Authenticity and Christian community

In our learning with faith communities and young adults, the word “authenticity” found its way into many conversations and interviews. There are big important words that sometimes can risk losing their impact as they become more commonplace in our vocabulary. Authenticity is one of these words and it is worth pausing and digging deeper into how this word lands and shapes Christian faith and community.

A big thank you to Rev. Mark S. Hanson, with Augsburg’s Christensen Center for Vocation and former bishop of the ELCA, for putting thought to paper and sharing his reflections on the notion of “authenticity” with our learning community.

 

Reflections on Authenticity

by Rev. Mark S. Hanson

What words would you use to describe your congregation? When I ask that question I hear a variety of responses but rarely the word “authentic”. Yet when I listen to young adults describe the communities they value, authentic is the word I often hear.

It is more than a choice of words. I hear in the longing for authentic community a criticism of churches that seem more preoccupied with institutional survival, denominational identities, theological categories and structures of authority than with being communities of faith in which one can be vulnerable in one’s humanity and transparent about one’s identity without fear of judgment or exclusion.

It is understandable that a generation that has grown up with intense debates and divisions over who is fully welcome to participate in and lead Christian communities would long for communities that begin not with establishing criteria for acceptance but with a commitment to a radical hospitality that welcomes all.

Furthermore, I hear in the calling for authenticity a rejection of the pervasiveness of a culture of self-deception and manipulation. A culture that is often labelled “post-truth” is rejected as being antithetical to authentic community in which “my truth” and “your truth” are heard and respected. The violation of trust through sexual misconduct by those in positions of authority contributes to this distrust and disconnect from the church.

What might the longing for authenticity mean for a congregation? I believe it calls for a clear commitment that our first priority is to attentive listening rather than “we need more young people in order to help our church survive.” The yearning for authenticity begins with empathy for the challenging circumstances of another person’s life. It calls for appreciative curiosity and compassion rather than judgment. For many, authentic community will occur only after trust is established, expectations are named and wounds from painful relationships begin to heal.

Is there validity in the perception that in worship our words of confession and absolution, our pleas for Christ’s mercy and our prayers of intercession can be heard as more formulaic than heartfelt, more prescribed than authentic? The desire for authentic worship calls for more conversation than simply offering the option of contemporary or traditional worship.

I do not find it helpful to label people “Nones”. Think about what we are doing. We are describing a person as “no-one” in relationship to how we define ourselves as people of faith, religious, church members etc. An authentic community begins by letting others describe themselves in terms of their own convictions and self-understanding.

In the longing for authentic community, I hear a rejection of a culture that ascribes power and privilege on the basis of economic prosperity, gender and racial identity, sexual orientation and citizenship. I think Millennials are seeking communities –Christian and others- that are fully human which is to say communities growing more and more into the image of God whose vulnerability led God to experience the fullness of our humanity in Jesus. It is understandable why many young adults seem far more interested in Jesus than in the church. For Jesus embodies authenticity. In Jesus birth, in his tensions with family, followers and those in authority, in his weeping and pleading for mercy and in his death we see our own humanity. Jesus faithfully, graciously and tenaciously extended the embrace of God’s reign of forgiveness, love and reconciliation to those deemed unworthy, unacceptable and unlovable. It is Jesus who calls us and the Holy Spirit who empowers us to be the Beloved Community for which so many yearn.

As I listen and learn from those calling for greater authenticity I want to explore questions such as these:

  • When authenticity becomes the highest ideal for which one strives and the basis upon which others are judged, what becomes of a sense of wonder, mystery and humility in response to humanity’s complexity and capacity for both good and evil?
  • How do we create safe space for people to speak the truth of their lives without making authenticity, vulnerability and transparency rather than the grace of God freely given on account of Christ the basis for our being community?
  • How is social media serving the longing for authentic community and changing faith communities?
  • Is it possible that a priority given to striving for authenticity can lead to a life more turned in on myself than turned outward to my neighbor and God’s creation? How can the focus on authenticity keep us connected to those for whom daily bread, the cessation of violence and the search for a safe haven is their daily task?
  • How do we explore the tension created by a culture described as “post-truth”, a generation yearning for authentic community calling us to respect “my truth” and “your truth” and the gospel proclamation that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life?
  • How does baptism, the sacrament of beginning and belonging, shape the yearning for authenticity in personal lives and community?

I am grateful that the Riverside Innovation Hub provides a marvellous context for continued conversation on how a longing for greater authenticity might transform lives of faith, communities and ministries.

