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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”

A Month for Reconnection: It’s Amanda and Geoffrey!

While summers can be hectic, they also can be a time to feel more grounded and to reconnect to our bodies and the earth. If we are quiet and listen, we can hear our bodies calling us to connect with the earth, which in turn is calling us back to each other. It can be a time to push back on the myth that we need to be always producing. Always checking the tasks of the list and making “progress”. 

With more people out and about rather than nestled inside, we are given the opportunity to meet those around us with our presence in new ways. This month we will be inviting you to reconnect in a variety of ways, with yourself, with your neighbor, with our initiatives, and even our CCV Staff! We have some recent changes with two of our staff members now in new roles and we would love for you to celebrate them with us! 

In case you haven’t met these two lovely individuals, it is a pleasure to introduce you to two amazing humans who are on our CCV staff. Amanda Vetsch and Geoffrey Gill. 

If you have the chance, please send them a congratulations via email or the next chance you see them!

Continue reading “A Month for Reconnection: It’s Amanda and Geoffrey!”

2021-2022 Christensen Scholars

Today we are celebrating the 2021-2022 cohort of Christensen Scholars who are wrapping up their year together. Up to ten students are selected each academic year to participate in the Christensen Scholars Seminar. This program provides a unique opportunity for students to discuss and explore theology, faith, and vocation in a small, supportive cohort. Each Christensen Scholars is also connected with a community-based learning experience designed to enhance this seminar experience. You can learn more about our Christensen Scholars program here


Headshot of Renee Christensen outside in front of a tree with pick flowers

Renee Christensen ‘23 

Major: Theology and Public Leadership, Minor: Psychology

Hometown: Shafer, MN.

 

I joined Christensen Scholars because I was drawn to the common interest with those who want to talk about theology and embrace the questions and the “tough stuff” that comes along with theology. Throughout my time as a Christensen Scholar, I have learned SO much about my own faith and from the other participants. I am so glad that I decided to be a part of this great program. 

 


Headshot of Ed Loubaki standing in front of a red background turned to the side and smiling Ed F. Loubaki ‘23 

Major: Biology, Minor: Religion 

Hometown: New Hope, MN.

 

I joined the Christensen Scholars program out of the belief that I was going to come out being more community-oriented and to know more about what others’ values are in their walk with God. While that was accomplished, I also learned more about my faith and vocation in a world that is ever-changing. Through Christensen scholars, I learned the values of taking care and loving of our neighbors as Christ would do. The world as we know needs so much love and community whether that is giving out hygiene kits, washing feet, taking blood pressure, or even just listening to individuals, I am proud and happiest to say that through Christensen Scholars I am able to be the change I wish to see.

 


Headshot of Anaiya Martin inside in the sunlight with her hand by the side of her headAnaiya Martin ‘23

 Major(s): Pre-Law concentration in Political Science

Hometown: Brooklyn Park, MN. 

 

I joined Christensen Scholars because I am interested in opportunities that come with learning about vocation and spirituality more in-depth. I feel learning about the evolution of religion helps me re-evaluate and grow spiritually within myself. I am grateful for the openness and expansion of free-thinking in this class both inside and outside of being present for Christen Scholars. Joining has been a beautiful way to connect with others in my community more intimately, and I feel this is molding me into the kind of person I am proud to say I am becoming. Intersectionality is critical to recognize and is respected and encouraged in each conversation I engage in, especially since becoming a Christensen Scholar. I am grateful for this opportunity, much more than I can sufficiently express. It has been an outstanding contribution to my life.

Continue reading “2021-2022 Christensen Scholars”

Mentors for the 2022 Youth Theology Institute

One gift we have each year at the Augsburg Youth Theology Institute (AYTI), is hiring current college students to train and lead as mentors during our annual summer institute. These students come to AYTI with energy and gifts for serving young people who are curious about how God is working in their lives and the world. These leaders spend the spring semester developing skills for small group facilitation, studying and researching biblical stories to prepare to lead a daily devotion with our participants, and honing their leadership skills to provide a safe and welcoming place for the high school participants during the institute.

