Accompaniment at Faith: A Spiritual Experience of Listening to Neighbors

Tim Thao standing in front of a wooden fence
Timothy Thao, Innovation Coach

In the upcoming months, the Riverside Innovation Hub will be sharing more stories coming directly out of our partner faith communities as they move deeper into the flow of this project. We are excited to share more on the ground about how the Spirit is showing up as Innovation Teams seek out spaces to listen and be curious to God’s activity unfolding in the neighborhood. We hope these stories stir curiosity and imagination as you wonder about your own contexts and communities.

This week, we hear from Innovation Coach, Tim Thao, regarding the young adult Innovation Team at Faith Lutheran Church in Coon Rapids, MN and their initial learning as they have been having more intentional conversations with their neighbors.

 

The Accompaniment phase has been incredibly fruitful for the shared community of Coon Rapids. Even now, collaboration is bubbling up among the different churches and even between churches and other organizations.

Our Innovation Team at Faith Lutheran has accomplished some incredible feats in the early phase of this project. So many connections have been established and with all the right people coming in at the right place and at the right time, it has been putting us in a prime position to do a powerful work in our shared community.

One of our team members met with the superintendent of the local school district, David Law. Their conversation reflected much of what we heard from other sources in our community: the youth are generally underserved in the area, high school students need additional space for extracurricular activities, there is a growing number of transient students, and numerous other issues. The superintendent also mentioned how, seemingly, very few  of the various churches that line both sides of Hanson Boulevard have reached out to support the schools. He recalled that many congregations out in the White Bear Lake area, for example, are big supporters of the local schools. It was surprising for him to see the stark contrast between Coon Rapids and White Bear Lake, despite their similar demographics.

As a result of this conversation, David Law is hoping to gather local pastors on a regular basis to establish more support for students and staff in the Anoka-Hennepin school district. He is hoping to meet quarterly and is looking to begin connecting more with the Senior Pastor at Faith Lutheran.

A meeting with the Community Outreach Specialist from the Coon Rapids Police Department also gave us much insight into the culture of our city. Trish Heitman spoke on the exponential increase of incoming calls in regards to mental health and the effect that this has had on the area. We later learned that the conservative tone of the large suburb is having a deep and dramatic impact on the youth of the city and leaders in the city are we are struggling to deal with it well. In light of this conservative tone, the growing population of ethnic minorities and immigrants in the community are met with great fear. This was paralleled with a meeting that two members of our team had with Deb Geiger, the current librarian at Coon Rapids High School. She attested to the tensions that are growing in the community. This opens up a potential avenue for future engagement with our innovation initiative.

We met also with Lori Anderson who runs a program called Transformative Circle. She began the work a number of years ago as she observed the climate and demographic of Coon Rapids shifting. So on the first Thursday of every month, Lori gathers various people from the area around the dinner table to engage on a series of topics. Her Transformative Circle dinners create a culture of inclusivity and unity in the midst of hostility and division. Here, the stories of various community members coalesce and give birth to a shared community, much like that which we so long to see. One of our team members is scheduled to lead January’s circle, and we are excited to see this partnership come out of our accompaniment.

God is, without a doubt, moving in great ways, and we are so humbled to be a part of this mighty work.

 

 

Waiting For What We Are Already Becoming

Hub staff visits the headwaters of the Mississippi River

“The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” — John Muir

On Friday December 14th, the Riverside Innovation Hub staff visited the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park in Park Rapids, Minnesota. The Mississippi River has been an important conversation partner for us throughout our project. It serves as a reminder of the depth and breadth of God’s mercy flowing into our world (see Ezekiel and the Public Church: Everything will live where the River Flows).

 

It takes a drop of water at the headwaters 90 days to reach the Gulf of Mexico. That means the water we saw while we were there will be flowing through the Mississippi River valley until March 14th, the second week of Lent. That is a long time for these lovely drops of water to wait before they meet the warm waters of the Gulf. But Advent is all about waiting. And it is strange to think about Lent during Advent. But Advent is strange. Anticipatory waiting is strange.

Christian theologians use the phrase “the already-not-yet” to describe the era in which we live. God’s deep and wide mercy has already begun flowing into our world, but the fullness of the life and healing this mercy brings has not yet been fully realized. We wait for it, with anticipation. It is this anticipatory, strange waiting that our project is experiencing right now. We are in the already-not-yet. We are already experiencing the challenges and blessings of the slow work of innovation – the journey through the river’s valley – but we have not yet fully seen its fruits. This feels strange to many of us. We are not good at waiting. We prefer to control and initiate.

