A Highlands pastor is redefining her childhood church while trying to honor the legacy of her father.
In 2006, Celebration Foursquare Church moved to a large lot in the Highlands with room to grow. Pastor Dave McAlister spoke with the Renton Reporter in 2008 about hoping to create a community center in the five acres of open fields, that would also expand the membership of the church, which holds at around 100 members.
That didn’t come to fruition. The field is now a big community garden, maintained by Sustainable Renton. The church still meets in the small building that McAlister referred to as “crammed.”
But McAlister persevered, with plans to update the small building. He then died in December 2017 after battling an illness that doctors weren’t able to diagnose, according to family. His work has been continued by his daughter, and now pastor, Amy Lubienski, in his absence.
Lubienski said it was a big shock when he died, as they were believed McAlister would heal. During the grieving period at the church, she was approached by the Foursquare district supervisor who asked her to consider being the new pastor. She’d been serving under her dad as youth pastor for six years and then assistant pastor. But Lubienski had no desire to be head pastor, she was happy with her life as a home school mom.
But after deciding it was important to choose what God thought was her best, she accepted the role her father left behind.
The church was starting the remodel process under her father, to focus on attracting families and young children. They’d noticed a decline in young children, which Lubienski said is the “life flow of a church.”
Renovations and new coats of paint were made to the main foyer and cafe, kids’ rooms, bathrooms and youth group building across the parking lot.
There’s still other physical renovations left to do, including updating her father’s sign that stands along the road. These projects are all done through the church’s allotted budget. But first Lubienski is making some cultural renovations.
“I’m trying to do that balance between changing everything and freaking people out, and not changing anything and getting stale,” Lubienski said.
Lubienski is a very visual person, and that comes out in her sermons. She said she learned to preach from her dad, whose theatrics included motorcycles revving up the stage and a giant papier-mâché boulder in an Indiana Jones skit. One of his core values was “church should be fun,” which he physically manifested with party streamers and balloons.
The church still has a fun personality, Lubienski said, with jumping and laughter, but she wants to give that fun a fresh, new look.
Churches can change names with new leadership, but Lubienski said they intend to keep “celebration,” to show they aren’t steering away from her father’s legacy.
The 10 core values is now down to five that Lubienski feels contains the same message as the originals. She’s also planning to create a hangouts program, where people put information on a cork board about non-church events they’re attending, where they can help non-church goers get to know them more in a place comfortable to them.
“I won’t shove the gospel down their throat, but they can see Christians are just normal people like everybody else,” Lubienski said.
As Christians, Lubienski said there’s a struggle today with balancing the words of the Bible and loving others. She said it’s important for all Christians to realize there’s a way to love people without judging them. She plans to offer more events outside of church.
Some people see a woman pastor and question if they follow the Bible’s words, which call for submission to your husband. Especially considering her husband handles audio at the church. But she said they have good communication and are getting a groove, and argues that the Bible has passages of women working along men. She’s had the support of her aunt, who is a pastor in the South and faced a lot of stigmas, and several women pastors in Foursquare around the area.
Lubienski started as pastor a little over a year ago. It’s been a difficult year, with challenges from being a pastor while balancing being a mom, home school teacher and wife, but it’s also been fulfilling.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Lubienski said.
Celebration Foursquare Church is hosting a reopening Sept. 22 at noon. It’s also giving away a $500 dollar gift card to Great Wolf Lodge in celebration of the event, details of which can be found on their Facebook page, @cfcrenton.
Originally this article stated the garden is run by Habitat for Humanity. This story has been updated from the print version to correct this.