2022 AYTI Mentors being goofy!
2022 AYTI Mentors being goofy!

We are excited to introduce to you the 2022 AYTI Mentors. They are such a fun group and we know the high school participants are going to enjoy spending the week of AYTI with them!

Continue reading “Mentors for the 2022 Youth Theology Institute”

Our Indianapolis Adventure: Beginning A New Chapter

Earlier this week members from our CCV team, Amanda Vetsch, Kristina Fruge, Jeremy Myers and Ellen Weber, gathered in Indianapolis for three days with colleagues from across the country as we are entering a new chapter of a grant we recently received from the Lilly Endowment.

Three different images of Amanda Vetsch, Kristina Fruge, Jeremy Meyers and Ellen Weber together in Indy. The first on the top left is at the airport by the Indy sign. The top right is at dinner together and bottom image is outside at the conference soaking up the sunshine.
Top left image is at the Indy airport. Top right is at dinner on Sunday night. Bottom image is our CCV Team outside of the conference soaking up some sunshine.

You can read more about this particular grant hereThese colleagues include folks from 11 other seminaries and universities who received a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment in 2017 that was part of Lilly’s inaugural Young Adult Initiative. After experimenting and learning for the past five years together in contexts across the country, we gathered to launch another five-year commitment to steward the evolving work emerging from partnerships with congregations, young adults and neighborhoods.  We explored together where we have been, where we are going, how we have been changed and how we can continue to build connections with each other in this work around vocation and what it means to be called by God to this work. 

The Riverside Innovation Hub at Augsburg will be focusing on how we support the spiritual lives of young adults through a multi-layered initiative centering young adult voices. There are many parts that will be life giving that will emerge in the months and years to come, but a couple in particular are gaining our attention and excitement.  Continue reading “Our Indianapolis Adventure: Beginning A New Chapter”

CHRISTENSEN CENTER FOR VOCATION STUDENT ASSISTANTS

Angelique Young ‘25 (she/her)

Major: Social work, Minor: PsychologyStudent Worker Angel Young

Hometown: Brooklyn Park, MN. 

 

I am one of the Student Assistants at the Christensen Center and Augsburg Youth Theology Institute. Having a positive impact on others is very important to me, from my work to my schooling to my personal life. I have worked for organizations like City Hall and Second Harvest that value helping others. It is also why I accepted my current position with the CCV and AYTI. I value gaining experience and opportunities that will benefit me in the future. 

 


AYTI Student Worker Renee Christensen

Renee Christensen ‘23 (she/her)

Major: Theology and public leadership, Minor: Psychology

Hometown: Shafer, MN.

 

I am one of the Augsburg Youth Theology Institute Student Assistants, and have worked with AYTI for 3 years! I was lucky enough to attend AYTI as a participant and fell in love with Augsburg and this program! I am so excited to share all of the great ways AYTI has impacted the lives of youth!

 


 

CCV Worker Jam PashyayevaJam Pashyayeva ‘25 (she/her)

Major: Graphic Design

Hometown: Capital of Azerbaijan, Baku.

 

I am an international student at Augsburg. I am good at a range of different skills such as cooking, writing, and all sorts of sports (cycling, tennis, basketball, swimming and etc.). I know English, Russian, Ukrainian, and Azerbaijani languages on an exceptional level and currently learning French and Italian. I worked as a personal translator for KoçSistem Company Director. Art was always my passion since a very young age that’s why I decided that working in the sphere that will require my skills and this position at CCV as part-time work is the best opportunity to start learning and getting on the right track for my future career.

 


Student Worker Aaron Puent

Aaron Puent ‘23 (he/him)

Major: Religion w/ Concentration in Global Religions and Interfaith Studies

Hometown: La Crosse, WI.

 

Working in CCV is important to me because it combines my passion for studying theology with my interest in helping others find the spiritual and intellectual tools that they need. I began working with CCV last year when I was an AYTI mentor. The following fall, I was able to join as a recruiter for the Public Church Scholars program. Because of this work, I can help others find what they need for future success, and I am still learning about Augsburg, its affiliations, and the behind-the-scenes work that goes on in the background.  