This is where I think John Muir might have something to offer us. God’s mercy is not something we sit next to and observe. It is something that flows “through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” We long for every drop of God’s mercy to reach its destination. But it does not make its journey through a river valley, it makes its journey through us, through our bodies.

Mary, the Theotokos (God-bearer), teaches us how to carry God’s mercy in our bodies.
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46 – 55).

 

Innovation is the same. The work of accompaniment, interpretation, discernment, and proclamation are not things that flow past us. They flow through us. We carry this work in our bodies. It becomes incarnate when we show up and engage a person, a place, an idea. We carry it in awe, and gratitude, and humility. And we wait. We wait for God’s good work that has already begun but is not yet complete.

 

Written by Jeremy Myers, PhD

Photo credit: Ha (Cassie) Dong

 

The Public Church Framework & Best Questions [Blog Collection]

Our research shows that young adults do not like to be ‘targeted.’  We are fairly certain innovation, theologically understood, is not the creation of new, shiny programs intended to ‘attract’ young adults back to church.  We think innovation has more to do with faith communities stepping into vocational discernment in partnership with young adults and their neighborhood.  This means getting out of comfort zones, moving into the neighborhood to actively listen to/respond to the neighbors’ story, engaging young adults in this contextual learning work AND trusting that God has a new thing for us and our neighbor in this work.

Below is a collection of blogs written by Hub staff to help congregations and innovation teams gain better understanding of the Public Church Framework.

  1. Introduction to the Public Church Framework:
    Ezekiel and the Public Church: Everything Will Live Where the River Goes 
  2. How to start working on each artform of the Public Church Framework:
    Best Questions in the Public Church Framework
  3. A guide to Accompaniment:
    Accompaniment — Being The Church Beyond The Walls

More blogs will be added on this page as Phase Two of our project unfold. We try our best to respond to the needs/challenges of our partner faith communities by providing useful, relevant resources. 

Accompaniment — Being The Church Beyond The Walls

By Jeremy Myers, PhD

 

The Public Church Framework begins in accompaniment. This sounds and looks great on paper, but we have found many leaders and congregations struggle with this artform. They struggle with putting it into practice. They even struggle with the word. So, it is important to explain what accompaniment is, what it is not, why it is important, and how it might be practiced.

What is it?

icon_three arrows going outwardAccompaniment is the word we use to describe the first artform, or movement, of the Public Church Framework. It is used to describe a faith community’s movement out into its neighborhood or context. It assumes a desire to know the neighbor, and their story, in their own words. It assumes our neighbor is not just “everyone in God’s creation”, but is also those who live right next-door — people, institutions, systems, watersheds, grove of trees, herds of cattle, and other creatures around us.

Accompaniment takes seriously the location in which our faith communities are planted and challenges us to do the intentional work of getting to know these places and those who call these places home. We do this become we believe God is already at work bringing about redemption in these places. Accompaniment is a way for us to uncover the work God is already doing in our neighborhoods. Accompaniment happens as our faith communities engage their neighborhoods and neighbors in order to (1) hear how they are already experiencing wholeness, healing, redemption, reconciliation and (2) how the faith community might come alongside their neighbors as they seek these things. If our faith communities want to proclaim good news into people’s’ lives, then we first have to do the hard work of listening to our neighbors’ stories.

What is it NOT?

Accompaniment is often misunderstood in some particular ways. Therefore, it is helpful to be explicit about what accompaniment is not.

  1. Accompaniment is NOT searching for a problem to solve. It is not a way in which we look for something to fix.
  2. Accompaniment is NOT market research. We are not conducting a survey in order to discover what type of church our neighbors wish to join.
  3. Accompaniment is NOT agenda-driven. It is not a process of listening to others in order to find ways they might fit into the work you are planning. Accompaniment prioritizes the neighbor and their story.

Why is it important?

The artform of accompaniment is important for several reasons. Some theological and some practical.

It is important theologically because we confess faith in a God who accompanies creation. The God of scripture creates a world of accompaniment where humans, other creatures, vegetation, climate, etc. accompany and provide for one another — for better or worse. God’s creative word that brings about this creation becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ who is God’s word accompanying (dwelling with) us. God’s spirit continues to free us and empower us to be in accompaniment with one another. Therefore, accompaniment becomes the way in which we live out God’s mission in our world and specifically in our neighborhoods.

