to resident) You need something to eat?
RESIDENT: We all need something to eat.
REV. KELLY (to resident): Okay, we’ll get you something to eat.
DE SAM LAZARO: “Something to eat” is at the heart of this ministry. Well before the service, the time when a preacher might brush up on her sermon, this preacher is in a kitchen with a group of volunteers preparing for what you might say is a different kind of communion: they distribute calzones.
ERIN LYNCH (Kitchen Volunteer): It’s ground beef and mozzarella cheese, and we fold them up and bake them on the truck on the way there.
REV. KELLY: My hope is that we can do different fillings that reflect different cultures. So many cultures have a pocket sandwich kind of thing, an easily portable food, and this is a way of giving a nod to many traditions.
DE SAM LAZARO: This church is much more take-away than eat-in. Few people stick around for the prayer service. It doesn’t bother Pastor Kelly, even though there’s a proven way to reverse this.
REV. KELLY: There are some organizations that like to do the preaching first before they hand out something that’s free and, you know, I’m not sure that’s respectful or dignified. People are hungry, and I’m not trying to hold people hostage with the Bible. The Bible doesn’t need me to hold people hostage for it. The Bible speaks for itself, God speaks for God’s self, and I am simply the person who gets to share that message.
DE SAM LAZARO: The enterprise runs on a shoestring, with donations from the local Lutheran synod and congregations, including a very different one led by Pastor Ryan Brodin, who volunteers here.
REV. RYAN BRODIN (Abiding Savior Lutheran Church): My congregation is isolated. It’s in a neighborhood in the suburbs. For them at this point in their life, a homosexual pastor in a committed relationship would have difficulty being their pastor.
DE SAM LAZARO: Has Pastor Margaret appeared before your congregation, and has she preached?
REV. BRODIN: She came, and she shared, and she spoke openly about her relationship—not to focus on it. She came to talk about the ministry beyond a congregation in the suburbs writing a check. Some people from her church can come out to my church and vice versa, and we can have more of a relationship with one another.
REV. KELLY: People talk about the church dying, I don’t think it is, it’s just shifting.
DE SAM LAZARO: For Kelly, relationships like that with the suburban church help affirm her faith.
REV. KELLY: Less than 10 years ago they might never have given this church money because of who I am. Because I married a woman. So I see those things, and I think God’s pretty good, because these are relationships I never would have expected. And I don’t mean that to sound trite, because those are just small relationships in the world. But it gives me hope that we can move to places where we are not beheading journalists, where we are not shooting young men, where we are not doing these things, because we are attempting to build relationships across socio-economic divides.
DE SAM LAZARO: The next divide she must cross is from Indian summer to Minnesota winter. She hopes to pitch a heated tent for a ministry that she thinks will grow steadily in coming years.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in St. Paul.