Phase Two came to an end on June 1, 2019 as our 16 partner congregations presented their project proposals. We transitioned into Phase Three over the summer of 2019. Our partner congregations will now spend two years experimenting with new practices and forms of ministry with young adults. This will be a time of continued learning, trial and error, adapting, trying, retrying, frustration, celebration, and growth.
We have shifted from using our Innovation Coaches to support these congregations to a learning cohort model. Each partner congregation will be in a learning cohort with other congregations attempting similar work. They will gather for regular reflection on what they are learning and what growing edges are emerging for them. The Riverside Innovation Hub will support this work by remaining in close conversation with these learning cohorts and leveraging the resources these cohorts need to move through the growing edges they are encountering.
This work will be less like building a program and more like tending a garden. It will be slow and patient work. Noticing what is taking root. Learning whether the bugs in the garden are harmful or helpful. Wondering if we overwatered or underwatered. Being surprised by the fragrance and shapes of what grows. These things don’t look the way they do in the grocery store! If our congregations will be successful in their movement into the public square with young people, and if we are successful in supporting them in this work it will have only happened out of slow, patient listening and wondering and responding to what God’s spirit is already doing with and without us.
The Riverside Innovation Hub trained 8 young adult Innovation Coaches during August 2018. Each coach was assigned to 2 partner congregations. These coaches spent 20 hours a week working with each of their 2 congregations from August 2018 – May 2019, walking with them through our Public Church Framework towards discerning the future of their ministry with young adults. We also supported 9 other congregations who were interested in this work but did not have a coach working directly with them.
The innovation teams at these congregations were taught the artforms of the Public Church Framework and spent the year putting these artforms into practice in their context. The artforms of the Public Church Framework are intended to help a faith community establish and deepen relationships with their neighbors in their context so they might see and hear how their neighbors are longing for good news. This is the work that leads to innovation. These innovation teams were also asked to invite young adults into this process and to allow these young adults to lead this process.
At the end of 10 months of accompaniment, interpretation, and discernment each congregation submitted a grant proposal outlining the ways in which they hope to experiment with being a public church with their young adults over the next two years. These congregations were awarded between $25,000 – $30,000 for this experimentation.
Here is a summary of what we learned about young adults, congregations, innovation, the Public Church Framework, and how to effectively support this work.
What We Have Learned . . .
The most important thing we learned about young adults is that they are not very excited about being “known about”. They would rather you take the time to know them than know about them. They are not a demographic or a target market, they are unique individuals who often resist categorization. They are busy and very committed to their careers and their friends and to holistic living. They are willing to put time into leadership and the local church if they are being asked to invest their time in things that matter and make a difference. Many are not able or willing to move into traditional volunteer roles in the local church (committee member, Sunday school teacher, etc.). So they are looking for new ways to be plugged in. Your local congregation might not get young adults to return to worship. That’s okay. The question and challenge is how will your local congregation find the ways the places where young adults are actively living out their faith and how will you partner with them in those places?
Congregations are eager to be in meaningful relationships with young adults. There are some congregations who expect young adults to simply change their ways and become committed to the traditional church and its traditional practices and simply take over the leadership from previous generations while maintaining those traditional practices. But those congregations are few and far between. Most really want to become meaningful communities for young adults and are willing to do the hard work to become that type of community. Those who had the most success were the one who trusted the process of the Public Church Framework and stepped out in faith into the practice of accompaniment – meeting and listening to the neighbor.
There are two necessary hurdles a congregation must overcome before being successful in this work. The first hurdle is their “why”. Why do they want to do this work? Why do they want to become a public church? Why do they want to engage their young adults in new ways? If your “why” is driven by anxiety about the church shrinking or dying, then the work will most likely not be successful. However, if the work is driven by compassion for your neighbor and for young adults, then your work will be fruitful because you will be more committed to developing relationships than simply numbers.
The second hurdle is your congregation’s threshold. Our partner congregations who have benefited the most through this project thus far are the ones who have moved beyond their church building and spent significant time meeting and listening to their neighbors – those who live and work in the neighborhood around the congregation. This work beyond the threshold often led to important relationships, insights, and partnerships that have truly shaped some innovative approaches to ministry. And it all started by walking out the door and being willing to meet the neighbor and hear their story.