Accompaniment is also important for practical reasons. The reality is that fewer people are seeking to be involved in faith communities. If we wish to play a meaningful role in people’s’ lives, then we will need to seek them out and engage them in the places where they live their lives rather than expecting them to show up in our places. Lastly, if faith communities want their members to learn to live into God’s mission in their daily lives, then faith communities will need to practice this together. Our faith, and Christ’s love, compels us to accompany our neighbors.

How is it practiced?

There are endless ways to practice accompaniment and the Public Church Framework resists prescribing best practices. It is the work of God’s people to learn how to put accompaniment into practice in ways that match their context, their neighbors’ needs, and their own assets. That said, here are a few ways to get started.

  • Neighborhood Prayer Walk — Learn to practice the Ignatian Awareness Examen, a contemplative prayer exercise that guides you through an examination of your day as you prayerfully seek moments of desolation and moments of consolation. Moments of desolation are times of sorrow, brokenness, fear, anxiety, etc. Moments of consolation are times of hope, healing, courage, peace, etc. Then use this same method as you walk through the neighborhood in which your faith community is situated, asking God to show you the places of desolation and consolation in that neighborhood. Practice this with other members of your faith community and your neighborhood. Together, map the locations of those places of consolation and desolation.
  • One-to-Ones — Learn to practice one-to-ones. These are intentional listening meetings between two people with the sole purpose of getting to know the other person, their desires, passions, interests, and heartaches. Here is a helpful tool from the Episcopal Church that explains the one-to-one relational meeting and offers some great questions. Their questions to be used “with neighbors and people not in your church” are particularly rich questions for accompaniment. 
  • Listening Posts — Identify places in your faith community’s neighborhood where people gather. Places where you need to be present to meet these neighbors and hear their stories. Find ways to be in the places more often. These are great places to meet people for one-to-ones.
  • Neighborhood Storytellers — Identify the storytellers in the neighborhood. These are the people with long institutional memory about the history, events, and dynamics of the neighborhood. Take time to meet them. Schedule a one-to-one with them. Learn from them. Remember to actively seek out the storytellers in your neighborhoods who are marginalized — people of color, the poor, immigrants, etc. These folks are storytellers as well and have important perspectives of life lived in the neighborhood.
  • Show Up — Find out when important gathers are happening in your faith community’s neighborhood and show up at those gatherings. These might be festivals, neighborhood association meetings, school board meetings, election debates, etc. Show up and listen.
  • Visit — Pick some of the questions for neighbors and people not in your church from the one-to-one guide and then boldly start knocking on doors in the neighborhood around your faith community. Kindly ask if them might have a few minutes to answer a couple questions – no strings attached. If they participate, then make the most of that opportunity as a segue into a relationship with that neighbor.
  • Gather Find reasons and ways to gather people from the surrounding community either in your faith community’s space or in other spaces in the neighborhood. For example, host a debate for local candidates during election season. If there is a tragedy, gather the community together in a public space to lament and mourn. Learn more about Friendraising then partner with a local non-profit and see if they might let your faith community host a Friendraiser for their non-profit.
  • Environmental Audit Learn what the environmental issues might be in your neighborhood. What watershed is your faith community located in? What does it mean to be in an accompaniment relationship with creation in your neighborhood?

 

icon_ a starBest questions?

Again, we resist prescribing best practices for accompaniment or any of the artforms in the Public Church Framework.

Although the ones listed above are a pretty good place to start, it is vital that your faith community discovers how it can do this work in a way that matches the assets and needs present in your context. We are willing to share what we consider to be the best questions of accompaniment. What are the practices your faith community will develop in order to be able to chase after and answer these questions? These questions can also be found in an earlier blog on Best Questions in the Public Church Framework.

 

  • What is our neighborhood or parish (geographical location)?
  • Where are our listening posts?
  • What are the places and spaces in our context we are in relationship with and have a history with?
  • What are the places and spaces in our neighborhood we are curious to learn more about?
  • Who are the neighborhood historians — people who know the history of this place?
  • Who is our neighbor? What are the demographics of our neighborhood (race, socioeconomic, single family/rental units, age)? How do these compare to the demographics of our faith community?
  • How are our neighbors experiencing hope & joy?
  • How are our neighbors experiencing anxiety, fear and heartache?
  • What are our neighbors’ hopes, dreams and desires for our shared neighborhood?
  • Who cares about the things and people our faith community cares about?

 

icon_happy faceCommit to Action

  1. The most important thing is to get out there and start doing this work!
  2. You do not need to perfect it before you start doing it! 
  3. Move out into the neighborhood, ask good questions, and listen!

