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Neighbor, Beloved Child of God, You Matter

Written by Kristina Frugé 

Wrapping up a season of orientation 

As we wrap up the calendar year of 2023, our RIH learning community is concluding its first season of work – the season of orientation. These first few months of gathering, learning and connecting have been saturated with lots of new ideas, invitations and challenges. I may have heard one or two folks describe this season feeling as though we’ve been drinking from a fire hydrant – a fair way to describe it. However, our intention has been to zoom out in this season and look at the journey ahead from the 30,000 foot perspective. We have been aiming to offer an overview of a new map of sorts.  We believe this map will help our learning community of folks explore God’s call to them in this present moment of our changing world. 

Kristina staring out to the trees and land below from a mountain.For many of us in congregations, we’ve been working off of older tried and true maps to help us get our bearings and shape our ministries. Those maps may have been more reliable in previous times. However, the landscape of the world we live in and its challenges has shifted significantly in recent decades. These shifts have only intensified in recent years…the global health crisis of Covid 19, a racial uprising in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, increased economic insecurities, a growing mental health crisis, increasing impacts of our global climate crisis, war and violence, just to name a few.  The list of hurts, heartaches and fears in the world and in our own lives is overwhelming. The church has been deeply impacted by this increasingly unpredictable landscape. But also,  we are a people rooted in a story that is rooted in love and whose fruits are intended to bring healing, nourishment and wholeness to God’s creation. This means that while the church attends to its own struggles, it is simultaneously holding a particular call to help respond to the bad news being generated daily in our communities and around the globe. 

We need new maps. And we need to cultivate different orienteering skills that help us show up in the world looking for and aligned with God’s vision for flourishing and mending in our places. Our season of orientation has attempted to offer some insights on these new maps to inform the journey we intend to pursue together, each in our unique corners of this map…on the ground, from within our congregations’ local neighborhoods. 

How we’ve spent this season

In September we gathered for our launch event and cohorts met for the first time in the weeks following. These gatherings were focused on introductions – many introductions! Introductions to some of the big ideas and imaginations resourcing the work of being vital neighbors. This included learning about the call to be public churches through both theological and practical lenses; an interrogation of the dominating stories that prevent us from living into the call to be about mending and loving in our neighborhoods; and initial reflections on why folks in this new learning community feel compelled to be a part of becoming public churches. We also had introductions to the team of staff who will be stewarding the learning community. And introductions to one another, a growing learning community of church leaders – lay and ordained – stewarding this neighborhood work on behalf of their congregations. In December, we spent time with the team leads from all of our congregations in the hopes that connecting across this group of key leaders will help folks find support and encouragement as we journey together, with the guidance of this new map.  

Joe and Dave talking with each other into microphones In November, our RIH learning community gathered online and in person at Augsburg for another night of learning (and un-learning) together for our Cultural Humility event. Joe Davis and Dave Scherer were our hosts and educators, sharing important concepts around culture, power and race. Exploring these important themes from the 30,000 perspective was intended to stir up conversations to help learning community members deepen our capacities for cultural humility in our efforts towards becoming public churches. Because the Riverside Innovation Hub is a learning community oriented towards the call to be neighbor and the call to invest in relationships in our neighborhoods, it is important that we cultivate a humble, curious and compassionate posture as we encounter our neighbors. This is especially true for congregations and individuals who hold more power and privileged identities in the cultural landscape of today. 

Joe and Dave used the analogy of right-handed and left-handed identities, to illustrate how certain identities that are dominant tend to shape who has access to the most power in a given context. In our context, typically some of the right handed identities include: white, able-bodied, cisgender male, property owning, English speaking, etc. This means left-handed identities in our context, such as BIPOC, queer, female, differently abled, non-English speaking, etc. often experience systems that are not made with their identities in mind. Individuals with these identities typically will have less power in the systems that shape our daily lives. It is critical to bring our curiosity, humility and compassion to our efforts to connect and listen to our neighbors, especially when we hold a majority of right-handed identities. Our own identities can create blinders towards understanding across differences. For those with many “right-handed identities,” these blinders can prevent us from seeing how we at times contribute to harm. Ultimately, we want to lean more into seeing the human spirit in each person we meet. In order to do so, it’s important to be aware of what gets in the way of that. Deepening our capacity for cultural humility is an important orienteering skill as we explore and seek to connect with our neighbors. 

Preparing for a season of accompaniment

Two alum smiling while hugging at the tableNow that we are concluding our season of orientation, the next several seasons of this work will move us back onto the ground, into the particular neighborhoods that our congregations are a part of.  We will zoom in to our geographic neighborhoods surrounding our congregations. If you’re in the city, this might be a particular neighborhood that your church is a part of. If you’re in the suburbs, this might be a several mile radius around your church with attention to other neighbors in your city you may already be in relationship with. If you’re in a more rural community, your geographic focus may be much larger to include the neighbors who are a part of your town but live, work and play over a more dispersed geographic area. 

In January, these new maps will guide us into the work of accompaniment – the commitment to listening to and learning from our neighbors’ stories. We will practice the artform of accompaniment in a variety of ways, including creating actual maps as teams prayerfully walk their neighborhoods, noticing signs of desolation and consolation. God is calling the church to pour its attention and curiosity outside the walls of the church and into God’s world. Accompaniment is our pathway to the places and people God is inviting us towards. This foundational artform is at the heartbeat of our RIH learning experience.

Joe and Dave have a ritual that they weave into all the spaces they convene. After anyone in the room shares a response with the large group, everyone says together to that person, “Child of God, you matter.” This practice is informed by the Zulu notion of Sawubona which literally means, “I see you.” It is a word that affirms the value and gift of each person. As our congregations move from our 30,000 view of the call to be public churches, and as folks step into their actual neighborhoods, we hope their encounters with their neighbors will cultivate this same imagination with the people they meet. We are eager to hear the stories that emerge as folks take on-the-ground steps into their neighborhoods, do the work of accompaniment and encounter the stories and individuals there. We trust that the Holy Spirit will be active in inviting us all to truly see our neighbors. We hope that these encounters, over time, generate a deep embodiment of this truth in our neighborhoods: “Neighbor, beloved child of God, you matter.”