 


 

Student Worker Sarah RunckSarah Runck ‘24 (she/her) 

 

Major: Music Therapy 

Hometown: New Ulm MN

 

I love to play instruments which include flute, piano, guitar, and ukulele. I also grew up on a farm where I always liked to be outside and go on walks. Along with this, I was involved with my church growing up. Some church things included helping with VBS, teaching Religious education to 2nd graders, helping with music, and helping with festivals. Faith has always been a strong passion of mine and working at CCV has given me the opportunity to grow in my faith and learn about other religions. I am excited to keep learning and to hear more stories!

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church’s journey towards being a Public Church

Today’s blog post comes as a video from Stephen Richards at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis. He shares the story of their journey with the Public Church Framework and what it looks like in their context. A transcript of the video can be found below the video credits.  

Video:

Credits:

Video: Written, filmed, and edited by Stephen A. Richards

Music: “Pulse”, written and produced by Stephen A. Richards, taken from the album “Cyclone”, copyright May 2019 (used with permission)

Transcript:

“Hello, my name is Steve and I’m a member of the Innovation Team at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Minnesota. I’ve been involved with the Innovation Hub team from the beginning and I’m really excited by the work we’re doing. 

However it’s not always been this way. There have been times where I have found the work very frustrating. You see, when we were invited to go on a journey to connect with young adults and God in our community we were not handed a road map for which to do this. And for a long time, I found this difficult. For me, mission had often begun in the church and was about bringing people into the church. Yet, that’s not the way this innovation stuff works. 

You see, when you start asking “What is God up to in our community,” you have to step outside the church and into uncharted territory. 

As we walked the three artforms, accompaniment, interpretation, and discernment, our focus as a group and then as a church began to shift. We started to think more about hearing and telling stories and how we might go into the community to do this. So rather than sitting inside of a building and waiting for people to come to us, we began to look for ways we were already connecting with neighbors. The Montessori School in the basement of our church was an obvious one. And also the green space out front. We learned that people were using the Adirondack chairs that we had placed out there. They were tying ribbons to the peace pole, and regularly visiting the food box. We decided to focus on this as a space where God is present in our neighborhood. A holy ground where we could start wading further into the river. From this, the peace craft project was born. Which is a brand new initiative of St. Luke’s Episcopal church and intended to creatively engage our neighborhood in peace making activities. Peace Craft has become the connector between the church and the local community. 

Through the work we do, and funded by the grant money we received, a new vision for God’s mission has emerged. We are also seeing more people in the church joining us and excited about finding out about where God is working in their lives and the local community. 

For example, one of the innovation team members suggested we might ask for grant money to give out free ice creams to our neighbors after church each Sunday. So we did, we named it, “Ice Cream Sunday.” For three months over the summer of 2019, we stood outside the church, eating ice cream and inviting passersby to join us. In doing so, we met lots of people and got to know their stories. We also got to tell them our stories, barriers came down. We began to wade into the river. First, ankle deep, then knee deep, and finally waist deep. This simple act of going outside and sharing ice cream changed our community. We recently lost our Rector, but rather than finding this period of transition unsettling, people have instead become energized, inspired and open to new ideas. There is a tangible energy in the church. There is a tremendous desire to know and discover what God is doing among us. In many ways, Peace Craft is at the forefront of the mission work of our church. The waters of God’s spirit are now flowing within, through, and from our church. And as it does, the fruit of God’s spirit is evident for all to see. As each week, new people are being added to our numbers, including young adults.”

Permaculture as Proclamation: Understanding the Land as Neighbor

This week’s story is written by Marie Page, a congregational learning partner at Church of All Nations (CAN). She shares about CAN’s experience of understanding the land as their neighbor. 

Throughout the past year, our leadership discerned that learning how to relate to the land as neighbor would be the most far-reaching and impactful focus for our RIH partnership. Over the past

People dig in a garden
The community members at Church of All Nations work together to prepare the land for new plants.

winter, we had a core group of pastors, staff, youth, and adult members who met regularly to study the guiding philosophies and practices of permaculture in preparation for spring. The multi-year plans for our property were made after many discussions with our friends at Ecological Design [the women-owned design group behind Main Street Project, Tiny Diner, and more]; they incorporated a kid’s play area, culinary and medicinal herbs, fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, a pergola, and an outdoor worship space- all priorities for our community. 

