ALLENDALE, N.J. — Take a close look at that hip-looking millennial at the Ramsey Starbucks on Franklin Turnpike and you’ll immediately spot her clerical collar.
“People ask me about it all the time,” said 29-year-old Pastor Jenny McLellan of Calvary Lutheran Church in Allendale .
Some ask outright if she’s a minister. Others want to know if she’s making some kind of fashion statement.
Then there’s the sign she places in front of her as she sits at the coffee shop: “May I pray with you? I am available for you if you would like a prayer.”
Whatever people ask or say is fine by her: "Pastor Jenny," as she’s known, got what she came for: a connection.
McLellan began her pastorship in 2013, during a time when Christian church attendance was dipping across the board. The traditional way of pastoring – stay in the church where people can find you – needed an upgrade.
“At Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, they recognized they were preparing pastors for a church that no longer exists,” McLellan said. “There was a lot of questioning about what the world needs in a church now.”
She hasn’t figured it all out yet. But McLellan realizes her church has to do some things differently than it did when it was founded decades ago.
Today less than 1 percent of the New Jersey population is Lutheran, McLellan said. Typically, a worship service at Calvary draws 50 people.
There’s an idea of the church as a place people go to separate from life, she said. What’s evolving now is church in the community.
To make the shift, she knows she has to leave her office and find the “third spaces.”
“Those are the places in between home and work where people gather,” she explained.
Starbucks is perfect. So is the Allendale Bar & Grill in Allendale, where Pastor Jenny will sit at the bar sipping a happy hour beer while building relationships.
“I know some names now and I’ve done pastoral care there,” she said. “There have been members of the community who have passed away unexpectedly or folks going through transitions with their jobs.”
They pray together right there at the bar. Or they’ll go to a table to pray.
Pastor Jenny also holds Bible and Brown Bag sessions with congregants at local parks.
It’s apropos that the church is finding new ways to reach people now, of all times, McLellan said.
Next year is the 500th anniversary of The Reformation, in which Martin Luther separated from the Roman Catholic Church. Meanwhile, Calvary Lutheran Church in Allendale will celebrate its 50th anniversary.