We are learning that innovation is hard – of course it is! Innovation is especially hard when we think its outcome must be something new, or shiny, or “better” than what we had before. We are learning that innovation is best understood vocationally. This means that innovative ministry grows out of simultaneously deeply listening to the neighbors’ stories and to God’s promises. Those two things inform one another. God’s promises change the way we hear and respond to the neighbors’ stories. And our neighbors’ stories change the way we hear and understand God’s promises. Innovation comes out of a disruption, or what we call a disorienting dilemma. The neighbor is always a disorienting dilemma. God is always a disorienting dilemma. The gospel is always a disorienting dilemma. When we are sorting out the relationship between these things, we are discerning vocation. Our partner congregations who are listening deeply to their neighbors AND simultaneously pondering God’s promises are actively discerning their vocation. This listening and pondering and discerning is what leads to innovation.
Public Church Framework
We are learning that the artforms of the Public Church Framework and their relationship to one another make the most sense when put into practice. This does not mean it is easy to be put into practice. There are many things that impede this public work – tradition, fear, lack of time, not knowing where to start, etc. But what we have learned is that it begins to make complete sense once a community of people begin to put it into practice. Once you begin practicing accompaniment you begin to understand what accompaniment is all about and why it is important. Once you begin practicing interpretation you begin to realize how important those stories you heard in accompaniment are and you begin to learn how to put those stories into conversation with God’s promises. Once you’ve done this interpretive work you begin to find yourself naturally asking questions that lead you into the practice of discernment and out of that discernment work you will a hear a call to proclamation. We are still convinced the Public Church Framework is a viable method for helping congregations faithfully engage a discernment process in relationship with their context.
Supporting This Work
We are learning that we learn better together. No two faith communities are the same but they all desire to be vibrant and effective. The most transformative learning happens when we allow our partner congregations to learn from one another. The Riverside Innovation Hub is committed to facilitating mutual learning relationships rather than functioning as a consultant. The key to supporting our partners has been the establishment and maintenance of trusted relationships, patience, and curiosity. We are also learning to leverage other cross-disciplinary resources at Augsburg University that will serve our faith communities well as they seek to develop the skills needed to engage their neighbors. Honest conversations, curious questions, and deep listening have become our most important tools for supporting congregations in their innovative work.
Congregations in the Riverside Innovation Hub partnership have spent the better part of a year moving through the public church framework and taking stock of the learning and wonderings these experiences have generated. In the spring of 2019, teams submitted proposals for grant funds that outline their vision of the proclamation work they want to live into over the next two years. One of our innovation coaches, Baird Linke, shares the story of how this movement towards and into proclamation has and continues to unfold at New City Church.
Let’s hear it for the good news! Ten months gone by, and the churches connected to the Riverside Innovation Hub are preparing to put all their hard work and learning into implementing their grant applications! We are gathering to share our stories, to celebrate work well-done, and give thanks for the ways we have grown together. This is the stage in the Public Church Framework called proclamation, but it is not complete just by sharing the stories of the past year. Proclamation is not reporting—it does not live in the past-tense—to proclaim the good news is to invite others into the exciting “we know not what we will be” of what God is doing in the here and now. Proclamation is both remembering together where God’s been with us and joyfully participating in where God is going.
I have worked with New City Church in Powderhorn-Phillips through this program, and I want to share their good news with you. New City Church is trying to do church in a new way (shocking, I know). The planters of New City recognize the complicity of mainline Christianity in the history of white supremacy, cis-heteronormativity, patriarchy, and environmental degradation. Their goal in planting the church was to counter that history with a model of church that centers marginalized voices. They do that by prioritizing the experiences of people of color, the environment, LGBTQ+ people, and women in the life of the church. They have grown quickly since starting out in a living room and have done so while talking explicitly about Jesus to a community that, by percentages, does not necessarily identify as Christian.
Their plan for the Innovation Hub grant is to use the resources for a new effort called
the Incarnation Fund that will connect people of color in the New City community to healing practices including somatic experiencing therapy, nature-based therapy, and spiritual direction. Participants will work in small cohorts to grow in community while, as individuals, work with practitioners of color on healing from trauma. New City believes that investing in individual healing makes communal healing possible. This vision hinges on a key belief that guides New City Church (and illustrates proclamation well): inward transformation leads to outward
transformation and vice-versa.