Best Questions in the Public Church Framework

By Jeremy Myers, PhD

 

Public Church Frame Work: Accompaniment, Interpretation, Discernment, and Proclamation (a Cycle)
The Public Church Framework

The Public Church Framework was described in an earlier blog post. This blog post shifts gears towards putting the artforms of the framework into practice, or into questions.

 

There is no one way to practice Accompaniment, Interpretation, Discernment, or Proclamation. Each faith community will determine the best way to put these artforms into practice given the specific limitations and assets of their community and neighborhood. Therefore, we use the language of “best questions” rather than best practices. By this we mean these are the questions your faith community can be continually exploring to guide your contextualized practices of accompaniment, interpretation, discernment, and proclamation. How you come to answer these questions will be unique to your setting. We believe time wrestling with these questions and their implications create space for God’s voice to stir, guide and challenge yourfaith community.

These are not questions for a leadership team of the select few, rather these are questions for the whole faith community to be pondering together. These are the questions we want members of faith communities to be pondering in their own daily lives. Therefore, it is important that we ponder them together as a faith community to learn how they feel and how to chase after their answers. This is not administrative work, it is the work of God’s people as we discern how God’s spirit it moving us to be a part of good news in our communities.

 

Best Questions for Accompaniment
  • What is our neighborhood or parish (geographical location)?
  • Where are our listening posts?
  • What are the places and spaces in our context we are in relationship with and have a history with?
  • What are the places and spaces in our neighborhood we are curious to learn more about?
  • Who are the neighborhood historians — people who know the history of this place?
  • Who is our neighbor? What are the demographics of our neighborhood (race, socioeconomic, single family/rental units, age)? How do these compare to the demographics of our faith community?
  • How are our neighbors experiencing hope & joy?
  • How are our neighbors experiencing anxiety, fear and heartache?
  • What are our neighbors’ hopes, dreams and desires for our shared neighborhood?
  • Who cares about the things and people our faith community cares about?

 

Best Questions for INTERPRETATION

  • What has been the story of our faith community? What are the significant events, changes, people, etc. that shape our identity for better or worse? Where did we experience high points, struggles and growth? How do these things move us forward? How do they hinder our innovation?
  • What are the assets and anxieties that shape our faith community’s identity?
  • How does our faith community interpret scripture and think about the authority of scripture?
  • What are the core theological claims and beliefs of our faith community?
  • What are some important biblical narratives in the life of our faith community? How have they functioned for us?
  • Put God’s story and our neighbors’ stories in conversation with one another:
  • How do these core theological beliefs and important biblical narratives help us understand the stories we have heard from our neighbors? How do they challenge them? Change them? Enhance them?
  • How do the stories we heard from our neighbors help us understand these biblical texts and core beliefs? How do they challenge them? Change them? Enhance them?
  • Where do we see the promises of God at work in our neighborhood, outside of the work of our faith community?
  • As we do the work of interpretation, what questions about the Bible and our faith community’s core beliefs are emerging? How and with whom could we go about further exploring those questions?
  • How can we engage our faith community in this interpretive work in order to deepen and expand it?

 

Best Questions for DISCERNMENT

  • Where do we see death and resurrection in our neighborhood?
  • Where are we hearing lamentation in our neighborhood?
  • Have we been part of the problem? What do we need to confess? To whom? Where? How?
  • Where and with whom do we sense the Holy Spirit pleading with us to linger, to pay more attention, to listen more closely?
  • What questions do we still have? Where might we learn more about these questions or with whom do we need to visit?
  • What are the passions and strengths of our faith community that seem to present themselves as assets in light of what we have seen and heard in our accompaniment and interpretation? (For example, space, people, finances, vision, relationships, etc.)
  • If gospel is good news, what is the good news that needs to be proclaimed in our neighborhood in order to liberate people from the bad news we have heard in the neighborhood?
  • How are we equipped to proclaim this good news? How are we not?
  • Given what we have seen and heard in our neighbors’ stories, God’s stories, and our stories – who is God calling us to be? What is God calling us to do? What might God be calling us to sacrifice or risk? How is God calling us to show up in this community?