 

When spring [finally] came, we got to work! Our regular core group meetings turned into work days, and we even had a few “Permablitz” events with the whole community to kick start some of the most needed projects: removing typical sod, spreading compost, reseeding bee-friendly lawn, planting trees and perennials, and a lot of weeding.

 

We were honestly surprised by the number of people who came out regularly for core team meetings and that even more came out for our Permablitz and work day events. We could see the enthusiasm spreading as real visible changes took root around the church- wildflowers and grasses that we’d maybe only seen in stores or pictures, and especially our herbs. Our community has been blessed by several meals made with herbs grown right outside our doors, that many of us planted and watered and weeded. 

 

We’ve also had many positive interactions with neighbors we’d not talked to previously. Many  were grateful for the work we’re doing and curious to learn more. In addition, we’ve had talks with the local park just down the

person gardening
Working with the plants.

hill, on our same lake- they’ve been working to foster native species all around their property and are enthusiastic. There was one individual who must’ve been upset over the temporary visual changes when we were doing initial digging and reseeding- they reported us to our local watershed district, but when the district came out and saw our plans, they were thrilled with the work we’re doing, as it will greatly slow the water flow and prevent erosion down into Silver Lake at the base of our hill. 

 

Our children have responded beautifully. They were deeply impacted by our VBS program we put on this year, which we crafted intentionally as an offshoot of our permaculture project, to help them understand what we were doing and feel included in it. As we’d spent a lot of time studying how water moves around our property (in preparation for the addition of swales and rain gardens), we created a curriculum around the many ways God uses water to bring forth and sustain life. We were astonished by the degree of attention, focus, and enthusiasm for the stories and activities this year- far more than any of the standard programs we’ve put on in the past. At the end of the week, they each got a watering can and helped water the herbs in our front yard.

 

A few weeks ago we had a special Sunday program where 20 of our grade school children helped us harvest some of those same herbs they’d helped water this spring, which we will be processing for our craft fair fundraiser this winter. We were able to teach them how to care for the plants and pick gently with gratitude for the work they have done to make this gift for us. We also showed them how to notice which flowers have bees but to not be afraid of them- because the bees don’t want to hurt us, just like we don’t want to hurt them. They also learned how to notice when the herb is too young or too old to be picked.

 

This aspect has been the most profound for many of us. In bringing many forms of nature closer to our building, we’ve been able to reshape the narratives that many of us were raised with: nature is an angry “other” that will harm us if given the chance. Instead, we’re able to experience and share with our children that the land is loving and abundant when we approach respectfully- full of food and medicine both for us and for the many forms of crawling friends that have moved in to enjoy the harvest. (The variety and quantity of bugs, bees, butterflies, and frogs has surprised even those of us who’ve lived in this area our whole lives!)

 

people posing with their construction
Permablizters pose under what will become a pergola, for plants to grow on and people to meet under.

It has been profoundly healing for many of us not just to learn these things ourselves but to watch our children grow up in a community where the land as neighbor is part of the air we breathe- seeing them greet their favorite plants, not scream and run from grasshoppers or even bees but approach carefully, with curiosity. This re-narration of “other” into “neighbor,” then friend, and then family is fundamental to our ministry as a church. It fills us with profound joy and hope to work towards a future where the natural open-hearted curiosity of our children can be guided with love to carefully navigate and embrace the unknown, rather than shrinking back or isolating from it in fear. Their hearts and minds, shaped in this way, will shape a better world. 

 

Thanks to the support of our members and partners like RIH, God is bringing forth a harvest far beyond what we could’ve asked or imagined- in our land, and in our lives. We can’t wait to see the new developments next year will bring!

From Frustration to Transformation: The Public Church Framework as a Process

This week’s story is written by Stephen Richards, a congregational learning partner at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Steve writes about his transformation throughout the process of practicing the Public Church Framework. 

