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EZEKIEL AND THE PUBLIC CHURCH: EVERYTHING WILL LIVE WHERE THE RIVER GOES

by Ellen Weber and Jeremy Myers

Throughout this summer as we have gathered folks together around our work, the text from Ezekiel 47 continues to be a way to ground us before we begin. As our work shifts, taking time to remember these words re-grounds us in why public church matters through Ezekiel’s vision of God’s abundance.

Ezekiel’s Vision (Ezekiel 47:1–12, NRSV)

Individual stepping in water that is flowing by the side of a half-wall by the riverside. 1 Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate that faces towards the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.

3 Going on eastwards with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. 4 Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. 5 Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. 6 He said to me, ‘Mortal, have you seen this?’

Then he led me back along the bank of the river. 7 As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on one side and on the other. 8 He said to me, ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. 9 Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. 10 People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’

Ezekiel’s vision becomes an invitation to follow God’s jubilee as it flows into the world and and makes everything live where it flows. The Public Church Framework (below) provides faith communities with a way to do this, to become blessings for the entire land on which they are rooted rather than existing to serve their own purpose. We are Ezekiel, following the enigmatic divine tour guide along the river as we learn to see the breadth and depth of God’s love flowing away from the temple and into the world. Continue reading “EZEKIEL AND THE PUBLIC CHURCH: EVERYTHING WILL LIVE WHERE THE RIVER GOES”

“Shiloh goes into the unknown and…” A Vlog by Geo

 

Our very own Geoffrey Gill is a very talented videographer, so instead of a written blog post, he created a vlog sharing the story of one of our current learning partners, Shiloh Temple Brooklyn Park. We learn about their experience of accompaniment in Central Park. We hope you enjoy learning about their story and can watch a paradigm shift during their debrief discussion. 

 

Public Church Practices: Summer Neighborhood Prayer Walk

Outside. Sunshine. Gatherings in the backyard. Kids playing up and down the block. Time by the water. Schedules, full yet less scheduled. These describe summers in Minnesota to me. A time where more folks are out and engaging with each other while walking around the neighborhood. What could happen if we intentional went for a walk in our neighborhood paying attention to where joy was hanging out or where fear or anxiety was creeping in?

The Christensen Center for Vocation’s Riverside Innovation Hub is a learning community made local congregations who who gather together to learn how to be and become public church in their neighborhood contexts. We convene the congregations and then invite them to practice the artforms of the Public Church Framework in their contexts.

Accompaniment is the first artform of the Public Church Framework. It is the movement out into the neighborhood to hear the neighbors’ stories. In this movement, we learn to engage and listen to the neighbor for the neighbor’s sake.

The practice of a neighborhood prayer walk is a spinoff of the  Ignatian Awareness Examen, a contemplative prayer exercise that guides you through an examination of your day as you prayerfully seek moments of desolation (sorrow, brokenness, fear, anxiety, etc.) and moments of consolation (hope, life, courage, healing, joy, etc.).

We invite you this summer to join us in prayer walks around your own neighborhood. You can use this same framework as you walk through the neighborhood in which your faith community is situated, asking God to show you the places of desolation and consolation in that neighborhood. The general outline of that activity is to practice this by walking through the neighborhood, paying particular attention to consolation and desolation. Then, together, with people in your faith community or neighborhood, reflect on what you saw, felt, sensed and heard and map the locations of those places of consolation and desolation on a shared map. Continue reading “Public Church Practices: Summer Neighborhood Prayer Walk”

An Evening of Discernment by Kristina Frugé

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

View from above of the Chapel of the Learning Event #4 of round tables with people sitting and standing around them.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.   Continue reading “An Evening of Discernment by Kristina Frugé”

Stewarding Work with Hope and Lament by Amanda Vetsch

 

It’s sometimes strange to be a young adult that cares deeply about the church. I have so much hope for the possibility of a church that embodies God’s promises, and I lament the way in which the church has created, sustained, and participates in harm. 