 

Best Questions for PROCLAMATION

  • How will this new story we wish to tell bring life and human flourishing to the neighborhood?
  • How is this good news already being proclaimed in the neighborhood?
  • Does anything need to die in order for this new story to live?
  • Where is the best place for this to happen? What is the best way to do this?
  • How might Christ show up in this proclamation?
  • What do we need to do to live into who God is calling us to be, what God is calling us to do, what God is calling us to sacrifice or risk, and how God is calling us to show up in this neighborhood?
  • Who needs to be a part of proclaiming and creating this new story (individuals, organizations, existing partners, neighbors, etc.)? How do these people also becomeproclaimers  of good news?
  • Who are the stakeholders we need to engage to live into this new story? What strategies do we have to engage these folks?
  • Take some time to be honest about the potential for failure. How might our proclamation of this good news fail at the levels of tactics, strategy and vision? What are the barriers? How is our perspective limited?
  • How might these potentials for failure shape our plan for proclamation?

 

Ezekiel and the Public Church: Everything Will Live Where the River Goes

By Jeremy Myers, PhD

 

A night photo of a bridge over the Mississippi River. The Riverside Innovation Hub is convinced of two things.

First, we are fairly certain young adults do not want to be targeted by efforts to win them back to church. They would much rather be participants and leaders in efforts to target pressing issues impacting their neighborhoods and the globe.

Second, we are fairly certain innovation, theologically understood, is not the creation of new, shiny programs. Rather, it is best understood as vocation. It is that thing that happens at the intersection where we are simultaneously aware of our neighbors’ deep desires, our deep desires, and God’s deep desires. Innovation happens when we are responsive to God’s call to be in life-giving relationships with and for our neighbor. We believe the Public Church Framework offers us an effective way to engage young adults — and all people — in that life-giving work.

This document seeks to explain the Public Church Framework and the biblical imagination that serves as its engine, specifically Ezekiel’s vision of God’s abundance. 

 

The Public Church Framework

Public Church Frame Work: Accompaniment, Interpretation, Discernment, and Proclamation (a Cycle)
The Public Church Framework

The Public Church Framework is based upon three presuppositions. First, the Triune God is present and active in our world working to create a future for God’s creation. Second, God calls God’s people to join God in this work of co-creating a future for God’s creation out in the world. Third, most — but not all — of these places where this work happens are places of suffering. Douglas John Hall defines the practice of theology as the work a Christian community takes on when it is seeking to proclaim good news that will actually displace bad news, or suffering. He says,

“Theology is that ongoing activity of the whole church that aims at clarifying what ‘gospel’ must mean here and now. . . The good news is good because it challenges and displaces bad news . . . Gospel addresses us at the place where we are overwhelmed by an awareness . . . of what is wrong with the world and with ourselves in it. It is good news because it engages, takes on and does battle with the bad news, offering another alternative, another vision of what could be, another way into the future.”1

Displacement does not always mean elimination, but it does always mean the suffering no longer has center stage, it is now accompanied and challenged by a hope which changes the nature of the suffering. Therefore, the Christian community’s call is to proclaim good news that challenges bad news, simultaneously discerning and proclaiming both incarnation and vocation — how God is at work in the world and how individuals, faith communities, and institutions are called into this work.

The Public Church Framework is a method for doing this work. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive in that it describes a natural rhythm or method many undertake when aiming to clarify “what gospel must mean here and now.” It is an approach to Christian formation and discipleship that begins with a movement out into the public square rather than beginning in church doctrine. The framework walks faith communities through four movements, or artforms, designed to move the faith community into their neighborhood’s story, into God’s story, into their own story, and into a time of discerning how God might be calling them to be proclaimers of good news into their neighborhood and with their neighbor. These artforms include:

  1. Accompaniment: The movement into the neighborhood in order to hear the neighbors’ stories. In this movement we learn to engage and listen to the neighbor for the neighbor’s sake.
  2. Interpretation: The movement into God’s story and the faith community’s core biblical and theological commitments. In this movement we learn how our core theological commitments shape our understanding of our neighbors’ stories and we learn how our neighbors’ stories shape our understanding of our core theological commitments.
  3. Discernment: The movement into the space between our neighbors’ stories, God’s story, and our story. In this movement we learn how to listen for who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do in light of the present reality and God’s promises.
  4. Proclamation: The movement back into the neighborhood, this time prepared to proclaim good news in word and deed with our neighbors. In this movement we learn how to boldly speak the truth of Jesus Christ in ways that challenge the way people in our neighborhoods are suffering.

We believe the good news is always Jesus Christ, but we also believe this good news of Jesus Christ will look and sound differently depending upon how individuals and neighborhoods are experiencing bad news. Young people, actually all people, will be drawn to a faith community actively engaged in proclaiming good news and challenging bad news in its neighborhood. The Riverside Innovation Hub’s Innovation Coaches will be guiding faith communities through the artforms of the Public Church Framework. Ezekiel’s vision of the abundance of God’s creative love as it flows away from the temple provides us a compelling image for this work.