Ever had an argument in the car with your partner about the “right way” to get somewhere? My wife and I frequently have such “debates”, and it often boils down to this: she likes to plan how to get somewhere in advance, whereas I’m more of a “wing-it” guy. She likes to pre-navigate potential traffic snarls and find the most economical route to get somewhere, whereas I know where I need to go, have a vague idea of how to get there, and if there are any holdups along the way I’ll navigate my way around them based on what looks like the best option at the time. Needless to say, my wife and I often find driving together a frustrating experience.

 

church with people outside
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

This past year, working with the Riverside Innovation Hub has felt a lot like driving with my wife. When St Luke’s first started this journey and I was invited to be part of the team, I was excited about the idea of working to get more young people to come to church. Of course I wanted more young people coming to church; I wanted lots of people to come to church. However, I quickly began to realize that this was not the point. So I pushed back. If this is not about getting people into church, then what is it about? I remember regularly expressing a sense of frustration to our coach that I simply had no idea what we were trying to achieve. The “goal” was to find ways to connect with young adults in our community, but how to do that and what that might look like was opaque. “So what” and “What next” questions dominated my thinking. I found the process frustrating. I wanted a road map. I wanted a planned route from Point A to Point B. The trouble is, that’s not the way this works. You see, when you start asking “What is God up to in our community?” you’re heading into uncharted territory. 

 

For too long I’d been looking for God inside the church building, and many “solutions” for how to address the dearth of young adults in our churches often begin there. If only our services were more exciting, if only we had better programming and the like. Using such reasoning we also talk about how God is or is not working in our midst. More people in church equals God is working, and vice versa. But instead, we were told to reflect on Ezekiel’s vision of the river flowing from the temple, and imagine this flowing out into our community. I liked the image, but continued to push back. I made the point that if the river was flowing from the temple then surely this means the river is flowing out from our church building? Our coach patiently allowed me to navigate my way through this. 

When I joined this project I thought it was about connecting young adults to God in church. However, as we began to follow the river (both inside and outside of our community), I suddenly realized that it was about a different kind of connecting. In fact, it was me who was connecting with God as I began to realize my entire understanding of mission had been grounded in the notion that there was nothing of God going on outside “in the world.” Sitting inside a church building, I’d been staring at the walls wondering why more people weren’t inside with us, rather than going outside and asking them. The walls were preventing me from engaging with people. They were a physical barrier between our community and our neighbors. Whereas the veil separating us from God had been torn down in Christ, and in the years since then we had been physically and theologically putting it back up.

 

As we walked the three art forms, I became to see where God is at work outside the church. I should not have been surprised, because God is always at work everywhere! How do I know this? Because God is everywhere. There is no place where God is not:

 

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:7-8).

 

Once I began to realize that church is not the Ground Zero, the modus operandi of God’s activity in any community, I began to realize that the roadmap of mission I had been using had been leading me away from young adults; leading me further inside the church building (where they are not), instead of outside and into our neighborhood (where they are).

 

As we continued with Interpretation and Discernment work, I sensed that not only I had changed, but the team had also had a transformation. Our focus had shifted. We had begun to dream and imagine how we might go and meet people, rather than sitting in church waiting for them to come to us. Jesus told us to “Go,” and we were going. We began to look at ways we were already connecting with our neighbors; the Montessori School in our church building was an obvious one, but also the green space out front. We learned that people were using the chairs we had placed out there, they were tying ribbons to the Peace Pole and using the food box. We decided to focus on that as space as a place where God was present; Holy ground where we could start wading into the river.

people talk in groups outside
Folks from the congregation and the neighborhood gather at St. Luke’s “front porch” to be together and share ice cream.

And so we began. It was the start of summer and one of our team suggested we might offer people free ice cream after church on Sunday. So we did. We named it Ice Cream Sunday. For three months we stood outside the church eating ice cream, and inviting our neighbors to join us. In doing so we met lots of people and got to know their stories. We got to tell them our stories, but we never used this as a recruitment tool; just a way of showing love to those around us, you know, doing the very thing Jesus told us to do (Matthew 2:39). And as we did this week after week, relationships began to form. Barriers came down. We began to wade into the river; first ankle deep, then knee deep and finally waist deep. Some people came back just to hang out with us; people who had never stepped inside our church building. And as we listened to their stories we realized that God was at work in their lives and in our community. In fact, God had always been working in our community, we’d just never taken the time to go outside and listen. But now we were outside, and listening, and starting to see the walls come down. We’d torn up the roadmap, and with the Spirit’s leading had started to “wing-it”…

The Healing Power of Dirt

This week we hear from Ellie Roscher, a congregational learning partner at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Ellie shares a story about the mutual transformation that comes from listening to and empowering young adult leaders. 