Many members of New City Church are already engaged in projects for outward transformation in the community. It is an activist church and the wealth of talents and community connections that New City holds was overwhelming at first. How could we choose just one cause to come behind, especially when there are already groups whose entire focus is on one of the many needs that New City cares about?
We realized that we needed to dig into New City’s young identity to find a use of the money that fit. We asked people about what value people found in New City and realized that it wasn’t that New City was doing the same justice work that the members are doing. People value New City because it gives them a place to root their work into a relationship with the divine and challenges people to learn how to be in a diverse community that centers marginalized voices. The community organizers didn’t need New City to be another organizer. The advocates didn’t need another advocate. They need a place where they can hear that they are not alone—that God is moving through a community with them. They are hungry for inward transformation.
A lot of resources have been spent over the last year on the inward transformation of white people in order to be in a racially diverse community where the cultural norms around white-body supremacy are broken down. That work has yielded huge dividends for the health of the New City community, and at the same time has dedicated time and energy into formation for white folks. Recognizing that disparity, New City wanted to balance the scales and use the Innovation Hub grant—the largest financial investment to come to New City outside of the Methodist church—to prioritize ministry for people of color. The Incarnation Fund took both of these needs we identified and aligned the creation of something new with the story of life that New City Church has been telling from the start.
The story of God is evolving and diversifying in different places and circumstances. Small changes in the genetic code result in wildly different forms of life, but it is all life. Our job in proclamation is to be spiritual ecologists, surveying the landscape for life in its abundance, celebrating old connections, new growth, and working to make that growth possible. The Incarnation Fund is rooted in this ecological vision of our communities—the healing of the whole is directly tied to the healing of the parts. The story of New City Church and the Incarnation Fund is just beginning, and it is one of many. I give thanks for the ways that God is moving in your hearts and communities, and I pray for courage and faith as you move forward sharing the good news you have heard and are a part of creating. Let’s hear it for the good news! Amen.
The following story is from Amanda Vetsch, one of RIH’s Innovation Coaches. She shares her team’s experiences with discernment at University Lutheran Church of Hope (ULCH.) ULCH is located in Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota campus. Their work this year has focused on the challenges and opportunities of being a church in meaningful relationships with young neighbors who are experiencing frequent transition.
In theory, our idea was rooted in the intersection between God’s story, Our Story, and Neighbor’s story so it should have felt good, but we trusted our guts and realized that we had made plans and decisions. We hadn’t actually practiced discernment.
The Innovation Team at ULCH had a meeting to begin discerning their next most faithful steps in response to all that they had been hearing, seeing, and learning through the artforms of accompaniment and interpretation. The conversation began with a grounding reflection, responses to that reflection, and flowed into naming the main themes from the stories we’ve heard or learned about thus far. Then, we began to brainstorm the ways that we might respond to those stories and came up with a couple of ideas to write into the grant. We moved toward making a plan to write the grant and set some due dates for ourselves.
There was very little enthusiasm to begin writing or researching. As the Innovation Coach, this concerned me. I want my team to be excited about the work they are being called into. I didn’t want to shut down their idea, but I did need to investigate why the energy was low. Maybe it had nothing to do with the grant idea and more to do with the post-lunchtime lull, or the busyness in their work or personal lives, or maybe it was me projecting my own ideas onto what I expected them to come up with for the grant. As all good coaches do, I sent out an evaluation form. The form asked questions like:
On a scale from 1 – 10, how much energy do you have when you think about the work of the Innovation team?
If we were to start ALL over at the beginning of this work, where would you focus the accompaniment energy?
If there were NO boundaries to money, energy, or anything, what would you do for the grant proposal?
These questions were strategic. I wanted to know why the energy seemed low at our meeting. I wanted to know if they felt content with the listening they had done thus far and I wanted to push them to dream a little bit bigger in a more anonymous form. We also had a few one to one conversations amongst ourselves and multiple folks self identified that the group energy was low. In reflecting upon this meeting, one team member said, “I think we felt a certain pressure to produce something in that first meeting. So we were pushing ourselves to come up with a really tangible product, and I don’t think we felt like we had the freedom to say that we had more listening to do.”