So many of my peers who might consider themselves “Christian” have discerned that the institutional church isn’t something that they are willing to invest their energy or resources into any longer. We have often experienced church as a community that doesn’t live out the things it claims to believe in. When we’ve sought out a community of belonging that nourishes us and compels us to live our lives for the sake of the neighbor, we oftentimes found instead a place that intentionally or unintentionally perpetuates harm and exclusion, a place that continues to sustain white supremacy as the status quo, a community that prioritizes the privileged, and tokenizes people perceived as “other.”

Background of water flowing over rocks from a river with text over it "There’s often a really loud narrative about decline, death, and dying... And in the conversation about young adults and church, it often feels like the anxiety around scarcity gets aimed at young adults, seeing them as people who could become new members, and help lessen their anxiety about impending death, they could help lower the average age, and increase the monthly giving. And that is objectifying. It turns wonderful, gifted, wise humans into a “butt and bucks” . I, and my young adult peers, are so much more than that, and we’re seeking so much more than that out of a faith community. ~Amanda Vetsch"There are definitely churches and communities that are practicing their beliefs, and are committed to dismantling the systems of oppression, and living into God’s promises. And yet there are so many more that so badly want people to join them, and haven’t quite figured out how to let go of a way of life that’s no longer serving them, and not in alignment with God’s vision. 

There’s often a really loud narrative about decline, death, and dying. This narrative is one that comes out of a scarcity mindset, rather than abundance. And in the conversation about young adults and church, it often feels like the anxiety around scarcity gets aimed at young adults, seeing them as people who could become new members, and help lessen their anxiety about impending death, they could help lower the average age, and increase the monthly giving. And that is objectifying. It turns wonderful, gifted, wise humans into a “butt and bucks” . I, and my young adult peers, are so much more than that, and we’re seeking so much more than that out of a faith community. 

Realistically, we’re not going to save the church, quite frankly many of us don’t want to. There are parts of the church that I think should die, especially the parts that are interwoven with white supremacy, and perpetuating an oppressive, harmful status quo. 

For the last couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity work alongside faith communities that are chasing after what it could look like to be part of God’s redemptive work in our world, here and now, and wondering about and practicing a way of life together that brings flourishing and life to everyone. Continue reading “Stewarding Work with Hope and Lament by Amanda Vetsch”

The Pause Button

Written by Adrienne Kuchler Eldridge, AYTI Program Director

 

Pause. /pôz/

A rock with a pause symbol on it with the blue sky behind it. a temporary stop in action or speech. 

 

So many times in my work as a youth director, in my job as a high school career counselor, and my life as a mama, I have found myself pushing the pause button to explain a scene in a movie, describe the steps in a college application, or decipher a lyric in a song. According to Wikipedia, the pause button was invented in the 1960s “during that decade for use on reel-to-reel audio recorder controls” and was intended as an “indicator which stops operation intermittently and keeps the equipment in operating mode”. Today, we only have to look at the little two line symbol to know that once we hit that button, it’s just a momentary pause in whatever we are doing.

This summer, the staff at the Augsburg Youth Theology Institute had to make the difficult decision to cancel our summer institute due to low enrollment. This is the first time this significant decision has been made in our history. We are grieving. And yet with the hopefulness toward the future, we have energy for listening, dreaming, and creating. In order to do that, we are choosing to see this point in time as a pause in our regular communications. This pause will allow us to lean in, stop operations intermittently, and keep our program in operating mode as we discern the next steps on our journey. We are not “out” of this pandemic yet and we are not returning to any old “normal”. Our congregations, our communities, and our young people are experiencing a shift. In response, we are choosing to accompany our congregational partners as we first listen and then learn a different way forward. 

We believe wholeheartedly in the mission of the Augsburg Youth Theology Institute (AYTI). To inspire emerging high school theologians to observe, interpret, and engage their world through Christ for the sake of their neighbor. Our participants learn how to reflect theologically on culture and find meaningful ways to respond to the call from God that happens in this process of reflection. 

