A bonus family. That's how Christy Cass describes being part of Rochester Assembly Church.

She has been involved in the congregation for nearly 14 years. Her husband, Andy Cass, serves as the congregation's executive pastor after many years working in youth and young adult ministry.

In sitting down with Christy, it immediately was clear that participating in the life of the congregation brings her deep joy and fulfillment, and it also provides spiritual fuel for her daily life.

Cass grew up in a faithful family of Methodists. An especially formative chapter in her faith development occurred when she attended Okaboji Bible Camp at the age of 16. That experience propelled her to dive more deeply into her faith. When she left the Rochester area to attend the University of Minnesota Duluth for college a few years later, she went with the intention of becoming involved in campus ministry right away, and that is just what she did.

From that point forward, she felt a strong affinity for youth and young adult ministry. "I make a decision and I don't look back," Cass said with a warm smile. She moved back to Rochester and joined Rochester Assembly Church after marrying Andy.

In addition to involvement at church and parenting three daughters, Zakiyah, Zion and Keza, Cass also has her own hair salon, Tala Hair Studio, which she runs out of her home. She also creates and sells watercolor and hand-lettered paintings through her Christy Cass Art Facebook page.

"It all flows together," said Cass as she pondered the connections between her spiritual life and her art. The salon is not only a place to style hair, it's also a space for fellowship and deep conversation.

A spark of bliss radiated from Cass's face as she talked about the first Thursday of every month. That's Ladies Night at Rochester Assembly Church, and everyone is welcome. The group gathers to enjoy great food and time to connect. They choose a different Rochester-area restaurant every month. Those gathered in the group choose not to drink on Ladies Night as a way of creating a safe space for those who abstain from alcohol or have a history of addiction.

Ladies Night is one of many ways the congregation lives out its mission of "Believe, Belong, Become." Welcoming people as they are is a key priority for the leadership of the congregation. The church website proclaims, "Our mission is to welcome people just as they are. It is not a prerequisite for you to believe what we believe, or to become a certain person before you belong."

When asked about the congregation's main priorities, Cass said, "We have the saying 'Own your block' as a church. I tell people, 'Open your garage door. Start there! Meet your neighbors.' We want people to start wherever they are."

Relationship and community are key for the Cass family and also for the people of Rochester Assembly Church. "We hope to be creating a loving and welcoming environment," she said. "That's what we're trying to do."

The leadership of the congregation is maintained by the staff and a board of male deacons serving three-year terms. About the current functioning of the church, she said, "We're in a healthy spot. It feels really good."

Being part of Rochester Assembly Church isn't a way to evaporate life's challenges, but it is an environment to build community. "Life is hard and messy," said Cass. "There's something special about being part of a church. It's a bonus family. We have each other's backs."

Three worship services are part of every Sunday at Rochester Assembly Church as well as child care and Sunday school. To learn more about the congregation, visit www.rochesterassembly.com/ or call 507-288-0868.