Unexpected Partners: Grace Episcopal Church in Ishpeming and Local Brewery Join Forces

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Grace Episcopal Church and Kognisjon Bryggeri (Cognition Brewing Company reimagined) have entered into a new partnership to strengthen the community in the city of Ishpeming.

Grace is a small congregation of loving, faithful members who have cared for their building, their resources, and one another since 1902. “Church is community,” said Ginny Graybill, who is a member and priest at Grace Episcopal Church, “and the community has a great love for this beautiful building. Like so many parishes nationwide, Grace has experienced a decline in active members over the years and with that maintaining our building became a great financial problem.”

Lydia Kelsey Bucklin, who serves as Canon to the Ordinary for Discipleship and Vitality in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan, began meeting with leaders of Grace in September 2019 to vision for their future as a community of faith. One of the tasks the group was asked to do was to reflect on their Ishpeming neighbors and the needs of their local community.

When asked where Ishpeming residents could be found on an average day, one of the members joked, “Right behind us, at Cognition!”

In the alley behind Grace Episcopal Church was Cognition Brewing Company, a popular gathering space for locals and biking enthusiasts, owned by local electrician and 3rd generation Ishpeming resident, Jay Clancey.

Both Graybill and Bucklin reached out to Clancey, wondering if he’d be up for a conversation. “What was so unique about Cognition was the sense of family that had been built by Jay and his team. Most everyone who came in for a beer was known by name and I was blown away by the philanthropic activities and outreach they were involved in,” said Bucklin. Cognition has spearheaded fundraising activities for UPAWS (Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter) and  has hosted successful canned food drives in the past as well.

As Grace’s financial burden continued to grow and Cognition seemed to be facing equally unresolvable issues, the two realized that there just might be a path forward which would allow both to continue working towards a common goal.

Members of Grace Episcopal Church and Jay Clancey met a number of times to dream about the possibilities of working together. Clancey was following the movement of “Pub is the Hub” in the UK in which “The pub should be the centre or hub of community life and can also provide essential services beyond the usual drinks, food or entertainment” (https://www.pubisthehub.org.uk).

Clancey’s longtime dream for his brewery was that it would revitalize historic downtown Ishpeming. The mission of the church is to care for and nourish people in the community, thus creating a perfect partnership.

As conversations began to develop and word spread on the street, more partners emerged asking to be involved in the new endeavor. Peace Pies, Bearded Lady Creations, Partridge Creek Farms, and the Lake Superior Theatre are just a few of the organizations who are looking forward to collaborating and even hosting events in the space.

Grace Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan officially transferred ownership of the church building to Kognisjon Bryggeri, in order for Clancey to redevelop the space for mixed use purposes and invest in the building in creative ways.

Clancey plans to maintain the historic integrity of the church, including the woodwork and beautiful stained glass windows and the worshipping community will continue to gather in the building on Sunday mornings. “Jay owns the building, but there will be no immediate change in our worship,” said Graybill. “We are looking forward to working together to make this building a community hub.” All parties are embracing this as a symbiotic relationship in which the common focus is to provide a space for the community of Ishpeming to gather and support one another.

Clancey will soon begin interior work of the building and hopes to open the space to the wider community in the near future.