Ever since she was working her way through seminary, Beth Preston has wanted to start a ministry that reaches out to a broader community.
She’s brought her vision to life in Spencer by opening The Way Station, located 302 North Grand Avenue.
Preston described The Way Station as a new gathering place that’s an outreach ministry of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Spirit Lake that combines arts, books, crafts, coffee and community with church services.
“When thinking and praying about what my ministry was going to be, for a long time, during the four years that it took me to get through seminary, this idea kind of evolved,” Preston said. “One thing is we had a class in seminary called Church in Contemporary Society, where we really talked about what are the characteristics of our society today. The research says that there’s a growing number of people who are unaffiliated with any church. So, we can’t think anymore that people are just going to come to the church. The idea is that we kind of have to be out in the community.”
A gathering place
When people walk into The Way Station, they enter a room with an eclectic array of tables, chairs, other furniture and decorations. This is the hangout space, where Preston envisions people gathering for coffee, tea and light snacks.
There’s a chapel, where services are held on Sunday, an art workshop and Friar Tuck’s Book Nook, a collection of used books that can be purchased or borrowed and returned.
Preston described the art workshop as a space similar to Creative Spirits in Spirit Lake, where people can come in and create their own piece based on the month’s project.
“I can show you how to do it,” Preston said. “If you want to get together a group, a party, we can do that, too.”
She also plans to have supplies around so people can drop in and create their own, smaller crafts.
“Something quick and easy and fun they can do if they don’t want to do a full, big art project,” she said.
People who use The Way Station’s various services can offer a free will donation.
The space is adding features as it progresses, Preston said. Many hours from volunteers went into getting The Way Station ready to open on Sept. 9, when it held its first Sunday services. The rest of the space opened the next week.
“We’re getting up and running,” Preston said. “It’s kind of a work in progress. We just got all our tables in the art room this past week. I still need chairs. So, you know, it’s kind of putting it together as we go.”
The Way Station is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. On Sunday, there is a traditional Episcopal prayer book service at 3 p.m. and a Come and See service at 4:30 p.m.
Church services and community outreach
Preston is assistant priest at St. Alban’s. She became an ordained priest in July.
She got the idea for a Come and See service while visiting her daughter in Arizona. They attended St. Philip’s in the Hills, a large Episcopal church in Tuscon, which has a Come and See service as one of its five Sunday services.
“It’s just really informal,” Preston said. “They sit in a circle and people kind of share their stories. It’s really for seekers, inquirers. They have a Buddhist and an atheist who come. It’s open to everyone and that’s really another piece of what I wanted to do here.”
The arts and craft idea was inspired by a similar venue they heard about in Connecticut called The Spirit Wind Center for Creativity and Healing.
“I have an art background, so I thought, Ooh, that sounds neat. What’s that?,” Preston said. “We went and visited and met the couple who runs it. The woman is an artist and the husband is ordained. They’re also in this organization that we’re in called The Order Saint Luke the Physician. It’s all about prayers for healing.”
She first heard about the Connecticut organization in a magazine associated with The Order of Saint Luke the Physician.
“They have been a real inspiration to me,” Preston said. “I became a partner with them. I correspond with them and share prayer requests and things.”
A place for Spencer to gather
Preston knew she wanted to open a similar place in Spencer. Grand Avenue has a lot of foot traffic and great events where people gather, she said, and the town has a population they’re targeting.
“Of the whole area, Spencer seems to have a high number of young professionals and young people,” Preston said. “That’s kind of who we’re thinking of with this place. I mean, we’re here for anybody and everybody. Young families – we’ve got stuff for children (to do).
She added she wants The Way Station to be for everyone, though.
“It kind of remains to be seen who comes, who we’ll be here for,” Preston said. “We want to be here for everybody.”
Preston plans to reach out to her fellow downtown area businesses, including Arts on Grand, where she’s a member.
The Way Station and Arts on Grand can work together, Preston said.
“This here is a little more on the craft side,” Preston said. “They’re a little more toward the fine arts.”
Correction: This article misstated Beth Preston’s title at St. Alban’s. She is assistant priest.
Photo: Beth Preston stands behind the coffee counter at The Way Station, 302 North Grand Avenue in Spencer.