Written by Adrienne Kuchler Eldridge
What a gift to host the 2023 Augsburg Youth Theology Institute: the Confluence! Our souls are refreshed, hearts are full, and bodies exhausted. On Sunday, June 25th, 20 high school students from Northfield, to North Minneapolis, to North Dakota and beyond, arrived on campus to spend a week focused on vocation, think theologically, and ask big questions about God’s purpose for their lives. This was the first in-person Institute we have been able to host in four years, and it was an incredible experience. Young people arrived eager to meet new people and share their stories, excited to learn more about themselves and the world around them, and dig deeper into God’s story.
Participants stayed on campus in Anderson Hall and spent the week eating in the dining hall. We woke up every morning and started the day with a devotion prepared by college mentors. Participants spent 1.5 hours each morning in a college classroom with a college professor, digging into theology and exploring the same biblical texts offered for daily devotions. We built relationships with others in our small groups, we played games, we told stories. We got out into the community and we ate delicious food. Every evening we worshiped, in unique and different ways each day. A favorite of all participants was Dinner Church where we shared communion, a meal, and a little karaoke! The song “Wade in the Water” was a constant throughout the week (Refrain: wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water. Don’t you know that God’s gonna trouble the water.)
Participants engaged in multiple activities designed to help them reflect on the God given gifts they have and get curious about how they might use them in the world. They started by mapping their life as if it were a river, what bends and turns has it taken, are there any rocks in the way, who are the people that waved from the river bank. Then they took the CliftonStrengths assessment and spent time learning about strengths and how to use them. Each participant took a spiritual gifts assessment and talked with other participants about what they have in common and how they use their gifts.
On Thursday, staff from the Riverside Innovation Hub joined participants to teach about the Ignatian Prayer practice of consolation and desolation. They gave directions for engaging in a Prayer Walk around the neighborhood, similar to what they use with congregations. Participants spent time walking through the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood focusing on where they experienced consolation and desolation. They returned to draw their own maps, share their stories, and make plans for a prayer walk in their own neighborhoods when they return home.
COMMUNITY ENGAGED LEARNING
What is the world’s story? Each afternoon, we ventured out into the city to learn from local leaders about the issues that break our hearts. We learned from a local Indigenous elder about the genesis and genocide of the Dakota people in Minnesota. We heard from local climate change activists about the devastating effects of the pipelines moving through northern Minnesota and how choosing solar power can make a lasting change. We were guided through the George Floyd Memorial site by local leaders on a pilgrimage journey of grief and pain that still impacts lives today. Each day was filled with powerful reflection and learning. Each participant was challenged and grew during this week.
Our hope for participants is that this experience helped them to gain deeper insight into who they are and the life they want to live as children of God. Coming in August, we will be publishing a website with participant projects. Each participant has an opportunity to use the creative gifts God has given them to write a poem, sing a song, create art, use photography, make a video or something else to explore their own vocation following their experience at the Confluence. We look forward to celebrating the final projects these incredible young people develop!
P.S. We hope you go back and look at our daily pictures and videos from the week on our social media accounts – on Facebook or Instagram! And if your congregation is supporting a young person in sharing their experience from this week, please tag us so we can help you celebrate!