Inner-city Philadelphia, good beer, community and radical authenticity.
In 2004, two guys from Montana, with very different stories, met in the most unlikely of places: big-city Philadelphia. Philly is home to Westminster Theological Seminary, and both men were seminary students. They dreamed about and began talking about returning to Montana to start a church. Specifically, their vision was to plant a church for people who were un-churched, de-churched or burned-by-the-church. They believed the gospel of Jesus Christ had the power to transform lives, and they had been experiencing it themselves!
In the fall of 2006, those two students - Christian Cryder and Ryan Sutherland - moved from Philly to Missoula with their wives and children to put the power of the gospel to the test. They began interacting with the community. Initially, this entailed one-on-one conversations with people they met randomly in the city. They gathered with these folks in breweries and they hosted dinners and parties. Most of these people were not connected to local churches. Their community grew and people were surprised at the authentic friendship offered by these beer-loving pastors. In fact, the idea that these two men were looking to start a church seemed so radical that the Missoula Independent ran a cover feature on them.
In 2007, they “officially” delved into spirituality with their new friends by hosting a study of the Bible. This group was specifically geared for skeptics – those with doubts about the Bible, Jesus, and this whole Christianity claim. It was a small group; only the Cryders, the Sutherlands, and two other couples joined the study, but something amazing took place. Belief! People began to see this Jesus character, portrayed in the Bible, as real!
Following that study, the Cryders and the Sutherlands continued to host small groups in their homes. They shared their vision with their friends and neighbors – the vision of a church that would seek to renew the city socially, culturally and spiritually. Those friends and neighbors started getting excited, right along with them.
All Souls Missoula began formal public worship in 2008 in a beautiful church building right in the heart of downtown Missoula. No, not really. True to form, this eclectic group initially met right next to the Badlander – a bar. The space has since housed the Central Bar & Grill and more recently, Dickey’s BBQ. Perhaps this attests to our good taste? About 35 people attended those initial meetings. In March of 2009, we moved our worship to the MCT Center for the Performing Arts. Growth continued to be slow as we experienced the transient nature of this college town.
In 2013, All Souls hit a benchmark in financial giving and attendance and we elected our first elders. Sounds awfully formal, doesn’t it? Maybe. Until you meet these guys. Ric Hauer and Joe Kesler were trained and then elected as elders by the church. During this process, Christian was feeling a familiar, if somewhat uncomfortable, “tug”. He was sensing God calling him on to a new adventure. In November 2013, Christian and his wife Marilyn got tugged all the way to Austin, TX.
In the midst of these transitions, members of the church stepped up. Christian had served as our music director, so Jesse Barnett responded to the need (whew!) and filled the vacancy. Others members also responded to the new and changing needs of the church. All Souls has been – and will continue to be – a church that moves forward in its mission and vision as a result of community effort, investment and engagement.
Today, we still wrestle with what it means to be followers of Jesus. We seek to be a safe place for people to question, confront and challenge the claims of Christianity as we learn to live in authentic community together.
Come check it out. We’d love to hear how YOU think we’re doing…