On the surface this meeting went well, we talked about the things we were supposed to talk about, we reflected on what we had learned, and came up with an idea. In theory, our idea was rooted in the intersection between God’s story, Our Story, and Neighbor’s story so it should have felt good, but we trusted our guts and realized that we had made plans and decisions. We hadn’t actually practiced discernment.
Then, the question is how do we go from decision making to discernment? For the ULCH Innovation Team, it meant reconvening our team. This time we started by rooting ourselves in a reflection practice that pushed us away from the tendency to intellectualize and into dwelling in the embodied responses. We took thirty minutes at the beginning of the meeting to reflect, dwell in, and share the ways that we had felt the Spirit moving in this work. The specific question was, “During the artform of (accompaniment / interpretation / discernment) , when did you feel most alive? Remember the specific moment. What did it feel like, sound like, smell like?” Each person at the meeting had an opportunity to share their memory. In some ways, I’m sure this activity could have felt like a waste of time. We weren’t learning any new information and we weren’t following the action plan to complete the grant by the impending due date. Yet, we needed to take time to reflect in this way because it allowed us to reorient ourselves. We needed to shift out of the comfortable way of reflecting on our learnings as nuggets of information and into a reflection of experiences and awareness of where we sense God at work.
We challenged ourselves to dream a bit bigger. We tried to imagine a proposal idea that had no limitations to money, time or energy. This lead us to collectively realizing we didn’t have the information or experiences to represent what our neighborhood and congregation is dreaming about. So we dreamt up ways to begin to hear our neighbors’ and congregations’ dreams. In reflecting on the second discernment meeting, a team member said, “It was helpful to name the fears, or what feels risky. There’s a tendency to want to know beforehand that it’s all going to work as we plan it to. And we needed to be able to say, well it’s risky and it’s supposed to be.”
There is no magic formula for discernment. One of the biggest lessons we’re learning in this process is that discernment takes time and trust. There is a desire deeply ingrained in us to achieve and be productive, but discernment cannot happen when we focus on the product more than the process. A shift in rhythm has to happen and we have to trust that we have heard, experienced, seen, and felt God at work. For ULCH, this shift in rhythm means slowing down, giving ourselves permission to push back some due dates, and taking notice of where the energy is or isn’tso we can reorient our attention to where it is most needed. Being freed from expectations to produce a flashy new thing is allowing our team at ULCH to tend to relationships, stories, and life in our ever-changing neighborhood.
This week, we hear from Baird Linke, an Innovation Coach at the Riverside Innovation Hub. Baird shares what came out of the panel on “Purpose & Community in Young Adulthood” at our 2019 February Learning Workshop event.
In February, we gathered people from various faith communities working with the Riverside Innovation Hub at our Learning Workshop. I was fortunate to work with my fellow Coach Amanda Vetsch to prepare a panel of young people with diverse perspectives to share about their relationships to faith and faith communities and how they make meaning in the world.
We had a wealth of experience in the room — an artist, an organizer, a seminarian, a healthcare professional, a legislative supervisor, and an Innovation Coach — all with varying relationships to faith and church. Some of them have chosen to step away from the Christian tradition they were raised in; some value the church but are not connected to a congregational community, and others have made working for and in the church their daily work.
In spite of the different paths and faith backgrounds, all panelists articulated the belief that what they chose to do is a part of making the world a better place. Some of the major concerns people brought up were climate change, access to health care, the rights of children and others, and the need to love and be loved. These young people care about the world around them, and they build communities in their lives with people who share similar passions.
This transformative motivation showed up again in our conversation about whether or not the panelists are involved with communities of faith and why. Panelists who have centered the church in their lives expressed they experience meaningful transformation in faith communities. They were also quick to point out some of the ways the church could stand some continued transformation. Some of the folks who are not involved with a church wondered whether or not the church was ultimately willing to be transformed by them. Others shared they did not find an understanding of the world that lined up with their own in the church or in Christianity. The commonality that came up in these conversations was the importance of the relationships that help our panelists live out their values in transformative ways — inside and outside the church.
An audience asked what needs to die in the church for there to be a resurrection along the lines of these transformative relationships. One response, in the limited time we had, was that the current business model needs to die. There was a sense from the panel that, if we are concerned primarily with the participation of a demographic category, we are looking for consumers for a product instead of genuinely loving fellow children of God in a way that changes the world.