 

plants and welcome sign
The Garden at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

Siri, a talented and emerging folk singer, spends significant time on the road playing music. In between tours, she works at the front desk at Bethlehem even though she is skeptical of institutional religion and questions the existence of God. 

About a year ago, Siri found herself in a cycle of despair. She was feeling adrift and unsure of where her community was. And she was feeling cynical, angry and overwhelmed about climate change. She could hear the earth moaning and see it crying out. One night, in response to her lament a friend kindly offered, “Would it help to do something about it?” 

Siri took the challenge to heart. She floated her idea of starting a community garden to me and some other folks at Bethlehem. Yes, yes, yes. We helped her flush out her vision and celebrated with her when she received a generous Foundation Grant. Then it was time to begin. 

At the Riverside Innovation Hub, our guiding text is from Ezekiel 47. In it, we are led away from the temple to deeper water. Along the riverbank there are lush trees with fruit for food and leaves for healing. Siri had a prophetic vision to grow a garden outside the walls of Bethlehem. Bethlehem, a large and resourced church, had not yet leveraged its voice and power to address climate change in real and meaningful ways. We recognized Siri’s passion and vision as beautiful, and we met her there, downriver, to put her plan to action. 

Planting a seed requires the audacity of hope. Tilling the soil quiets the mind, brings peace to the heart, and slows time just a bit. Weeding is a spiritual practice. Watching seed transform is a living metaphor. Fresh air shakes the dust from our souls. Billowing clouds invite us to look all the way up and remember that we are small.

flowers
The late-fall blooms of the garden.

Siri was ready to move from despair. Her leadership invited others to do the same. She built beds, planted seeds, watered them and tended to them. She showed up week in and week out and created a space outside the walls of Bethlehem for folks to gather. Sunday school kids came out into the sunshine to guess what sprouts would become. A neighborhood kid asked if he could help water the beds, another asked if he could have a cucumber. More neighbors, who previously did not engage started congregating when Siri and volunteers showed up to work. More congregation members lingered outside the church. 

Now, at the end of the summer, the garden has exceeded all of our expectations. It is bursting with life. The sun flowers tower over us. The pollinators bring life and vibrancy and splashes of color. We tended to the earth and it is showering us with bounty. The neighbor who was the most skeptical has thanked Siri for creating a space for folks to gather. Congregation members have thanked her for inviting them out of the sanctuary to God’s nature. 

Siri, too, has been amazed at the transformation inside of herself. She is a pastor’s kid, and she has a lot of hurt toward the Christian institution. She sees the harm the church has caused in the world. “It has felt like

gigantic tectonic plates shifting in my being,” she said. “It has been truly transformational to go from overwhelmed to empowered. And to grow a garden on the grounds of a church has been important for me. I’m not ready to worship yet, but growing flowers and vegetables here and having the community rally around me has ushered in healing.” 

garden boxesBethlehem’s innovation team recognized Siri’s vision and leadership. We built our vision around the growing garden and our growing partnership with folks doing conservation and reforestation in the cloud forest of Guatemala. Siri will be one of the young adults traveling to Guatemala come January, after our garden is harvested. She kept asking me if I should send someone else instead, someone who has more clarity about God and church. I think of Ezekiel and smile. “No, you are perfect.” 

The garden has been a blessing. A physical reminder of God’s abundance. A place to gather and listen to the soil and and remember whose we are. It brings dignity to get down on our knees and get dirty. Get some earth under our fingernails. Siri said yes to an invitation to grow something new and rich and beautiful. It has given her hope. And community. Fruit for food and leaves for healing. We are all better for it. We are grateful.