 

Ezekiel’s Vision (Ezekiel 47:1–12, NRSV)

1 Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate that faces towards the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.

3 Going on eastwards with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. 4 Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. 5 Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. 6 He said to me, ‘Mortal, have you seen this?’

Then he led me back along the bank of the river. 7 As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on one side and on the other. 8 He said to me, ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. 9 Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. 10 People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’

Ezekiel had trained to be a priest in the temple but ends up living his adult life in Babylon, exiled around 598–597 B.C.E. In 589 B.C.E. he receives word the temple and all of Jerusalem have been destroyed. True to the Hebrew prophetic tradition, Ezekiel sees the destruction of the temple as a direct result of the peoples’ unfaithfulness. Therefore, he begins to share these visions as he prophesies against the temple, but it is a vision and a prophecy of hope, not despair. In this vision, Ezekiel encounters an enigmatic figure who, after touring him through the temple, takes him beyond the walls of the temple in order to show him exactly what happens in those places where the water flows when it leaves the temple. Many biblical scholars connect this river in Ezekiel’s vision to the river that wells up and waters the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:8–14. The temple cannot contain God’s creative force. In turn, the temple becomes a source of blessing for the entire land, rather than a fixture intended to serve its own purpose.2

In a move very similar to Hall’s understanding of good news as that which challenges bad news, Elsa Tamez claims the river in Ezekiel’s vision to be a metaphor for God’s jubilee. A jubilee that can only be proclaimed if it becomes specific in ending actual suffering.

“When one speaks of the jubilee, it is essential to have before one the concrete situation that one is experiencing: debts, poverty, unemployment, violence, discrimination, exclusion, conflicts, sorrow, dehumanizing consumerism, the lethargy of the churches. For the jubilee is the good news that supposedly puts an end to that reality of suffering and dehumanization. . . If we speak of jubilee in a generic sense, the injustice is hidden, and the jubilee loses its power and ceases to be jubilee.”3

Therefore, Ezekiel’s vision becomes an invitation to follow God’s jubilee as it flows into the world and and makes everything live where it flows. The Public Church Framework provides faith communities with a way to do this, to become blessings for the entire land on which they are rooted rather than existing to serve their own purpose. We are Ezekiel, following the enigmatic divine tour guide along the river as we learn to see the breadth and depth of God’s love flowing away from the temple and into the world.

 

  1. Accompaniment: Mortal, Have You Seen This? (vs. 1–6a) — The river flows out from the temple and towards the desolate places. We are called out of our temples and our comfort zones to follow this river and to stop and notice how wide and deep it becomes. As we hear our neighbors’ stories, we become aware of how God’s deep and wide love and mercy are at work in their lives. We learn to hear and see so that when we are asked this question – Mortal, have you seen this? – we can answer with a yes. Accompaniment is the practice of learning to see and hear God’s love bringing life to our world.
  2. Interpretation: The Water Will Become Fresh (vs. 6b–8) — As the jubilee river flows it brings fresh water into salt water. This fresh water desalinates the salt water and makes it fresh. The jubilee water dwells in, with, and under the salt water and makes it able to support and create life. The same happens to us as the stream of God’s story flows into the streams of our stories and our neighbors’ stories. God’s story begins to dwell in, with, and under our stories and our realities. This brings hope to stories that were at one time hopeless. Interpretation is the practice of learning how God’s promises (the fresh water) change the way we look at suffering in our world (salt water) and how those sufferings change the way we look at God’s promises.
  3. Discernment: Fishing and Spreading Nets (v. 9–11)  The living water brings about diversity and abundance. The fishing is good along this riverside. We have now seen the fullness of this river and we now have some choices to make. Is it time to fish? Is it time to dry our nets? Is this a place to fish? Is this a place to gather salt? There is work to be done along this riverside and we are invited and equipped to do it. Discernment is the practice of learning to hear God’s call and to know when, where, how and why to act on that call.
  4. Proclamation: Fruit for Food, Leaves for Healing (v. 12)  Ezekiel walks the riverside and notices the trees on both sides of the river and the harvest they produce. The trees are growing fruit for food and leaves for healing. The gifts of these trees create a future for God’s people. These trees do not only produce seeds that ensure the future of the trees themselves, they produce leaves and fruit for the world. Proclamation is the practice of producing and presenting our world with our gifts for the sake of the world, not for the sake of our own propagation. Christian faith communities re-engage their neighborhoods with fruit for food and leaves for healing — gifts to be given away that create a future for God’s people.