Of course, the church needs resources to exist in our economy, and relationships do not happen without getting people through the door. In the time we had, we were not able to come up with the perfect spiritual practice to stay grounded in the face of those realities. I’d like to give you a straightforward answer to the question “how do we get young people back to church” because then, as a Coach, I would feel like I did my job well and now it’s up to you to do the work. But that’s not quite how it works. The truth is: there is no one perfect answer to this question.
There is NOT a golden program or rock-solid theology that will change people if it is not done from a foundation of genuine, mutually transformative relationship that some call love. And I do not think love is about answers that let you close the book. Love is about finding wonder in another person, and that is a practice that is never finished. Thanks be to God.
The church can be a place where this kind of love happens, but we cannot take it for granted that it just will. Instead of asking how to get young adults back to church, I would invite you to dwell into the question of what kind of church we want to invite them into.
Great thanks to our panelists (in both sessions): Emily Kindelspire, Nick Jordan, Erik Olson, Grace Corbin, Luke Paquin, and Korla Masters
In the upcoming months, the Riverside Innovation Hub will be sharing more stories coming directly out of our partner faith communities as they move deeper into the flow of this project. We are excited to share more on the ground about how the Spirit is showing up as Innovation Teams seek out spaces to listen and be curious to God’s activity unfolding in the neighborhood. We hope these stories stir curiosity and imagination as you wonder about your own contexts and communities.
This week, we hear from Innovation Coach, Tim Thao, regarding the young adult Innovation Team at Faith Lutheran Church in Coon Rapids, MN and their initial learning as they have been having more intentional conversations with their neighbors.
The Accompaniment phase has been incredibly fruitful for the shared community of Coon Rapids. Even now, collaboration is bubbling up among the different churches and even between churches and other organizations. Our Innovation Team at Faith Lutheran has accomplished some incredible feats in the early phase of this project. So many connections have been established and with all the right people coming in at the right place and at the right time, it has been putting us in a prime position to do a powerful work in our shared community.
One of our team members met with the superintendent of the local school district, David Law. Their conversation reflected much of what we heard from other sources in our community: the youth are generally underserved in the area, high school students need additional space for extracurricular activities, there is a growing number of transient students, and numerous other issues. The superintendent also mentioned how, seemingly, very few of the various churches that line both sides of Hanson Boulevard have reached out to support the schools. He recalled that many congregations out in the White Bear Lake area, for example, are big supporters of the local schools. It was surprising for him to see the stark contrast between Coon Rapids and White Bear Lake, despite their similar demographics. As a result of this conversation, David Law is hoping to gather local pastors on a regular basis to establish more support for students and staff in the Anoka-Hennepin school district. He is hoping to meet quarterly and is looking to begin connecting more with the Senior Pastor at Faith Lutheran.
A meeting with the Community Outreach Specialist from the Coon Rapids Police Department also gave us much insight into the culture of our city. Trish Heitman spoke on the exponential increase of incoming calls in regards to mental health and the effect that this has had on the area. We later learned that the conservative tone of the large suburb is having a deep and dramatic impact on the youth of the city and leaders in the city are we are struggling to deal with it well. In light of this conservative tone, the growing population of ethnic minorities and immigrants in the community are met with great fear. This was paralleled with a meeting that two members of our team had with Deb Geiger, the current librarian at Coon Rapids High School. She attested to the tensions that are growing in the community. This opens up a potential avenue for future engagement with our innovation initiative.
We met also with Lori Anderson who runs a program called Transformative Circle. She began the work a number of years ago as she observed the climate and demographic of Coon Rapids shifting. So on the first Thursday of every month, Lori gathers various people from the area around the dinner table to engage on a series of topics. Her Transformative Circle dinners create a culture of inclusivity and unity in the midst of hostility and division. Here, the stories of various community members coalesce and give birth to a shared community, much like that which we so long to see. One of our team members is scheduled to lead January’s circle, and we are excited to see this partnership come out of our accompaniment.
God is, without a doubt, moving in great ways, and we are so humbled to be a part of this mighty work.
