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

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

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!

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 for Faith Communities

On Jan. 15, 2018 our Innovative Ministry Partnership Application will be made available for faith communities with a willingness and capacity to explore their call into deeper ministry with young adults. In order for this work to have the greatest impact, we have crafted several different pathways for interested faith communities to participate in the Innovative Ministry Partnership.

Consider which track best fits your faith community and check our resource page for application information. Application process is now open.

Innovation Ministry Partner Faith Communities – Track 1

  • Work with the Riverside Innovation Hub for four years from the summer of 2018 through the summer of 2022.
  • Year One (summer 2018 – summer 2019): Commit to working 15-20 hours a week with a Riverside Innovation Hub young adult Innovation Coach who will walk with your faith community through a year-long process of reimagining its ministry with young adults.
  • Submit a sub-grant proposal at the end of Year One to the Riverside Innovation Hub to receive $25,000-$30,000 for innovative approaches to ministry with young adults in your context over the following two years.
  • Years Two – Three (summer 2019 – summer 2021): Manage the funds granted to your faith community and implement your plan for engaging young adults in your context in new and innovative ways.
  • Year Four (summer 2021 – summer 2022): Work with the Riverside Innovation Hub to evaluate the three previous years of learning and creating in order to learn what worked and what did not. Faith communities will also work with the Riverside Innovation Hub to share collective findings through written projects and seminars.
  • Attend regular learning cohort meetings and trainings offered by the Riverside Innovation Hub throughout the four years of partnership with the Hub.
  • Track 1 faith communities need to be located within a 30 minute drive of Minneapolis in order to be accessible to our Innovation Coaches.

Innovative Ministry Partner Faith Communities – Track 2

  • Identical to Track 1 with two main differences…
  • First: In Year One, faith communities will identify their own young adult Innovation Coach from their community to guide the faith community through the work of reimagining its ministry with young adults. The faith community’s Innovation Coach will participate in training at Augsburg during the weeks of August 6-24, 2018 with other Riverside Innovation Hub coaches, be a part of an Innovation Coach cohort, and invited to attend all workshops and training aimed at equipping Innovation Coaches in Year One.
  • Second: No funding will be available to Track 2 faith communities. However, they will participate in all other aspects of the partnership with Track 1 partners. They will be included in all training & learning cohorts throughout the partnership, create their own ministry proposal in Year One, implement and adapt their ministry in Years Two and Three, and participate in evaluating the learnings in Year Four.
  • Faith communities may choose to be considered for Track 2 on their own because they believe they have the resources internally to support the work or they may be located more than 30 minutes from the Twin Cities. The Riverside Innovation Hub may choose to invite faith communities who apply to be Track 1 Partners to consider Track 2 based on the fact that there are a limited number of spots available for Track 1.

Innovative Ministry Associate Faith Communities – Track 3

  • Some faith communities may share a deep passion and curiosity for this work but not currently be in the position to dedicate the needed resources of time, leadership, and potentially funding to commit to a four-year partnership with the Riverside Innovation Hub. An Associate Faith Community is committed to following the project, eager to be a part of the learning the flows from it, and willing to commit to being a regular participant in the learning opportunities offered through the Riverside Innovation Hub.
  • Associate Faith Communities would commit to attending Hub Seminars and workshops as the project unfolds and have opportunities to learn alongside the efforts taking shape at Partner Congregations.

 

The application process for congregations will open January 15, 2018 and be available on our resource page at that time. Application deadline is April 15, 2018. Selected faith communities would be notified by May 15, 2018 and have until May 31 to accept the offer.  All applicants will complete the same application, however, Track 3 applicants will be allowed to skip certain portions.