Rev. Mark S. Hanson

Christensen Center for Vocation

Augsburg University

Summer Opportunity for High Schoolers at Augsburg

In addition to hosting the Riverside Innovation Hub, Augsburg’s Christensen Center for Vocation hosts several other exciting opportunities for congregations and leaders. Learn more about the Augsburg Youth Theology Institute (AYTI) happening July 8-13, 2018 and share the invitation below from an ATYI staff with a high schooler you know!

“The Augsburg Youth Theology Institute is an opportunity for high school aged youth to come to Augsburg University for one week in the summer and engage in deep, meaningful, theological learning.  Students stay on campus and pray, play, and learn together in community. This year we will focus on empowering students to challenge and lead their congregations into their neighborhoods for the common good through becoming skilled peer ministers, cross-cultural advocates, and community organizers.  We will wrestle together with the theory and theology of local missions as accompaniment in Jesus’ name. Students will spend time in the classroom and out in the community exploring these themes in the world. Each day starts and ends with prayer and worship, and we have a lot of fun along the way, all while exploring our calls and vocations in the world today.  For more information, to nominate a youth, or to apply, please visit our website.”

New Theological Education Opportunity for Innovation Coaches

We have an exciting theological education opportunity to now offer those hired on as Innovation Coaches with Augsburg’s Riverside Innovation Hub. Luther Seminary is partnering with us to make a seminary education available to interested Innovation Coaches at no cost to the student.

This would mean once the Innovation Coach positions have been filled in mid-April, those interested in taking advantage of this opportunity would apply to Luther Seminary to begin classes in the fall of 2018. Innovation Coaches would take a part-time class load during their 10-months of employment with Augsburg’s Riverside Innovation Hub, with their coaching work also counting towards class credit. They would complete their degree in the year/s following, depending on the chosen program.

Additionally, Luther would award a $5,000 stipend to those students who have completed a year of service.

Find more information about applying to be an Innovation Coach here.  For more specific questions about this educational opportunity, please contact Luther Seminary.


Elizabeth Schoenknecht, Director of Enrollment Services

eschoenknecht001@luthersem.edu

651-641-3422

Application information:  Luthersem.edu

Outline for Theological Education Component

Admitted and enrolled participants earn a Master of Arts degree while on staff with the Riverside Innovation Hub. Those interested in obtaining a Master of Divinity are encourage to contact Luther Seminary Office of Admissions to learn about further requirements for the degree.

Master of Arts concentrations offered: Ministry in Innovation and Leadership; Children, Youth, and Family; or Christian Ministries

 

Year 1:

Fall Semester – 1.5 classes  (.5 is Christian Public Leader – credit for being in context)

J-term – 1 week long intensive class

Spring Semester – 1.5 classes (.5 is Christian Public Leader – credit for being in context)

Summer – 1 week long intensive class

 

Year 2:

Full time course work to complete Master of Arts program

(those interested in the Master of Divinity would have 2 additional years including internship)

 

Fully funded; participants who have completed a year of service receive additional $5,000 stipend. 

 

Now Accepting Innovation Coach Applications

The Riverside Innovation Hub (RIH) at Augsburg University seeks to hire eight full-time Innovation Coaches for a 10 month period beginning August 2018 and concluding May 2019. Innovation Coach positions will be open to young adults (ages 22-29) who have a passion and curiosity to grow in the areas of spirituality, leadership, community, and intercultural competency.

Innovation Coaches will participate in training hosted by RIH that will equip them to guide two local Christian faith communities (selected to be Innovative Ministry Partners) through an accompanying and listening process in relationship with young adults in their unique contexts. This process will conclude with Innovation Coaches facilitating discernment work with their faith communities to create an innovative ministry idea to be submitted for a sub-grant through RIH in spring 2019. Participating faith communities will implement and adapt their innovative ministry ideas, with sub-grant funds, over the following two year period, after the Innovation Coach role has concluded.

In addition to working directly with local faith communities discerning their call in ministry with young adults, Innovation Coaches will be able to participate in intentional living communities together. Housing will be provided through Urban Homeworks Urban Neighbors program which emphasizes community, learning and inter-cultural competency.  This full-time postion pays competitive wages and is benefits eligible. Additionally, for those interested, the opportunity to pursue a degree program at Luther Seminary is available, at no cost. Those that choose to take advantage of this opportunity will begin classes part-time during their time as an Innovation Coach. Read more here!

We are thrilled to be offering this new leadership development opportunity for young adults and are excited to welcome them to the Riverside Innovation Hub team!

HOW DO I APPLY?

Interested individuals can apply through Augsburg’s online application process.  Applicants must submit a resume, cover letter and responses to four essay questions that are listed in the application. Essay questions should each be 500 words or less. All three documents can be uploaded to the application as word document or pdf.