Our social media posts and stories will be on pause for the summer as we listen to all that is happening, moving, and changing around us and for the young people we serve. We will be spending our time accompanying congregational partners, learning from them about the changing landscape of the young people they serve, and discerning next steps for mutual aid in these partnerships. We will be thinking theologically about our work at the institute and discovering meaningful ways to respond to God’s call in the process of this reflection. We look forward to sharing what we have learned through this important time of intentional reflection later this fall. 

How is God calling you to press pause this summer? 

AYTI will see you in September! 

 

The Kin-dom of Heaven is like a Front Porch By Kristina Frugé 

Jesus can regularly be heard saying “the kin-dom of heaven is like…” and then offering an image, a story, a metaphor to root this vision to a place or experience. It is like a mustard seed, a lost coin, wheat among the weeds, a treasure in clay jars, the leaven that makes bread rise. Kin-dom or reign of God are of course, in themselves a kind of metaphor that reflect the ancient context of their teacher.  These metaphors speak to the audience – an agricultural community of peoples around the turn of the century – as Jesus seeks to stir the people’s imagination for the kind of world God desires them to experience and participate in. 

Sts. Luke and James red front door with peace flags hung up on a string across the front yard.

The Riverside Innovation Hub and the congregational partners we’ve been blessed to learn alongside these past several years, have been about this kin-dom of God work too. I cannot remember ever using this language explicitly with our congregational learning communities. But what we have been talking about and working towards is cultivating more places and relationships that reflect the ways God intends for us to be and be together. We’ve been chasing after that call, one relationship at a time, one walk through our neighborhoods at a time, one story or surprise at a time. 

Kin-dom metaphors may not quite fit our current context, but the idea of a front porch has caught our imagination as a helpful metaphor to encourage the relationship building work we are trying to be about. Relationships that shape stories that shape neighborhoods that look and feel a little bit more like God’s good intentions for a whole, flourishing and connected creation – one neighborhood block at a time. 

On one of these neighborhood blocks – at the corner of Colfax and W 46th St. in south Minneapolis – sits Sts Luke & James Episcopal Church. Also on this corner block exists a front porch of sorts. It wasn’t always there, but a few years ago the folks from this congregation began seeking out places to listen to their neighbors and some hints of an invitation began to stir among them. Continue reading “The Kin-dom of Heaven is like a Front Porch By Kristina Frugé “

Daily Devotions: God’s People [re]connect!

Each year for the Augsburg Youth Theology Institute, daily themes are chosen that are grounded in a biblical text. During the months of training and preparation for the Institute, the college mentors engage in theological reflection as a team and dig deeper into the biblical texts together. Through their leadership development with staff and the Institute chaplain, they read, plan, write, and eventually lead daily devotions for participants using these verses. The following themes and verses are now this year’s devotions. 

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Separation

Genesis 3:1-13

Covenant

Genesis 9:8-17

Reunion 

Luke 15:1-10

Breaking Bread 

John 6:1-15

Companionship 

Luke 24:13-35

2022 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thank you to Pastor John Schwehn and Pastoral Intern Tori Remer for their guidance and support as mentorsDevos 2022 Title Image prepared to write these devotions. The hours of conversation, prayer, theological reflection, and support that were given throughout the process is gratefully appreciated. We are proud of our college mentors and their work this spring.

PERMISSION

AYTI offers these themes and devotions for use by our partners. All credit should be given to the Augsburg Youth Theology Institute when using this material. Thank you. 

MISSION OF AYTI

The Augsburg Youth Theology Institute (AYTI) inspires emerging high school theologians to observe, interpret, and engage their world through Christ for the sake of their neighbor. Our participants learn how to reflect theologically on culture and find meaningful ways to respond to the call from God that happens in this process of reflection. 

To achieve this, we provide an intense, one-week residential experience with a new theme every year. Students read theological texts and experience a college classroom, participate in worship, explore diverse community-based learning, and have intentional small group conversations led by college mentors. Following their week on campus, students write a theological paper on the theme and their paper is published in a journal to be shared with congregations and the wider community.  www.augsburg.edu/ayti

Continue reading “Daily Devotions: God’s People [re]connect!”