God’s creative, life-giving, jubilee river flows out from the temple and into the world. Our call is not to damn up the river and keep it in the temple. Our call is not to expect our neighbors to come to the temple to experience the life giving water of the river. Our call is to follow the river as it deepens and widens and makes all things live. As we learn to do this – to see, to fish, to spread nets, to grow and harvest fruit for food and leaves for healing — we will find ourselves in the midst of innovation. Our innovation will be the work of co-creating a future for God’s world with God and our neighbor along the riverside. Our young adults will be drawn to this work. They are not looking for the temple, but they surely are seeking what they can find at the riverside. They are looking for others who are eager to bring the fruit for food and the leaves for healing to their neighbors.

 

Resources on young adults icon+_human symbols standing in a circle embracing a heartDiscussion Questions

  1. Which of the four artforms gets you most excited? Why? Which one do you think your faith community will struggle with the most? Which one do you think your faith community will have the easiest time putting into practice?
  2. What are some examples of how your faith community is currently proclaiming good news that challenges the bad news of your neighborhood? What are some examples of where your faith community has failed to challenge particular bad news in your neighborhood? Where is there good news happening in your neighborhood beyond the current reach of your faith community?
  3. What part of the Ezekiel text do you find most inspiring? Where do you have a hard time connecting with it or understanding it?
  4. What would it look like for your faith community to follow the river of God’s living water out into the neighborhood away from the church building? Who are the guides that might accompany you on that journey? What might happen?

References

1 Douglas John Hall, “What Is Theology?” Cross Currents 53, 2 (2003): 177–179.

2 Leslie C. Allen, Ezekiel. Vol. 20–48 . Word Biblical Commentary, V. 29. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2016).

3 Elsa Tamez, “Dreaming from exile: a rereading of Ezekiel 47:1–12,” In Liberating eschatology: essays in honor of Letty M Russell, ed. Margaret Farley, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 69.

Build Skills

Understand & Connect Communities Icon_ connecting dotsUnderstand & Connect Communities

“What if gentrification was about healing communities instead of displacing them?” by Liz Ogbu at TEDWomen 2017 — Video of an architect who works on spatial justice sharing about how to catalyze community healing

Build a learnin g culture icon_human head symbol with a lightbulb insideBuild a Learning Culture

[BOOK]  The Fifth Discipline: The Art of Practical of the Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge — A business best-selling classic book on how to be a learning organization

Manage and Lead Change icon_an award cup with a star in the middleManage & Lead Change

Mentoring the Next Generation for Innovation in Today’s Organization by Teresa M. Moon (2014) — A journal article on the role of inclusive mentorship for young adults in building a thriving organization of continuous improvement, collaboration, and innovation

[BOOK]  The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell — A New York Times bestselling book on three rules of ‘social epidemics’ and key factors influencing changes

Congregational Toolbox

Hub writing icon_a penHUB WRITINGS

[TOOL]  Discernment Questions for Faith Communities (2017) — Consider these questions an opportunity to engage your leadership, young adults and other key people in your community as you discern your faith community’s possible call into deeper ministry with young adults.

[THOUGHT]  Ezekiel and the Public Church Framework (2018) — Jeremy Myers, PhD explains the Public Church Framework and the biblical imagination that serves as its engine, specifically Ezekiel’s vision of God’s abundance. There are discussion questions at the end to help churches explore how to apply this framework to build a sustainable, deep connection with its neighbors.

[BOOK]  Liberating Youth from Adolescence by Jeremy Myers (2018) — Jeremy Myers calls the church to challenge the dominant societal view of adolescents as “underdeveloped consumers” who can only contribute creatively when they mature into adulthood. Myers argues that young people are innately creative creatures called by God to love and serve right now.

[THOUGHT]  “Reflections on Authenticity” by Rev. Mark S. Hanson (2018) —  Rev. Mark S. Hanson, with Augsburg’s Christensen Center for Vocation and former bishop of the ELCA, shared his reflections on the notion of “authenticity” with our learning community.

Articles icon_a page of newspaperARTICLES

Reaching out to young adults will screw up your church by Adam J. Copeland (2012) — The author shares personal stories about the relationships between young adults and churches/church leaders

Other Communities Icon_ human symbols standing in a circle embracing a lightbulbOTHER COMMUNITIES

The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) — data archive (national and international), mapping tool to create a religious and demographic profile of a particular community, etc.