“The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” — John Muir
On Friday December 14th, the Riverside Innovation Hub staff visited the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park in Park Rapids, Minnesota. The Mississippi River has been an important conversation partner for us throughout our project. It serves as a reminder of the depth and breadth of God’s mercy flowing into our world (see Ezekiel and the Public Church: Everything will live where the River Flows).
It takes a drop of water at the headwaters 90 days to reach the Gulf of Mexico. That means the water we saw while we were there will be flowing through the Mississippi River valley until March 14th, the second week of Lent. That is a long time for these lovely drops of water to wait before they meet the warm waters of the Gulf. But Advent is all about waiting. And it is strange to think about Lent during Advent. But Advent is strange. Anticipatory waiting is strange.
Christian theologians use the phrase “the already-not-yet” to describe the era in which we live. God’s deep and wide mercy has already begun flowing into our world, but the fullness of the life and healing this mercy brings has not yet been fully realized. We wait for it, with anticipation. It is this anticipatory, strange waiting that our project is experiencing right now. We are in the already-not-yet. We are already experiencing the challenges and blessings of the slow work of innovation – the journey through the river’s valley – but we have not yet fully seen its fruits. This feels strange to many of us. We are not good at waiting. We prefer to control and initiate.
This is where I think John Muir might have something to offer us. God’s mercy is not something we sit next to and observe. It is something that flows “through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” We long for every drop of God’s mercy to reach its destination. But it does not make its journey through a river valley, it makes its journey through us, through our bodies.
Mary, the Theotokos (God-bearer), teaches us how to carry God’s mercy in our bodies. 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46 –55).
Innovation is the same. The work of accompaniment, interpretation, discernment, and proclamation are not things that flow past us. They flow through us. We carry this work in our bodies. It becomes incarnate when we show up and engage a person, a place, an idea. We carry it in awe, and gratitude, and humility. And we wait. We wait for God’s good work that has already begun but is not yet complete.
On Monday August 6, 2018, we began training our eight Innovation Coaches who will spend the next ten months coaching sixteen local faith communities into a method of discerning and generating innovative ministry with young adults. Our coaches are young adults between the ages of 22 – 30 years old. They come to us from lives lived around the globe — the Twin Cities, Iowa, Rwanda, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Argentina, South Dakota, California, Texas, Europe, Philippines, China, Missouri, and Montana. Read about Our Innovation Coaches!
This training included three intense weeks (August 6 – August 24, 2018). Here were some of the components of that training:
Morning and Evening Prayer each day
A day in Voyageur canoes on the Mississippi River as we explore our theme text, Ezekiel 47:1-12
Time with Augsburg University president Paul Pribbenow exploring the University’s call to be an institution for the sake of the neighbor
Learning about Martin Luther’s theology of vocation from Dr. Mark Tranvik
Learning to practice one-on-ones with Harry Boyte from Augsburg University’s Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship
Finding our type in the Enneagram with Tyler Sit from New City Church
A Salon Dinner and day-long training on creativity, change, and welcoming resistance with Rev. Marlon Hall — pastor, filmmaker, storyteller, and anthropologist
Intercultural competency assessment and training
Immersion into the Public Church Framework
The goal of this training was to equip our coaches to be able to walk into two faith communities and help them engage young adults in their contexts in new ways, creating opportunities for the faith communities to listen and learn. We understand innovation to be that thing that happens when we are responsive to both the movement of the Holy Spirit and the demands being placed upon us by our neighbor in a particular place at a particular time. Our coaches learned to help faith communities locate themselves in these places and respond with hope.
Our work with these faith communities launched on September 18, 2018.
We have brought together eight dymanic and dedicated leaders for the role of Innovation Coach. The Twin Cities, Iowa, Rwanda, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Argentina, South Dakota, California, Texas, Europe, Philippines, China, Missouri, Montana, Norway, Germany – these are just some of the places our coaches have lived and learned and led. We are thrilled to bring them all and their collection of experiences across the globe together at Augsburg this August. We are prayerfully holding them up and the new places they will be called to lead and serve this coming year as coaches.
We are thrilled to let our team introduce themselves!
