A modest but modern house in a Spanaway sub-division has become an unlikely magnet for teens and young adults seeking a religious community.
The home is the residence of the Mike and Joslyn England family, and on Sunday afternoons it transforms into an inviting place for biblical fellowship and prayer.
This home church, located at 1822 179th Street Ct East, grew out of Mike’s work as a youth pastor for several years at Frontier Junior High and Graham-Kapowsin High School, which was organized under the auspices of the Graham Covenant Evangelical Church. For the past few years, Mike and his assistant Nick Fultz ran a very successful after-school ministry for students that had up to sixty teens participating.
However, in the spring of 2010, Mike, who is the son of a pastor and has worked in several churches and ministries throughout the Puget Sound area, decided he wanted to start his own church. Drawing upon his youth ministry at G-K and FJH, many of the teens joined him in forming a church based in his house.
The house church is officially called Grace Place Spanaway, or GPS, and is part of the larger Grace Place Network, a Tacoma-based religious organization that encompasses several churches and an educational center for pastoral studies – all headed by Mike’s father.
As for Mike and his youth, their faith community began as part-religious worship and part-teen social. Originally, the group met on Sunday afternoons and frequently began their “service” by watching sports on TV. After cheering on the Seahawks or other sports favorites, the group then had a family-style meal, such as a spaghetti dinner. Afterwards, they would meet in the England’s large living room, talk about important issues in their lives, and craft impromptu prayers of resolution. Then, Mike would lead them in a scriptural reading and sermon.
Some of that has changed now that the GPS approaches their first anniversary this Easter. Many of the founding teens have gone off to the military, college or travel, and in their place have come several of Mike and Joslyn’s peers – young adults with a couple kids and fervor in their hearts.
In fact, one new family, Doug and Erin Berry, are sharing pastoral responsibilities with Mike and Joslyn.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Berry’s are also very active in another new Graham faith community, the Rainier View Community Church on 224th St.
“We love the Rainier View Church, and I wanted to expose my girls to that experience – like the group singing and all the other aspects that a large community can offer,” said Erin. “But we also like the closeness and warmth of a house church, so we belong to both!”
Erin added that she and her husband first met in China and had belonged to an underground Christian church there.
“It’s like family, here,” she said. “We know personal stuff about each other. How many other churches can you say that about?”
As the members change, so do the needs of the community. Gone is NFL football or NBA basketball it seems, replaced with youngsters running around while young moms socialize together and their toddlers cling to a hand, ankle, or clothing.
The talk also goes beyond sports or school work as the young adults grapple with the pressing issues of raising a young family.
For some it’s business – literally. Several members of the GPS community now work with Mike in his Internet enterprise, an outfit called Viral Biz, a cutting-edge company that offers social media management services to small and mid-range businesses seeking to tap into FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Erin Berry and Joslyn England are also joining forces to form a school in which their children can receive an exemplary education.
Called the Grace Academy of Tacoma, the women say it’s a “university model school,” meaning the children will be educated in a fashion similar to college students; specifically, they’ll be in a classroom only two days a week, but the classwork will be concentrated so that they can focus on one subject for up to three hours.
“It’s a unique model, and we’ll be the first one in Washington using it,” said Erin, “but it’s big in Texas.”
When children are not in a school classroom they’ll be home-schooled by their parents.
Joslyn’s passion for this school is based in her own childhood learning.
“When I was growing up, regular school just didn’t work for me – I couldn’t even read when I was in 3rd grade,” she said. “I only got ‘it’ when I went to a school like this.”
Erin sees the need for their innovative school in equally impassioned terms.
“I feel like our kids are being pushed out of the public schools,” she declared. “My daughters are scheduled to go to Clover Creek Elementary in the Bethel School District and because of a renovation there, they’re going to be doubled-up with Natchez Trail Elementary. Class sizes are going to be 40-to-1, and they were already too high before – like 30-to-1.”
“In our new school, we’ll have a 5:1 teacher-student ratio,” counters Joslyn. “I insist on that. Small class sizes and involved parents are the key to academic success”
Joslyn, the school’s Director, says their school will start in September with about 30 students in grades K-5. With every passing year they plan to add an additional grade so that in seven years they will have the capacity to educate their students through high school.
“It’ll be a very diverse group of students, too,” said Erin. “There will be children from Samoan and Pacific Islander families and Hispanic families as well.
The cost for the school is slated at $1,800 per year, with scholarships available. In addition, students and their families do not have to be members of the Grace Place South congregation.
With education, business and religion mixing together, the GPS is truly a robust growing community.
“We’re following the African model of an integrated community,” said Mike, “where the economic, educational and spiritual needs of a village, a community, are addressed in a holistic fashion.”
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