Center for Religion and Civic Culture (Creativity and Innovation) — Collections of articles about creativity and innovation on congregations and religious practices

Disrupt Worship Project — This project offers full liturgical resources and diverse experiences and viewpoints, featuring “voices from different denominations, clergy, deacons, lay leaders, and (sometimes) people who don’t do church but do love Jesus.”

How We Gather — One of the most widely-read documents in seminaries and community startups;  a 2015 student-led exploration of how Millennials are finding and building communities of meaning and belonging has morphed into a ground-breaking study of organizations that are effectively unbundling and remixing the functions historically performed by traditional religious institutions.

Faithful Report by How We Gather — a report reviewing and examine a number of innovative communities to help inspire religious leaders and those who are leading change from within

Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion — Events, research, sightings, and forum

 

 

Resources on Young Adults

Hub writing icon_a penHUB WRITINGS

[BOOK]  Liberating Youth from Adolescence by Jeremy Myers (2018) — Jeremy Myers calls the church to challenge the dominant societal view of adolescents as “underdeveloped consumers” who can only contribute creatively when they mature into adulthood. Myers argues that young people are innately creative creatures called by God to love and serve right now.

 

Articles icon_a page of newspaperARTICLES & RESEARCH/REPORTS

[RESEARCH]  Millennial Studies — A collection of studies on Millennial done by Pew Research Center

[ARTICLE]  “10 Things that won’t attract millennial” by Frank Powell (2017) — Discusses about needs for young adults to engage in Christian community

[ARTICLE]  “Church of England Resurrects Tradition to Attract Millennials” by Meredee Berg (2017) — A perspective on the return of disciplined, reverent worship service in the U.K.

[RESEARCH]  Deloitte Millennial Survey (2018) —  7th annual Millennial Survey (sample size = 10,000 international) to show trends

[RESEARCH]  “Religions Among the Millennials” by the Pew Research Center (2010) — Explores the behaviors, values and opinions of the teens and twenty-somethings that make up the Millennial generation.

[ARTICLE]  “The Hearts of Millennials” by Martin E. Marty (2017) — A discussion on “public religion” and how Millennials’ focus on larger issues in our culture.

[RESEARCH]  The millennial generation: A demographic bridge to America’s diverse future — A report generated by Brookings Institution’s meta-analysis of census data as well as other demographic studies.

[BOOK]  You Lost Me by David Kinnaman — David Kinnaman reveals the long-awaited results of a new nationwide study of 18- to 29-year-olds with a Christian backgroun

Other Communities Icon_ human symbols standing in a circle embracing a lightbulbOTHER COMMUNITIES

How We Gather — One of the most widely-read documents in seminaries and community startups;  a 2015 student-led exploration of how Millennials are finding and building communities of meaning and belonging has morphed into a ground-breaking study of organizations that are effectively unbundling and remixing the functions historically performed by traditional religious institutions.

The Millennial Impact Report — For more than 9 years this group has been researching how Millennials engage with the causes that are important to them.

INTRODUCING HA CASSIE DONG

Headshot photo of Ha Cassie Dong
Photo of Ha Cassie Dong, Communications Coordinator

My name is Ha Dong, but you can call me Cassie. I was born and raised in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. My childhood was imbued with memories of me playing in the rain forest and on the high mountains. My mother used to own a small hotel in Sapa, a town located in the far north of Vietnam. Spending my summers in this beautiful little town gave me opportunities to meet with many people from different ethnic backgrounds in Sapa as well as tourists from all around the world. My early engagement with people from different cultures, faiths, and backgrounds later became foundational to my spiritual journey and my vocation.

At the age of sixteen, I went to study abroad in the United States. I later attended Augsburg University to complete my B.A. in International Business and Marketing with a minor in Graphic Design. I interned with The Arc Minnesota and Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota where I was able to use my creativity and marketing knowledge to support social services for people from disadvantaged communities. Being an Interfaith Scholar at Augsburg was the highlight of my undergraduate experience. It was a chance for me to reaffirm my belief in God and to tell the world that I am a Lutheran pluralist—that I am proud of my Vietnamese traditions; I hold strong to Buddhist teachings of love and compassion (that my grandparents taught me!), and I am a Christian. 
 
I was a student worker for the Riverside Innovation Hub during its Research phase. I am so excited to continue being a part of this wonderful project. I look forward to seeing churches seeking to honor Christ in their unique context by building and maintaining meaningful relationships with young adults.