FaithXperimental Spotlight: The Way Station, Spencer, Iowa

In our travels around the U.S., both digitally and physically, we at FaithX like to keep our eyes open for examples of people, programs, communities, or ministries doing creative, innovative, and experimental things in the area of faith. And when we do find one, we like to shine a light on them in a FaithXperimental spotlight blog post.        

Today’s Spotlight article is about The Way Station, based out of Spencer, Iowa. We first learned of The Way Station at the 2019 Genesis Conference in Birmingham, Alabama (part of the Episcopal Church’s New Episcopal Communities initiative), where several dozen new or planned Episcopal Church faith communities and ministries discussed their approaches to engaging their communities. The following description comes from an interview with Rev. Beth Preston, Priest in Charge of The Way Station.

A busy day at The Way Station might find Rev. Preston chatting with a couple of women who have come in for coffee and conversation, dishing up homemade chili to hungry youth after school, supervising candle-making in the Restoration Artworks studio, and checking on the youth who are playing Statues in the Garden in Friar Tuck’s Book Nook. The Way Station is an outreach of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa and is, in the words of Bishop Alan Scarfe, “The church of the 21st Century.” Rev. Beth believes God planted this vision through the inspiration of a class at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, Church and Contemporary Society. “We studied our current culture and what people like to gather around. We all talked about how we wanted to start a coffee shop,” Rev. Preston said. Another inspiration was Spirit Wind Center for Creativity and Healing in Stonington, CT, which Rev. Beth found out about through Sharing Magazine (OSL) and visited with her husband, Glenn. 

The Way Station opened in September of 2018. It operates out of a storefront in downtown Spencer, Iowa. There is a café, where guests are served coffee, tea, hot chocolate or cold beverages and snacks. A chapel is in the heart of the building and hosts a 3:00 pm Holy Eucharist on Sundays. Then there is Rev. Beth’s office, the art room, and the book room. The ministry operates on donations, grants, and offerings, and asks only free will donations of their guests. 

So, why The Way Station? “Early followers of Jesus were called followers of The Way. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Life is a journey, and a way station is a stop along the way where travelers can rest, regroup, recharge, and be restored for the rest of their journey. They might change directions or begin their journey,” Rev. Beth explains. “Our philosophy is evangelism through radical hospitality. The back of our T-shirt says, ‘Sharing God’s Extravagant Love.’ We want to share this over-the-top, extravagant love of Jesus with our community.” The Way Station will be offering a monthly, community-wide healing service beginning in March.

The ministry is developing in response to the expressed needs of the community. Rev. Beth heard of the need for a safe and fun space for middle school youth after school. In the fall of 2018, they began offering a time specifically for middle schoolers on Thursdays. After this, The Way Station quickly became largely, though not exclusively, a youth ministry. In the summer of 2019, they started YSL, the Youth Service League. The youth had thought of making and distributing Kindness cards up and down Grand Avenue, the downtown business district of Spencer. The service league grew from there, and now youth and adult volunteers help in the community at the local animal shelter, food kitchen, care facility, and neighbors in need. 

In the fall of 2019, Rev. Beth launched GPS – God Positioning System: Where is God? Where am I? What path do I follow to get closer to God?  Thursdays at 6:00 pm, youth gather for singing, Bible Study, hearing stories from a Christian book, and prayer. A favorite part is when everyone present shares “God sightings”– where, when, and how they have seen God at work in their lives the past week.

Being located in the Central Business District has helped get the ministry started by giving it visibility. The Way Station has been able to participate in Spencer Main Street events that bring people downtown. “We were really excited to learn that we just won the most votes for Sweetest Stop at the Shop, Dine, be Mine Valentine event,” said Rev. Beth. The Way Station welcomed 80 visitors, offering a sweet sampler of chocolate treats, and every visitor was given a tour and learned about the ministry. It’s a wonderful way to get the word out about who and what they are, according to Rev. Beth.

Unfortunately, the building that the ministry was renting has been sold, and Rev. Beth is in discussion with Diocesan leadership about purchasing a permanent location. “We are growing and expanding and need to be in our own space,” says Rev. Beth, “We are prayerfully looking forward to doing all that we currently do and more in our own, permanent location. We want to have public art classes and workshops and would like to host musical/dramatic evenings. The possibilities are as infinite as God Himself.”

Rev. Beth Preston in front of The Way Station storefront
For more information about this ministry, contact Rev. Beth Peterson at [email protected]

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