Meet Lindsay Boehmer…
My name is Lindsay Boehmer and I am from Sioux Falls South Dakota. I grew up in Sioux Falls and attended Augustana University in Sioux Falls where I graduated with a degree in Elementary Education. The past couple years I have spent very little time in Sioux Falls, but my favorite thing about going back is visiting my home church. I was very active in my church from the time I was young all the way through college and I love to go and catch up with the staff and kids. They always welcome me with open and loving arms and that place continues to feel like home. Since graduation I have spent most of my time learning and discerning about the world, my faith and what my role is here. I spent a year in Cambodia with the Young Adults in Global Mission program and this past year I served as an intern at a Christian camp near Kansas City. Both of these experiences have shaped the person I am today and challenged me in exciting ways. I am thrilled for this new position with the Riverside Innovation Hub and the opportunity to work with others who are passionate about the church. I am eager to learn more about and be in discussion with others about what Christian community looks like today and how we foster authentic and welcoming environments for that community. One superpower I am bringing to this position is a harkened heart. By this I mean I love to listen to people and to hear what sits on other people’s hearts. I am excited for all the people I will get to meet and work with and hear through this position!
Meet Michelé Crowder…
I am a singer, actor, worship leader and educator with ultra healing hugs and soothing voice super powers! I was born in Germany and raised around Fort Hood, Texas. I attended Texas Lutheran University for Music as well as Social Entrepreneurship before volunteering a year to Urban Servant Corps in Denver, Colorado. Beginning in 2014, I have worked with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as a musician-educator in the Glocal organization, the collective of musician-educators embodying “accompaniment” as formed by the ELCA Global Mission Unit. Since coming back to Texas, I have spent time acting on various stages and teaching in Creative Action’s after-school programming. Creative Action is a nonprofit, arts-based, youth development organization located in Austin, TX. The best thing about Austin is it’s diverse cuisine offered at various price points. This lover of the color green is exited to learn what is most valued in the hearts of Minnesotans as well as how to grow that love in my own heart. I am truly excited to walk beside each congregation and experience the joy of the Lord with them.
Meet Emily Kindelspire…
I grew up in New Hope, Minnesota, one of the first suburbs outside of Minneapolis. I lived down the street from my grade school, which meant rain or snow, I walked- or sprinted, as junior high me slept until the last possible minute- to school. I’m still running today, having completed my second marathon this summer. The best thing about where I grew up were my neighbors, Mark and Beth, and their two sons Mark and Tom. I spent most of my childhood hopping the fence into their yard, as I was their honorary daughter. They invited me for dinner, brought me to their family gatherings and on vacations and made me feel seen. My desire to be the house on the block where kids know they can come and be cherished is derived from my experience as a part of Mark and Beth’s family. With a background in Justice and Peace Studies and Family Studies, I am able to critically examine the ways that power and privilege show up in relationships. After spending the better part of 16 years caring for children of all ages, I move through the world with gentleness and empathy. These parts of me combine to produce a dynamic superpower, one that allows me to say “I see you” and “let’s figure this out together”. I am excited to embark on this journey of community engagement and building! In the next 10 months, I hope to learn how to assist others in telling their stories in captivating, change producing ways. I am eager to l live in community with strangers, learn the rhythm of life in Cedar-Riverside, and build and sustain deep relationships.
Meet Baird Linke…
I was born and raised in beautiful Montana near the Great Divide where I learned to love being outside and exploring. I ran cross country and studied Biology and Spanish at Carroll College in Helena, MT. During the summers, I worked at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, south of Glacier National Park, and I’ve spent the last year living in Buenos Aires, Argentina through the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program. I’m excited to bring my curiosity and creativity to this new role as an Innovation Coach in the Twin Cities this year to learn about and join in the work being done there!
