Buddhist temple purchases former Lutheran church

by Seth Rowe
ECM Sun Newspapers
The former Lutheran Church of the Reformation will remain a house of worship, but for another religion.

Religious services now held at a temple in Elk River will be held in St. Louis Park in the future.
Religious services now held at a temple in Elk River will be held in St. Louis Park in the future.

The Thai Buddhist Center of Minnesota purchased the former church at 2544 Highway 100 in January. The building will be renovated to become home of Wat Thai of Minnesota, which is currently located in Elk River.

“This is a lot closer to members,”

said Tracy Schultz, a temple coordinator. “It’s ended up being the best fit possible.”

Yin Srichoochat, board director for the temple, said after speaking in Thai with one of the monks who attended a March 6 St. Louis Park City Council meeting: “They feel so welcomed by the neighbors. They’re moving from a really faraway place. They get to meet more people, and they teach about meditations, also.”

The temple will be open to anyone who wants to explore meditation, even if they have never attended a Buddhist temple in the past, Schultz explained.

Although a grand opening for the temple isn’t anticipated until 2018, the temple will host a Songkran, or Thai New Year, celebration Sunday, April 9, at the St. Louis Park location.

The event, which the public can attend, will feature a Buddhist ceremony 10 a.m. to noon. From noon to 4 p.m., the celebration will include a water blessing ceremony, Thai street food, a Ms. Songkran contest and traditional Thai dance performances.

“We’d like to use the opportunity to welcome all the neighbors,” Srichoochat said.

Because the temple is intended to house monks on a rotational basis, City Council members voted March 6 to approve an ordinance that would allow up to 15 people to live at a religious institution in a single-family residential zoning district.

Submitted photo The Thai Buddhist Center of Minnesota purchased a former church in St. Louis Park that will replace its temple in Elk River.
Submitted photo
The Thai Buddhist Center of Minnesota purchased a former church in St. Louis Park that will replace its temple in Elk River.

Temple leaders had originally intended to house monks in the existing structure but have learned of unanticipated costs, said St. Louis Park Assistant Zoning Administrator Gary Morrison.

Schultz said after the meeting, “We will be constructing a separate building to house the monks on the property.”

Morrison said during the meeting that the council would have the ability to consider a conditional use permit for the housing units at a future meeting.

Council Member Sue Sanger said: “I wanted to welcome the Thai Buddhist center to St. Louis Park. I’m glad you’re here. I also know the neighbors around you are very glad as well.”

Sanger said she appreciates that the temple will preserve “an excellent example of mid-century modern architecture” by preserving the former church. Neighbors have also praised the temple’s decision to allow a community garden on the site, she said.

Council Member Thom Miller, who lives in the Birchwood Neighborhood where the former church is located, said, “I think this is a big win for the neighborhood.”

He noted that the building has been in disrepair while it sat vacant.

Most importantly, Miller said to monks clad in orange robes and other temple representatives present at the meeting, “We want to welcome ethnic diversity, faith diversity in this community, so welcome.”
Mayor Jake Spano added, “I have a feeling you will become a good partner to some of the other religious organizations in that area.”

Across Highway 100, religious leaders of Beth El Synagogue and Benilde-St. Margaret’s, a Catholic school, have helped promote interfaith dialogue.

“I think it’s great that a new presence will be in our community within eyeshot of those institutions,” Spano said.

After the meeting, the mayor said that developers had approached the city about redeveloping the former church with residential projects.

“None of them seemed right,” Spano said.

The temple will add to St. Louis Park’s diverse faith tradition.

“I’m excited to get in there,” Spano said. “I’m interested in learning more about them.”

In the lobby of City Hall, Schultz said: “We’ve felt extraordinarily welcomed. The comments from the council were just really heartwarming and encouraging.”

While logistics have taken time to place, she said, “There haven’t been any real barriers with the city.”
Schultz became involved with the Thai Buddhist Center because the president of the temple is also the owner of the Uptown restaurant Amazing Thailand, where Schultz works.

Because some people may be unfamiliar with Buddhism and have difficulty broaching differences in faith, Schultz said, “It’s fun to serve as a bridge.”

She added: “I love it. I love the people at the temple, working alongside the monks and learning Thai.”
The temple will be open to people of all religions, Srichoochat said. She noted plans to plant Thai herbs and spices, including cilantro and chiles.

She said, “We can’t wait for the summer to share the garden with neighbors.”
More information is available at watthaimn.us.