143-year-old church changes name with changing times


Marjorie Otto/ Review "I feel like Vanna White," laughed Joe Stodola, manager of building and grounds for what will now be called LifePoint Church, as he took down the church's old signage. The church, located at 2220 Edgerton St. in Maplewood, was called Trinity Baptist Church until April 1.

Marjorie Otto/ Review Longtime congregation member Bill Weigel changed the sign at what had been formerly known as Trinity Baptist Church to show the church’s new name, LifePoint Church. This is the 143-year-old church’s fifth name.

 

Marjorie Otto
Review staff

Trinity Baptist Church, a longtime community member of both the East Side of St. Paul and, within the past 50 years, Maplewood, has changed its name. 

The church, following an April 1 kickoff event, is now called LifePoint Church. It has about 175 members.

“It’s very emotional,” said Brad Johnson, a fourth generation, lifelong member of the church, which is located on Edgerton Street near Highway 36. “But we have to move forward.”

The decision to change the name came as church leaders looked at how to fit into the changing neighborhood around them. It has been a common trend the past few years to see churches changing their image to connect better with the changing communities around them.

 

Cause and effect

In May of 2015 Trinity Baptist Church implemented a new church vision and in June of that year a committee was established to begin evaluating whether changing the name of the church would be something to consider as a part of that vision. The committee conducted a neighborhood survey and consulted national research.

The neighborhood survey, conducted in a three-mile radius around the church, found that about 58 percent of neighbors did not know about the church, 57 percent said they would not consider attending a Baptist church, and about 23 percent of those surveyed had “false or negative impressions of Baptists,” said Rev. Dr. Peter Vogt, who has been a pastor at the church for almost three years.

Vogt said some of those surveyed incorrectly 

connected the Baptist part of the church’s name with the Westboro Baptist Church, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers an “extremist cult.” Others surveyed also associated the Baptist name with conservative values or believed that Trinity was a part of the Southern Baptists conference — the church belongs to the Converge Worldwide conference.

After the neighborhood survey, the church consulted national research, which had found results similar to the neighborhood survey. The national research also found that the Millennial generation, a demographic of people with birth years between the early 1980s and early 2000s, was more “suspicious,” or less likely to approach a church if the denomination was included in the name.

“We have no control over people’s perceptions,” Vogt said. “We don’t want to cut ourselves off from the possibility of someone coming and finding out what God is doing here and being a part of it.”

Hence, the committee recommended to the church board that the name should be changed. The board brought it to the congregation and the congregation voted to approve moving on from calling itself Trinity Baptist Church. After discussions with the congregation, members were given three names and “LifePoint” received the most votes.

As for “LifePoint,” Vogt explained the idea for it came from “the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 10 where Jesus says, ‘I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.’”

Vogt added that in the church’s faith, Jesus is the center and point of their lives and that, “we were given mission to point to Him.”

 

Not the first time

This isn’t the first time the church has changed it’s name. In its 143 years of history, LifePoint Church is its fifth name.

In May of 1873, 11 Swedes and one German, most of whom lived in Swede Hollow on St. Paul’s East Side, decided to start their own church, the First Swedish Baptist Church. They had been meeting in the basement of the First Baptist Church in downtown St. Paul for a number of years. 

They wanted their own church where they could practice their faith in their own language, Swedish. For its first few years, its name was in Swedish — something along the lines of “Första Svenska Baptist Church” according to Google translate — before the name was changed the English version. 

Johnson, the fourth-generation member of the church where up to six generations of congregants attend, said the church moved through a series of buildings in its early years.

At one point the church had a fairly large building, holding about 1,200 people, at Payne and Sims avenues. In 1943, the First Swedish Baptist Church became the Payne Avenue Baptist Church. 

In 1963, the church moved to its current location at 2220 Edgerton St. in Maplewood, changing its name to Trinity Baptist Church.

"[The name change is] a hard change for people and I get that,” Vogt said, “but it's consistent with our DNA.”

 

A trend?

LifePoint isn’t the first church that has undergone a change in reaction to changing demographics and habits. 

At the end of 2016, the 102-year-old congregation at Faith Alliance Church, located on the East Side of St. Paul, dissolved, citing changing demographics, an aging and shrinking congregation and increased costs to maintain the church building. The building is now being used by a majority second and third generation Hmong church named RiverLife Church.

A similar situation occurred in West St. Paul at the end of 2016. The 150-year-old St. Michael Catholic Church closed its doors a month before Christmas due to the dwindling number of families attending Sunday Mass. There was also a shortage of priests, meaning fewer masses could be held at St. Michael. This combination of fewer masses and fewer families made it unaffordable to maintain the building.

LifePoint hopes its changed vision and name will make the church more accessible to younger and more diverse populations. 

The 142-year-old church has a history of working with diverse populations, too. Many churches, involving people of Hmong, Vietnamese and Puerto Rican backgrounds have started within its walls and eventually moved on to their own buildings.

Today, a congregation of about 525 Karen Baptists meets in the 2220 Edgerton building, the largest Karen Baptist congregation in the United States. About 30 Thai Baptists use the space as well. 

“The commitment to reaching out to the neighborhood ... that’s been a part of the history of the church,” said Vogt, explaining the past changes in name reflect its ever-changing neighborhoods, while the church’s commitment to its faith has remained unchanged.

“What makes us Baptists is what we believe and what we practice and none of that is changing,” Vogt said.

Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.
 

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