The deadline for applying is March 1, 2018.

Apply to be an Innovation Coach

 

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I APPLY?

Selected candidates will participate in the interview process. Accomodations for interviews can be made for those currently living outside the Twin Cities metro area (or in different time zones). Offers will be made the week of April 15, 2018. Innovation Coaches need to be ready to begin training August 6, 2018 with move-in days with the Urban Neighbors program the first week of August.

Learn more about Urban Neighbors

Riverside Innovation Hub Spring Seminar

MARCH 12 @ 6:00-9:00PM

HOVERSTEN CHAPEL AT AUGSBURG UNIVERSITY

2211 RIVERSIDE AVE. MINNEAPOLIS

Please RSVP by March 5.

 

RSVP for Hub Seminar

 

The Riverside Innovation Hub at Augsburg University is excited to share the preliminary findings from our research this fall. The insights from listening and observing twelve different faith communities in the Twin Cities will be shared from 6-9PM on March 12, 2018. Find out what was surprising, what was exciting, what brought us hope, and what new questions came from the research.

Learn about the connections between relationships, generations, and the intersections in which young adults live out their faith. Discover the commonalities between the diverse faith communities. The details were different, but the things that worked were remarkably similar.

Participants at our first Hub Seminar will not only hear about major insights from our research but also have an opportunity to reflect with others about the implications these insights have in their own ministry contexts.

Faith communities applying to be a part of our four-year Innovative Ministry Partnership would be encouraged to attend with a team from their community.

Dinner will be served. Parking permits for campus will be emailed the week before the seminar.

Hope to see you at the seminar!

 

 

 

 

February Information Session Added!

In case scheduling conflicts or massive amounts of snow kept you from attending our January Information Sessions, we’ve added another one in February!

TUES. FEBRUARY 6 @ 9:30-11:00AM

GUSTAVUS ADOLPHUS LUTHERAN CHURCH – 1669 ARCADE ST., ST. PAUL

Our application process opened January 15, 2018 for the Riverside Innovation Hub’s  Innovative Ministry Partnership to faith communities interested in deepening their work and ministry with young adults in their context. The information sessions will include an overview of the application process for the first half hour and the remaining time will be for questions and discussion. Come for as much or as little as is helpful.

We hope you will join us!

Register for Info Session

Innovation Coach Opportunity

The Riverside Innovation Hub (RIH) at Augsburg University seeks to hire eight full-time Innovation Coaches for a 10 month period beginning August 2018 and concluding May 2019. Innovation Coach positions will be open to young adults (ages 22-29) who have a passion and curiosity to grow in the areas of spirituality, leadership, community, and intercultural competency.

Innovation Coaches will participate in training hosted by RIH that will equip them to guide two local Christian faith communities (selected to be Innovative Ministry Partners) through an accompanying and listening process in relationship with young adults in their unique contexts. This process will conclude with Innovation Coaches facilitating discernment work with their congregations to create an innovative ministry idea to be submitted for a sub-grant through RIH in spring 2019. Participating congregations will implement and adapt their innovative ministry ideas, with sub-grant funds, over the following two year period, after the Innovation Coach role has concluded.

In addition to working directly with local congregations discerning their call in ministry with young adults, Innovation Coaches will participate in intentional living communities together. We anticipate being able to post more details about this and other exciting opportunities available to Innovation Coaches in the coming weeks. You are invited to spread the word to young adults you know who might be excited about this opportunity.

The application process will open the end of January and be available on our resource page.

Stay tuned for more information!

Innovative Ministry Partnership Application Info Sessions

On January 15, 2018 the Riverside Innovation Hub will open up the application process for the Innovative Ministry Partnership to faith communities interested in deepening their work and ministry with young adults in their context. To help interested congregations, we are offering two information sessions focusing on the application process itself in January. Our staff will walk through the application and have time for Q&A.

We hope you will join us!

MON. JANUARY 22 @ 1:30-3:00PM

ST. TIMOTHY LUTHERAN CHURCH – 1465 NORTH VICTORIA ST., ST. PAUL

TUES. JANUARY 23 @ 1:30-3:00PM

SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS LUTHERAN CHURCH – 500 BLAKE ROAD SOUTH, EDINA

Register for Info Session

 

Discernment Questions for Faith Communities

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. Have some cups of coffee. Make time for a happy hour. Imagine and wonder where God is present in these questions and what that might mean for your faith community.

 

Describe your faith community’s capacity for risk-taking. What do you think your faith community is willing to risk or sacrifice in order to pursue a clear call from God?

