In early February, some of the Riverside Innovation Hub staff attended and presented at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network’s annual convening, the Extravaganza, in Anaheim, CA. Amanda Vetsch and Kristina Fruge presented what we heard at the Threshold Event.
The purpose of the workshop was to share the wisdom we, at Augsburg’s Riverside Innovation Hub, are learning from young adults about their hopes, dreams and concerns for the church. In particular the about key learnings from a recent event we hosted on campus this fall, when we gathered a diverse group of young adults from around the country, representing a wide variety of ecumenical backgrounds and other lived experiences.
Before we dove into the presentation portion of our conversation, we used Mentimeter to poll the in-person and virtual attendees. This helped us get a sense of who was attending and practice using a new tech tool. Both groups were from across the country, with a strong portion in the Midwest. We were fairly caffeinated, and the majority of both workshop groups believe that the person in the middle seat on the plane does NOT get both armrests. After the icebreaker and Menti practice, we dove into presenting about who we are, what we did, and what we heard.
Who are we?
In 2017, the Christensen Center for Vocation got a Young Adult Initiative grant from the Lilly Endowment to create an Innovation Hub that equips congregations to explore questions around the intersections of young adults and church. One of our guiding convictions was that young adults don’t want to be attracted or drawn back to church, but would rather see the church move out into the public where young adults are actively living out our faith. The Riverside Innovation Hub spent five years working alongside congregations to be and become public churches and learn how to be led by young adults in that endeavor.
In 2022, We got a second grant to help expand that work, and one of the ways we’re doing that is through a book project. We’re committed to practicing what we preach and teach, so the book is super collaborative and envisioned and written by young adults. To distill the themes of the book, we hosted an Envisioning Event in November, selected two authors per theme, a young adult and a thought leader, and have built a writing process that includes two retreats, lots of drafts and revision.
What did we do?
For the Threshold Book Envisioning event, we gathered 50 young adults from across the US to share what they wish the church would know and help identify the themes of the book. This group of young adults had varying experiences with church and came from a wide variety of traditions and denominations
The gathering was designed for them to share their hopes, heartaches and dreams for the church. Jeremy Myers and Rozella Haydée White facilitated the space. Five keynote listeners joined us to listen with deep intention to what was emerging in the space. You can read more about how the event was shaped in this blog: Threshold Recap Blog
What did we hear?
We heard stories full of grief, love, celebration, loss and more. It was an absolute gift and honor to have those shared with us. After two days full of reflection, conversation, and sticky notes, we generated a list of the themes:
- Grief and Healing
- Marginalization, Inclusivity and Liberation
- Abundance and Scarcity
- Sex/Intimacy and Shame
- Power and Abuse of Power
- Beyond the Walls
- Courageous Curiosity
- Creation and Destruction
- Mental Health
- Tokenism of Young Adults
Just as the young adults used the lens of desolation and consolation to think about their experiences within the church, we did as similar thing at our workshop.
First ,everyone was invited to pick one theme from our YA’s list that resonates with themselves or a reality in their ministry context.
Between both workshops, the theme Tokenism of Young Adult was chosen the most. Followed by Community, then Abundance and Scarcity, and Marginalization, Inclusivity and Liberation tied for third.
We then spent time individually reflecting on that theme and how we’ve experienced it as desolation.
Some of the answered shared included:
- One of the challenges I have encountered as a young person is having a lot of my community around me who is atheist/non-religious. Having spaces in my church community that my non-religious loved ones can participate and not feel alienated
- Existential dread re: the warming planet and the effects on vulnerable people
- Scarcity: Constant focus on too little time, too few people, too little money, always just trying not to die
- Post COVID “skill desert” of how to connect
- Not being fed but asking to feed others
- Courageous Curiosity – doubt/wonder/questions being interpreted to mean that you just don’t believe or aren’t faithful enough
- The rejection of queer voices. I can name more than a handful of individuals in my last congregation that were harmed for their identity
- “Why aren’t the YAs coming?” It feels like it sends the message that our young adults are not enough as they are unless they meet the church’s expectations.
After reflection and sharing about desolation, we reflected on the chosen theme and how we’ve experienced it as consolation.
Some of the answers shared included:
- Creating a Pride Cafe, art camp to explore identity issues, creating a community center in unused space. Invited folks to dinner and asked what they need spiritually
- Participation in new and ongoing hunger ministries (but desolation in the fact we still need them)
- Spaces where my non-religious loved ones can participate without feeling alienated
- Hiring a mental health specialist on staff
- Curiosity – when you open up space for vulnerable and genuine conversation about life, faith, church, you feel more connected to what church can be.
- scripture and church history/tradition provide a rich source for dialogue and makes space for mystery/hard questions
- exploring creation of an LGBTQ+ Christian group in a neighboring county where there are no affirming congregations
We concluded our time together by thinking through our next steps for our own contexts. What is something attainable we can do next, a low hanging fruit? What is something that is big and audacious we want to do, a moon shot? And who do we need to connect with, or coffee?
Find the workshop handout here: Workshop Handout
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