PALM SPRINGS – The revitalization of this tony community has given rise to luxury retreats, hotels, spas, beach clubs, and an eclectic variety of restaurants. The rebirth of this iconic tourist destination has also given life to a new faith community – Hope Palm Springs.
At 9:30 a.m. on any given Sunday morning anywhere from 20 to 35 people will gather just west of the famed Palm Canyon Drive for worship. The new faith community meets at Temple Isaiah, 332 W. Alejo Road under the leadership of the energetic and effervescent Rev. Timothy Edmondson.
“Jesus worshipped at a Jewish Temple and so do we!” is written on their business cards.
“We would rather defined by our presence out in the community than in a particular location,” Edmundson said. “We love that we worship at Temple Isaiah. We think it’s a beautiful interfaith statement and they love us being there.”
After about seven years of false starts, Hope Palm Springs held its first official service on Easter Sunday 2019.
“This is the realization of a vocational dream for me and a fulfillment of a hope our Pacifica Synod has had for a long time,” Edmondson said. “The supportive partnership we share with Hope (Lutheran) in Palm Desert has made much of this possible.”
Hope Palm Springs is a mission start of the Pacifica Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). It is a partner faith community to Hope Lutheran Church in Palm Desert. ELCA congregations are ministries that are open to all.
Mere mention of the word “Evangelical” can — and has — caused confusion, even concern.
“Evangelical” comes from the Greek word that simply means “good news.” In the literature Edmondson distributes he says that unfortunately, the word has been “hijacked” in the past 50 years by the conservative religious right and is often associated with a specific kind of Christian.
“So, don’t let the ‘e’ word scare you away,” Edmonson’s faith community says. “It’s time we take back our namesake and teach the world again that evangelical means love not hate, affirming not oppressive, open- not narrow-minded.”
Hope Palm Springs describes itself as a full-inclusion faith community. It celebrates all people of race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expressions. It welcomes and celebrates all people regardless of status, economic condition, or political affiliation. About 65 percent of those who attend regularly are members of the LGBTQ community, according to Edmundson.
“We seem to be gathering folks who have been on the margins – those who were either rejected by previous faith communities for their gayness, or those who were somehow disenfranchised from church, even disillusioned with their experience in the church,” Edmondson told Uken Report. “But having retained a sense of their spirituality, they are now re-engaging with us. It’s very exciting actually! We are pretty traditional looking (liturgy and all) but hardly conventional. We are, of course, still finding our place among the spiritual community of Palm Springs and the greater Coachella Valley.”
The faith community of Hope Palm Springs is creative in its approach to ministry, “radical” in its love for people, and unwavering in its work for the needs of others.
Edmondson, an ordained pastor for nearly 30 years, is openly gay and said he is excited to be part of the spiritual community in the valley and an “active brother.”
In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America affirmed gays/lesbians in pastoral ministry which paved the way, Edmondson said, for him to live truthfully.
While Hope Palm Springs is not a “gay church,” it still does ministry in the context of what Edmundson calls a “gay bubble.” Palm Springs has one of the highest per capita LGBTQ populations in the nation. As the new faith community prepared to open its doors, demographic studies showed the population to be about 35% gay, but Edmonson said he believes it to be much higher.
“Where have the ELCA Lutherans been? I think one of the reasons … now, some people argue with me on this, but I think one of the reasons why we weren’t here is because we didn’t know what to do with the gay population.”
You’ve no doubt seen – or heard — members of this new faith community in action. They have a booth at the ever-popular Thursday night VillageFest, consistently voted the best weekly street fair in the Coachella Valley.
The stunning booth is an eye-catcher with the colors and lights.
“It’s just neat,” Edmundson said. “There aren’t too many faith communities represented there. But just to be on the streets with all the energy and to meet people in the community, we try to connect with them somehow. Some people literally just come up to us and they recognize our life-size Martin Luther, they want a picture with him. He’s holding a transgender flag and a gay flag. Or they just come up and they say, ‘I’m looking for a new faith community.’ Our banner over the top says ‘New Faith Community in the Desert.’ ”
Hope Palm Springs has its own newsletter, “Streams,” its own Facebook page, and an Instagram account. You may sign up for the newsletter by clicking here. Despite the advantages of social media, this faith community still relies heavily on meeting people where they are. They participated in the AIDS Walk on Oct. 19, will participate in the Pride Parade and on Oct. 30, they are hosting Hope Lutheran in Palm Desert and St. John’s Lutheran in Palm Springs for a community meal.
