Written by Brenna Zeimet
On September 16th church leaders from across the country gathered in person and via zoom to embark on a two year journey towards becoming vital neighbors in their communities. Riverside Innovation Hub launched three cohorts of churches, two of them composed of local congregations from the Minneapolis/St Paul metro area, and one distance cohort that will meet online with congregations from Oregon, Massachusetts, and rural Minnesota. We’re inspiring the flourishing of our neighbors from coast to coast!
Cohort participants got the opportunity to learn from our own Jeremy Myers about the Art of Becoming Public Church; diving deep into the cultural impacts of postmodernism, church outreach models, and what our neighbors want and need from us in our post-pandemic world. Jeremy helped our congregations think through what the public church framework is and why it is important to engage our neighbors in a different way than the Church has before.
Next our congregations explored their “why” with the help of our program director, Kristina Fruge. She walked through what it means to engage in “place based vocational discernment in the public square for the common good”, and then invited congregations to talk about their own places and the common good they long to work for in their particular public squares. Congregations also heard from each of our staff members about our own personal “why” that drives us to do this work of investing in our neighbors and building relationships for the flourishing of others. Over lunch, cohorts talked with each other about their personal “why” and began to build relationships with the co-laborers that will walk beside them on this journey.
After filling up on pasta, breadsticks, and brownies, it was time to do some hands-on learning. Our Communications Guru, Ellen Weber, led the congregations in a fun game with the simple objective of completing a puzzle, with the caveat that your team was missing several pieces and had to go get them from the other teams. Fetching those stray pieces came with rules – some participants couldn’t move, others couldn’t talk, others had to sing every word or communicate as a 1950’s robot, still others could only give encouraging high-fives to aid their team in the task at hand. Our congregations played this game with gusto and had lots of fun.
Afterwards our participants shared about how it felt to do a task where they didn’t have all the pieces necessary to complete it and where they had to rely on their team and their neighbors to be successful. The insights from the crowd were brilliant. One team realized early in the game that they had the right pieces, but the wrong framework to put them in, so instead of trading pieces, they switched out their frame for one that their neighbors gave them and then everything fell into place.
Another team had a puzzle that one of the team members just happened to have at home and completes with their kids regularly. Because of that previous knowledge, they weren’t confused by the upside down tiger that didn’t seem to belong and finished their puzzle faster than the other teams. They talked about the power of privilege and knowledge of systems and how those little benefits can impact who wins and loses.
Others talked about their individual roles and how they got stuck on not being allowed to talk and felt like they weren’t very useful until they read the description of their role again and realized that they could walk from table to table which was a very helpful thing. They realized that focusing on what they CAN do instead of what they CAN’T do is how they will best contribute to the flourishing of the team. Our participants are some deep thinkers and our RIH team is excited for what will come of this journey as these cohorts engage new ideas and new perspectives on being vital neighbors.
To bring everyone back together after our game, Cohort Leader – Brenna Zeimet, walked our teams through the “how” of the next two years, emphasizing how we will show up in our cohorts and how our learning will take place across large events, smaller cohort meetings, team lead meetings, and online through our Riverside Collaborative space. Brenna emphasized the power of vulnerability and openness to change in this process, reiterating that “the energy you put into this journey is the energy you will get out” – how we show up matters to our success.
We finished the day off with a panel of RIH Alumni. Pastor John Pedersen of Diamond Lake Lutheran Church and Pastor Eric Howell of Shiloh Temple in Brooklyn Park talked to our teams about their experience and allowed the group to ask questions. Their insights were candid about the struggles the teams will face but also incredibly hopeful about the power of these concepts when they are understood and implemented.
The launch was a wonderful experience for our congregations to get a glimpse of the work they will be doing and begin to build relationships with the cohorts they will journey with. The energy in the room was awesome and the RIH team left very excited about the next two years and the growth we see on the horizon.