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Spirit Garage church is ready to rock out on Sunday mornings

Posted on 24 July 2017 by calvin

Each Sunday morning at 10:30, the Hook and Ladder Theater and Lounge transform from a hip South Minneapolis entertainment venue to something much different—Spirit Garage, a mostly nondenominational house of worship aimed at Christians who are looking for a new way to connect with God.

Or, said music minister John Kerns (a.k.a. Kernsey), it could be that Spirit Garage is not that much different from the Hook and Ladder Theater. One of the things Kerns and Pastor Carolyn Philstrom hope to offer to those who attend their church is what they call ‘Saturday night on Sunday morning.’ Music—in this case, rock ‘n’ roll music—is at the center of the worship services.

Hook and LadderPhoto right: Spirit Garage church community worships out of Hook and Ladder at 3010 Minnehaha Ave. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

Spirit Garage is new to the Longfellow neighborhood but has a long history. It began in Uptown in 1997, ministering to mostly young people, then moved to the Loring Park neighborhood in 2007, working with what Kerns calls “people homeless or on the verge, looking for a hot cup of coffee on a cold day.”

“Now, we’re drawing disaffected Christians who’ve had a negative church experience and who want rock ‘n’ roll in a church. Most people don’t listen to organ music for pleasure,” he said.
“This is a church where people can bring their whole selves,” said Philstrom. “It’s OK to swear. It’s OK to share your struggles. We’re non-judgmental. Historically, a lot of churches were status churches. It was where so-called respectable people went on Sunday. That’s not who we are.”

“Here,” Kerns said, “You don’t have to pretend who you are. ”

Kerns, who has been with Spirit for 20 years—almost half his life—oversees the three rock bands who take turns playing the services. Kerns brings his acoustic Gibson and his electric Fender Telecaster guitars and writes many of the songs performed on Sundays.

The music is mostly classic rock, said Kerns but “We do everything modern.” It’s often gritty and authentic, reflecting the view of modern times.” But, sometimes, the songs are lighter and more familiar.

“Last Sunday, we played ‘Thank you for Being a Friend,’ the theme to the television show ‘Golden Girls.’”

“A couple of people got excited,” said Philstrom, “and walked around the room, giving high-fives to everyone.”

Another Sunday, she said, “The congregation sang a traditional hymn but switched their pronouns when mentioning God, using she, he and they. It was a more liberating theology.”

IMG_9941Photo left: Pastor Carolyn Philstrom (left) and John Kerns (a.k.a. Kernsey), the church’s minister of music, talk about the ministry of Spirit Garage outside a local coffee shop. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

They cover the cases of beer on the bar Philstrom said. Instead, coffee and snacks are available. “People can drink coffee during the service. A lot of times, we sit at tables. There is more of a feel of going to a show instead of going to a church.”

Kerns admits that, in some ways, they’re not that much different than many churches. They celebrate Holy Communion, welcome the community of faith through baptism and consider their faith as part of a lifelong process rather than an instant decision.

“We’re Lutheran under the hood,” said Kerns. Spirit Garage has been partially funded by Bethlehem Lutheran Church. “Church people who come in for services recognize us as Lutheran. Others who walk in don’t care.”

Spirit Garage’s tagline is, ‘The Church with the Really Big Door, referring to the large garage-style door on the Hook and Ladder building, once a Minneapolis fire station. But, it also refers to the accepting atmosphere that Kerns and Philstrom hope to continue to create.

They admit that Spirit Garage is not for everyone. They say they are not a church organization, but a gathering of people and they admit that for some, another church with another style might be more appropriate.

But, they say they hope that those who feel uncomfortable or unwelcome at other churches will feel welcome at Spirit Garage. “We’re LGBT friendly, which makes us unique,” Kerns said. “Many people don’t feel welcome in other churches because of their sexual orientation, their skin color. Or, both. Or, whatever.”

Philstrom is currently the interim pastor, filling in after the permanent pastor left for another gig last January. As of now, Spirit Garage is officially in a search mode to find someone who shares the vision and would sign on as head pastor. Philstrom hopes to move to hospital ministry and to work for racial justice.

Spirit Garage partners with charities, offering volunteer opportunities for members including Feed My Starving Children, International Justice Ministry, Global Health Ministry, Crescent Cove and Sharing the Dream.

Those wanting to learn more can find the church online at or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Services are available online, or just show up on Sunday morning to Spirit Garage, 3010 Minnehaha Ave. There’s free coffee, and you’ll be welcome.

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