They want to a part of the community — not apart from — the community.
Every other week, you’ll find Hope Palm Springs at the Cooling Center of Well in the Desert, the area organization that helps the homeless. Members spend the afternoon playing Bingo with those who are there.
Edmondson’s goal is to be an example to the faith community, to show that his members are to be out in the community working with the folks of this community.
“We want to go find where God is working in this community and join God in that work, right? Where is God already working in this community? We didn’t bring anything terribly new to the spiritual community here,” Edmundson said. “We did bring a Lutheran flavor, and I think the soup will taste better as a result of it.”
In August, Edmondson organized what he called was, “Wet Wednesday.” The group met at Draughtsman for beers and conversation. The first topic of conversation was politics. He said it was time to experiment with a new idea. He created a space and time to talk about things that many people don’t talk about in polite company; controversial topics related to politics, religion, and sex that include “hot-button” issues most people tend to avoid.
In a culture where we are becoming more and more polarized based on our viewpoints, it’s absolutely imperative that we find ways to be in dialogue with those who may not only think like we do, but especially those who think differently than we do, Edmondson said in announcing the event.
“We’re really looking for those people who have been disenfranchised, those who’ve had bad experiences with church,” Edmondson said. “We say on Sunday morning, ‘If you have an aversion to organized religion, perhaps you were wounded or hurt by a previous church experience, or were told that God couldn’t love you because of something about you, you are welcome here.’ ”
Until now, there has not been an ELCA faith community on the west end of the Coachella Valley. The Pacifica Synod had heard from a number of people lamenting the void. Many felt that Palm Desert was too far of a drive.
The idea of a mission start surfaced about years ago. That’s when Hope Lutheran Church in Palm Desert stepped up.
We at Hope in Palm Desert gave an initial gift of $30,000 to help seed a new mission start in Palm Springs at that time, the Rev. Derek Fossey, senior pastor at Hope Lutheran, told Uken Report. For a number of reasons, the project went idle until last year. When Tom Goellrich became the Director of Evangelical Mission for the Pacifica Synod, he revitalized the idea.
Over some conversation, Goellrich and Fossey decided to approach the new start as a hybrid satellite. They know that new starts have a greater success rate when there is a strong vital ministry partnering in the new start, rather than going at it alone. In a full satellite approach, the base congregation would initiate, fund (including the pastoral call) and set the direction for the ministry.
“What all this boils down to is that we in Palm Desert are supporting Hope Palm Springs with resources including finances, office resources, and with people,” Fossey said. “While some have used the term ‘anchor church’ for this approach, I prefer the term ‘trampoline church.’ We are here to help lift Hope Palm Springs off the ground so they can become a self-sustaining, independent ministry in Palm Springs.”
Various attempts were made through the years, but the pieces never come together, the Rev. Tom Goellrich of the Pacific Synod told Uken Report. Like Fossey, he said much goes into new starts and the pieces can be complex.
“We are grateful for the partnership we have with Hope, Palm Desert, to get this ministry launched,” Goellrich said. “Also, the revitalization of Palm Springs itself helps to make this possible.”
Local context and the understanding of how God is asking them to act on their mission drives how a congregation responds, Goellrich said. The same is true for the new start in Palm Springs. Being in their infancy they are still gleaning how God’s mission is calling them. This will be ongoing for many months and even years (a congregation should be continually discerning God’s call to mission).
“Like our other ministries they are open to all to come and participate,” Goellrich said. “It is not surprising that a new ministry in Palm Springs that has one of the highest (percentages) of people who relates to the LGBTQ+ community, would have LGBTQ+ people engaging with Hope Palm Springs, in its infancy.”
For more information, call 714-598-8623.
Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, Cindy Uken was baptized in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. She attends Hope Lutheran in Palm Desert.
- Revitalized Downtown Palm Springs: City of Palm Springs
- The Rev. Timothy Edmondson: Hope Palm Springs
- Hope Palm Springs at Villagefest: Facebook
- The Rev. Derek Fossey: Cindy Uken
- The Rev. Tom Goehlrich: Pacifica Synod
- The Rev. Tim Edmondson: Hope Palm Springs