Our 12 partner congregations gathered for a third learning event this February. This group began together in July 2021 with a launch event to build community and introduce key ideas about the call to be public church. In the fall, an Interdisciplinary Developmental Inventory (IDI) training was offered to congregational teams to develop a posture of cultural humility. This was followed by a hybrid event in October where teams focused on ways to practice accompaniment in their neighborhoods. Accompaniment is simply the big and small ways we set out to hear our neighbors’ stories – to hear how they are experiencing bad news and good news in their lives. Congregational teams have spent the last handful of months learning about their neighborhoods and listening to their neighbors in a variety of ways.
This most recent gathering on February 5, brought us back together to continue our vocational discovery work together by introducing the second artform of the public church framework – interpretation. Our current public safety realities prevented us from gathering together at Augsburg, but we still found meaningful connections during our online Saturday morning session. We learned some new technologies to enhance our online conversations and stayed cozy with hot chocolate, tea and the companion of our pets from home. We reflected on key themes congregations are hearing from their neighbors in their accompaniment work and we began to explore and name our key beliefs and theological convictions to aid our interpretive work. You can read more about what these interpretation questions sound like in this blog post by Congregational Facilitator, Amanda Vetsch.
Our questions and conversations together set the table to begin wondering…
What does God’s story have to say about the stories we are hearing from our neighbors and vice versa?
How does what we are hearing from our neighbors connect to God’s hopes and dreams for our world, our neighborhood, and our neighbors?
Thinking theologically about the what’s going on in our corner of the world around us is a critical piece of discerning God’s call for each particular church in its unique place. The artform of interpretation isn’t reserved for pastors or scholars, it is for all of us. We interpret the world around us constantly, often subconsciously. But there is much to be learned and gained if we slow down and do this interpretation intentionally, through the lens of what we believe to be true about God. The Bible speaks of Jubilee – the abundant and life giving intentions God has for God’s creation – on earth as it is in heaven. Often our world delivers the opposite of jubilee. We call these things that disrupt jubilee oppression, insecurity, scarcity, division, harm and bad news. If the people of God are called to participate in the purposes of God, then our call is to figure out what Jubilee means here and now, with and for our neighbors. This is happens when we listen to our actual neighbors and wonder about their particular stories alongside of God’s story and promises to a creation intended for jubilee.
Elsa Tamez names the importance of this contextual, tangible call for understanding jubilee in the following quote:
“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.”
Dreaming from Exile: A Rereading of Ezekiel 47:1-12
by Elsa Tamez in Liberating Eschatology: Essays in Honor of Letty M. Russell (1999)
Listening for the particular ways our neighbors are experiencing bad news and putting those stories into conversation with the promises of God is how churches do theology. Its how we hold the text and context side by side, open to the work of Holy Spirit as she helps us understand what jubilee might look like, sound like, taste like, and feel like in ways speak real jubilee in the face of real life bad news.
Amidst our collective struggles with pursuing this call during heavy and challenging times, we are struggling forward, as one of our Congregational Facilitators, Geoffrey Gill has said. And we aren’t doing it alone. We are grateful for open and curious participants, engaged in the unfolding learning experiences. We trust God is up to good things in the midst of our efforts, doubts, curiosities, struggles, joys and prayers.