On the evening of June 28 – at Augsburg University and on the interwebs of zoom technology – the Riverside Innovation Hub Learning Community gathered folks from over a dozen congregations for a hybrid learning event. These congregational members are currently involved in RIH’s two year partnership of exploring the call to be neighbor in our places. The learning arc of this partnership includes moving through and practicing the artforms of what we call the Public Church Framework.
The flow of this process begins with accompaniment – which is listening in relationships and in our neighborhoods without an agenda but simply to hear our neighbor’ hopes and heartaches. Teams spent a good portion of the fall and winter focused on this artform, seeking out listening posts in their neighborhoods, doing prayer walks, inviting neighbors to one-to-ones and simply bringing curiosity to the geographical places near their churches.
Next they began wondering about those stories alongside of their core theological convictions – we call this artform interpretation. Through the winter and spring teams asked the questions: What do the things we believe to be true about God have to say about our neighbors’ stories? What do our neighbors’ stories have to say about the things we believe to be true about God? Many of them began sharing these insights with other leaders in their congregations.
This most recent gathering on a warm evening in June marked our fourth large group gathering and the midway point of our intentional learning relationships together around this neighborhood-oriented work. We spent time reflecting with one another about what we have been learning so far in accompaniment and interpretation. We shared encouragement with one another around the challenges and impact of this work. We also introduced a third artform – discernment. This is a communal process of listening for the nudge of the Spirit towards the right next faithful step, given what we have been learning so far from our neighbors’ and God’s story.
During our evening, teams moved through a liturgy of discernment together, which is just one of thousands of ways a community might practice discernment together. Congregational teams will be creating space for intentional discernment over the summer months – setting aside dedicated time to ask: Given what we’ve heard…who is God calling us to be? What is God calling us to do? Who is God calling us to be in relationship with? This is not a step towards making a decision about a new ministry or programming. Perhaps things like that will evolve in time. Rather discernment is a step towards more intentionally listening for the Spirit’s voice – pleading and nudging – already active among us. And in this listening for the Spirit, clarifying what is most important for us to be paying attention to right now.
As we move along this learning experience together, we are also learning (or perhaps remembering) how important it is to have companions along the way. We have encountered many challenges and struggles over this year together – as congregations, as individuals, and as a people living in uncertain and heavy times. We have experienced and witnessed the bad news facing us and that of neighbors near and far. The daily weight and intensity of this bad news makes the call to be neighbor that much more obvious, urgent and exhausting. These times are making even more apparent our need to reconnect the threads of our shared humanity and weave together more trustworthy communities of belonging.
The weight of bad news – ours and our neighbor’s – is exhausting to carry, often making it difficult to imagine how we will rise to what is needed of us to show up differently. To reconnect. To heal. To reconcile. To trust. More and more, our RIH community is convinced that the only way to move forward with the urgency of our current moment and the weight of this current reality, is to do so together.
This summer, each congregational team will gather with someone from our RIH team to practice discernment together – wondering about the invitation to participate in and proclaim good news in our particular places. We will be wondering together: what is the Spirit’s invitation to engage in good news in Brooklyn Park? In Robbinsdale? In the Minneapolis neighborhoods of Longfellow, West Phillips, East Harriet, Steven’s Square, Bancroft and Diamond Lake? In Plymouth? In the St. Paul neighborhoods of Mac-Groveland and Phalen Payne?
While there is no shortage of challenges to navigate – there is also no shortage of love and good companions for the journey. Together we are blessed to be leaning into God’s love for us and our neighbors, joining in the slow, necessary work of being neighbor and investing in more whole, connected and flourishing communities.