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New church feels 'like home'

Nancy and Mike Strachota opened their first Celebration of Praise Church in a Woodbury school in 1994. Below is the bright yellow sign in front of their new location at 700 Summit Ave., in St. Paul Park. (Bulletin photo by Toni Lambert)

The natural wood paneling, the tables set for a meal, the chairs in a circle and the flowers all give a feeling of home to the tiny church known as Celebration of Praise, on Summit Avenue, in St. Paul Park.

And that's exactly the atmosphere pastors Mike and Nancy Strachota want as they greet parishioners on Sundays.

The goal of Celebration of Praise -- which moved to the new location last fall -- is to foster a home fellowship, the Strachotas said.

"It's pretty amazing how things happen when we turn the worship service over to the Lord," Mike Strachota said.

"Sometimes everyone at the table will have the same thing on their hearts."

Worship at Celebration of Praise begins with singing and praying, then moves to tables for talk. "While we talk, people can get up and move around or go for coffee as if they were at home," Mike Strachota said.

The intent of talking and praying with each other is to grow spiritually, to find what the Lord is trying to change in our lives, Nancy Strachota said. "We talk about changing our attitudes and any number of things we battle in life."

When people are invited and participate in worship, they grow a lot faster spiritually, Mike Strachota said. "What's frustrating for many pastors is they don't see people growing, people aren't sharing, aren't getting personal ministry by sharing what's on their hearts."

When people run out of things to talk about or have less to discuss, Mike Strachota moves on to a lesson message. Twice a month, parishioners share a meal -- either before or after worship.

The Strachotas have been pastoring for more than 30 years in the Foursquare denomination, founded by Aimee Semple McPherson in Oakland, Calif., in 1923.

Mike Strachota said the Foursquare church appeals to him because it "ordains women and I love its great missionary outreach program and support of missionaries in the field. I also like its attitude toward a person's past -- what's past is passed."

Mike Strachota became a Christian at age 30 after years of marital and drinking problems.

"When I gave my life to Christ, He did an incredible job of changing me from the inside out," Strachota said.

Nancy Strachota had a similar experience at a time when she was mourning the death of her mother and suffering from debilitating back pain. Both went to seminary together and have since served as missionaries in Mexico, and led radio, bookstore and inner-city ministries.

In south Washington County, they opened their first Celebration of Praise home fellowship in a Woodbury school. From there, they moved to Newport, then to St. Paul Park. When pastor Mike Hanson started Open Heart Church at the Summit Avenue building, the Strachotas served as assistant pastors. Hanson and his wife, Deb, moved to a church in Wyoming, Minn., last year and asked the Strachotas to take over. At first, they refused, saying they planned to retire, but later reconsidered after much prayer, they said.

"The ideal size of a home fellowship is no more than 25 people," Nancy Strachota said. "If the group gets larger than that, we divide into two. The object is to remain small."

They welcome everyone to Sunday gatherings which begin at 10:30 a.m. and last from one to two hours with meals on the second and fourth Sundays. For details, call (651) 769-0319. The church is located at 700 Summit Ave., in St. Paul Park.