The Artform of Discernment

cycle of public church framework

In Discernment, the third artform of the Public Church Framework, we move into the space between our neighbors’ stories, God’s story, and our story. In this movement we learn how to listen for who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do in light of the present reality and God’s promises.

Why is it important? 

Discernment is important because our neighbors’ realities matter, our realities matter, and because we believe God has something to say about all of this. God is actively and continually trying to teach us how to live an abundant life together. 

The opportunities to practice discernment are abundant, ongoing, and mundane. Without intentionally, the moments of discernment might appear as simple decision making.  Many people desire to live their lives with more intentionality: to make informed decisions about how they show up in community, how they steward their resources, how they participate in their families, neighborhoods, and societies. etc. We believe God calls us into a thriving, abundant life together and we believe God has uniquely gifted us and called each of us to participate in bringing that abundance into a lived reality for our neighbors. Discernment teaches us to be attentive to and responsive to that call and that good work.

What is it?

Discernment is a communal process of listening to God’s spirit for the next most faithful step forward. 

It is a prayerful, communal practice of critically seeking to determine how to respond to opportunities God has placed before us. It is different from decision making. It involves an intentional process that includes listening to three threads: God’s Spirit, the neighbors’ reality, or demands, and your reality. These three threads have been the stories and themes that have emerged from practicing Accompaniment and Interpretation. Discernment is the movement where we take stock of what’s emerged and what we’re being called towards. Which must include a realistic assessment of our own realities. What gifts do we bring? What limitations do we have? Continue reading “The Artform of Discernment”

Interview with Adjunct Religion Instructor and Author: Chris Stedman

Quote from The Velveteen Rabbit by Marjery Williams

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Reconnection 

As we sink deeper into our June theme of RECONNECTION, we are excited to share the great privilege we have at Augsburg University to stay connected with incredible people like Chris Stedman (he/him/his). Chris is a 2008 graduate from Augsburg and is now a writer, activist, and professor who currently teaches in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, MN. 

chrisstedman
Picture of author Chris Stedman

He is also the creator, writer, and host of Unread, named one of the best podcasts of 2021 by the Guardian, Vulture, HuffPost, Mashable, and the CBC. Additionally, Chris is the author of IRL (2020) and Faitheist (2012) and has written popular essays for outlets including the Atlantic, Pitchfork, BuzzFeed, VICE, and the Washington Post. Previously the founding director of the Yale Humanist Community, he also served as a humanist chaplain at Harvard University and a trainer and content developer for Interfaith Youth Core, he has most recently served as an Interfaith Fellow with the Interfaith at Augsburg center. 

In Chris’ most recent book, “IRL: Finding Realness, Meaning, and Belonging in Our Digital Lives” – which will be coming out in a new edition this August – we are invited to get curious about what it means to have connected lives both in real time and online. For so long, online sharing was seen as shallow and disconnected from truth and honesty. Chris invites readers into the possibility that we can find connection in those spaces and that through that experience we might experience fuller reconnection in our real lives. 

We caught up with Chris and asked him a few questions about his book and the concept of reconnection. Thanks so much Chris for sharing your wisdom and insight.

Interview with Chris

WHAT DO THE IDEAS CONNECTION & RECONNECTION MEAN TO YOU? 

We’ve spent the last few years navigating what has been, for most of us, an entirely unfamiliar landscape when it comes to connection, disconnection, and reconnection. 

In the early days of the pandemic, for example, I was working from home and living alone, so for the first time in my life all of my interactions were digitally mediated. Though I’m probably more online than the average person, it’s impossible to overstate what an immense shift this was. It gave me more of an appreciation for the internet’s ability to connect us in unprecedented ways, but also of its limitations, and our need to not only connect but also disconnect.

Even before the pandemic arrived, we lived in an age of constant connection, where we spend more and more time on digital platforms designed to monopolize our attention. Because of this, we have to be intentional about taking a step back from them sometimes—not because life online is inherently fake or inherently harmful, as some argue, but because we need the kind of perspective we can only get when we’re alone.

Continue reading “Interview with Adjunct Religion Instructor and Author: Chris Stedman”