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Pastor thinks outside the church

  • Pastor Chris Breuninger of the Santa Rosa Redwood Convenant Church, preaches during a service on Good Friday, March 29, 2013. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Pastor Chris Breuninger wants his parishioners to follow the path of Jesus — by walking out the church doors and into the arms of the rest of the world.

Jesus "spent his time around lakes and seas and mountains — not a lot of time in the synagogue, but in the streets," said Breuninger, lead pastor at west Santa Rosa's Redwood Covenant Church.

Since his arrival two years ago, Breuninger has moved quickly to reorient the church outward. To institute his practical Christianity, he established a series of "Community Groups," teams of 40 or 50 members who plan events, conduct social work or just forge friendly, informal connections with those outside the church.

While he doubled the congregation at his last church in Washington, Breuninger said bringing converts to the church on Sebastopol Road is not important. What matters is living faith outside the confines of a church hall or Bible study group.

"I think we grow most when we're serving," he said. "We often associate church with sitting in a chair listening to a talking head, taking down information, downloading. Faith formation is something we do in our lives. We live it out, and the way we live it out is in community."

As a result, the new community groups are a decidedly unorthodox mix. There are groups devoted to traditional church projects, such as feeding the hungry, organizing prayer circles or planning overseas missions, but there also are groups devoted to more secular pursuits, such as volunteering with Special Olympics and even wine appreciation.

Church member Matthew Nalywaiko is leading a community group devoted to serving the needs of single mothers in the community.

Breuninger "has come in and done a paradigm shift," Nalywaiko said. "He's saying 'church is great, but our God is out there.'"

Groups related to homelessness and reaching out to men, meanwhile, have volunteered with Santa Rosa's Redwood Gospel Mission, mission Executive Director Jeff Gilman said. Volunteers and performers will be participating in a major downtown outreach to the homeless and needy on Easter afternoon, an event expected to draw several hundred people.

Breuninger "has a creative idea that's a little different from a lot of folks," Gilman said. "It's really exciting to see how the church is being mobilized to get out and take care of folks in the community."

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