 

How would you describe your congregation’s current relationship with young adults and attitudes about young adults?

 

Who in your faith community (staff and members) could be potential champions and leaders for a new effort to innovate ministry with young adults? Who would you want on your team to steward this partnership?

 

How are you equipped to support an additional person on-site during the coaching phase? Consider space availability, access to printing and communication systems within your congregation, culture of your staff and congregation.

 

What relationships do you have outside your faith community that could be an asset to innovating ministry with young adults?

 

Innovation by nature will involve success and failures and a willingness to take risks that may or may not produce the hoped-for outcomes. What do you imagine faithfulness to look like whether experiencing success or failure in this work with your faith community?

 

What do you sense God is already up to…

  • In your faith community?
  • In your community?
  • With young adults you know?

 

If you have the opportunity to talk (but mostly listen) with young adults consider asking them…

  • What gives you hope? What gives you anxiety?
  • What matters most to you?
  • What has or would draw you to be a part of a faith community? What has or would make you want to stay connected to a faith community?
  • What has or would make you not want to engage with a faith community? What do you think keeps your peers away?
  • How is God or faith influencing your life in the public places you live, work and play?

Innovative Ministry Partnership Application Criteria

Whether faith communities are currently engaged in meaningful ways with young adults or not, what we are looking for in our Innovation Ministry Partnership is evidence that faith communities sense a call into deeper ministry with young adults – a call rooted in hopefulness and not anxiety or wishfulness. Consider this list as you explore your own community’s capacity and willingness to partner with the Riverside Innovation Hub in innovative ways with young adults.

Selection Criteria for Innovative Ministry Partner Congregations

We think that “evidence” might include some of the following….

  • Hopeful Honesty: Faith communities honest about the realities and challenges at play – both within the congregation and within the larger cultural contexts of the day. Leadership recognizes that the landscape of our communities and the ways we are called to be church in this time and place has shifted. In spite of the anxiety this current context creates, we are looking for congregational leadership that is making decisions and moving to action from the place of hopefulness.  
  • Spirit-filled Imagination: Faith communities that have imagination for ministry that is not simply more and bigger of the same. That have imagination for creative ways to cultivate life-giving relationships with young adults. That have imagination for something beyond hiring a new staff person or setting up a new program. That have imagination which leaves room for the Spirit to show up.
  • Humble Openness: A culture open to a coaching relationship with a trained young adult through the Riverside Innovation Hub. The Innovation Coach will not be coming on board to take orders or share in the existing workload, but rather to coach faith communities through listening and discernment work in their community and with their neighbors. The Innovation Coach may potentially be younger than the faith community’s existing leadership and therefore present a twist on more common power dynamics. Faith communities will need to demonstrate an openness to learning in new ways with new people.  
  • Broad Congregational Buy-in: Faith communities will need to show that there is buy-in among the various leadership structures in their context – staff, councils, and other key leadership – to the vision and spirit of the Riverside Innovation Hub. The partnership lasts four years, but we hope this partnership will stir up something that outlives this four-year period. Long lasting transformation will require continued leadership and support from the congregation among all types of leaders and influencers.  
  • Eager Curiosity: Faith communities with a genuine curiosity about what God is up to in this current context at the intersection of young adults and faith communities. A curiosity and eagerness to learn new ways to do ministry and be church. A curiosity that seeks meaningful and messy insights rather than easy answers. A curiosity that could liberate faith communities to embrace how God might each, challenge, and transform them throughout this four-year experiment.
  • Collaborative Spirit: Faith communities willing to share their success and failures with a larger network of leaders and communities so that we learn together. When we are collaborative and innovative, successes and failures are both equally valuable spaces for learning.  
  • Commitment to the project: Faith communities with the capacity and willingness to participate in every aspect of this project over its entire length, following through on the tasks and presence required to do this collaborative work well.  
  • Called to ministry with young adults: Faith communities who sense a deep call to engage with people in the 22-29-year-old age range. This would be meaningful engagement and not simply a desire to have 20-somethings showing up at church again. Do you love young adults and do you love all the reasons why they stay away from church?

 

  • What will not be selection criteria?  
    • The size of your faith community.
    • Your faith community’s denomination or lack thereof.  
    • How long you’ve been around as a faith community.  
    • Whether you have young adults involved currently or not.  
    • Your faith community’s budget.
    • Your faith community’s location, with one caveat. Track 1 Partners will be limited to faith communities within a 30-minute drive of Minneapolis because we need sites to be relatively accessible for our Innovation Coaches. However, location is not a factor for Track 2 Partners or Track 3 Associate Faith Communities.