Meet Asefa Melka Wakjira…
My name is Asefa Melka Wakjira. I was born and raised in rural Ethiopia. My father finished grade four. He is retired Lutheran Church evangelist. My mother is strong and wise but she has never been to school. I have 10 siblings and I’m the 9th. I like to say I’m a child of a farmer from rural Africa who got opportunity to be educated because of committed missionaries from Norway, Sweden, Germany and other countries. I finished college in Ethiopia and got my bachelor in Sociology. Besides that, I led campus ministry. After working as a graduate assistant for two years, I got scholarship to study Sociology of Children in Norway for two years. Living in Norway opened my eyes to new culture. During my study in Norway, I got clear vision that I will serve in congregations. Then I prayed and God opened opportunity to study here in the USA. I finished my Masters of Divinity last May from San Francisco Theological Seminary in California. I hope to bring diverse educational backgrounds like sociology of children and theology. In addition to that, I will bring new culture of food, worship and ministry from Ethiopia. I also like to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. But it was not easy for me to be outgoing person before I went to Norway. I remember the difficulty I faced to adjust to new food and weather in Norway. It was very confusing to see sun at 10PM for me and I could not sleep on time for the first two weeks. I also could not try new food for almost a month except the Ethiopian food that I brought with me from home. I believe, adjusting to new environments takes time. I like to continue to learn new culture and listen to stories of people. That is one of the important lessons I look forward to learning more during the next 10 months of ministry.
Meet Mason Mennenga…
I am Mason Mennenga (do not feel ashamed for not being able to pronounce my last name on the first attempt. Baby steps, friends). On top of being an Innovation Coach, I work with the wonderful youth at Solomon’s Porch, a holistic missional Christian community in Minneapolis. I also podcast, write, snob about music, and scroll through Twitter. As an Enneagram 4 I think less about my superpowers and more about my superweaknesses; however, many who know me well would perhaps suggest I have the superpower of creating. I derive much of my energy in my creativity. As of recent, I have been constructing what a church may best look like in our day– a church that values art, is self-subversive, equitable, and kenotic. Therefore, my gift of creativity I bring as an Innovation Coach will hopefully be generative in creating compelling practices and systems that fully engage with the values and longings of young adults. I grew up in the expansive farmlands of South Dakota, so my most cherished memories involved my best friend and I driving around the country roads talking about faith, music, and politics. Little did I know at the time those conversations would later became foundational to the spiritual journey on which I have found myself. I hope I learn, over the course of the 10 months as an Innovation Coach, ways in which our abstract theological commitments concerning young adults’ engagement with the church can be concretized in practice. One of my passions is colliding the theoretical with the practical and this opportunity provides a space for me to creatively explore that.
Meet Tim Thao…
My name is Tim and I grew up right here in the beautiful Twin Cities of Minnesota. I am a graduate of the University of Northwestern (previously known as Northwestern College) in St. Paul and I am currently attending seminary at Bethel Seminary in pursuit of a Masters in Ministry. I have been happily married to my gorgeous wife Anna for about 9 months. We live just north of Minneapolis in the city of Brooklyn Park. Our home church is a multi-generational Hmong church in Coon Rapids. We both previously served in the youth ministry for almost a decade. Currently, I serve as the Worship Director for our church. We enjoy being active and playing music together. Our current hobbies include volleyball, playing our guitars, and do-it-yourself, home-improvement projects. Compassion is my big thing. I believe that every single one of us has a beautiful story to tell and we all deserve to be heard. It hurts to see that, even in our society today, people are stripped of their own voice and are told that their experiences, their opinions, and their perspectives are not valued. The Church ought to be a place where individuals find value in themselves in the context of community. Christ loves the lowly and the meek and I believe that we ought to as well. In these next 10 months, I am incredibly excited to see the work that God has begun in the churches of the Twin Cities. I believe that God is moving here in our city and I think that we are all blessed to be able to be a part of God’s kingdom-building work. Apart from my home church, I have not had the privilege to work with other congregations. I am eager to see churches seeking to honor and glorify Christ in their unique context.
Meet Amanda Vetsch…
Hi! My name is Amanda and I come from the great state of Minnesota, born and raised in Minneapolis. I have recently returned from a year of service in Rwanda through the Young Adult Global Missions (YAGM) program. While there, my work was a mashup of sports coach, youth group leader, and educational support staff. Before that I got a degree in Biology from Viterbo University in La Crosse, WI. One of my everyday superpowers is the ability to regularly spill or drop things. One might not think that is a superpower, but I like to think that it translates into the ability to accept being bad at things and resiliency. I’m proud of my Minnesota heritage, there are many great things about this state, but especially the accessibility to nature as well as all of the amazing food at the MN state fair. In these next 10 months, I’m eager to develop my abilities to work with adults. The majority of my work experience is with children and youth so I’m trepidatiously excited to work with full sized humans.