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Our MAS Partner Nick Tangen “Let’s Get Real”

Last year, Augsburg University’s Riverside Innovation Hub and The Minneapolis Area Synod (MAS) both launched opportunities for congregations to be a part of a two-year learning community. We both are in the middle of the work with our first cycle of a two-year learning community. Over the last year and half, it has truly been a joy spending time learning with each other and from each other’s work. A highlight has been reading each other’s reflections and writings on how we engage in this work of being neighbor in our places and world.

This week, we want to highlight the most recent reflection Nick Tangen wrote “Let’s Get Real” from his experience at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Columbus, Ohio. He extends to us the invitation to join in the messiness, the vulnerability and realness that comes with wrestling with “What will need to die and rise again in order for each of us as the ELCA to embrace the reconciliation Jesus has set us free to participate in?”. We are grateful for this partnership and for Nick and his team to be in the work alongside us.

Stone arch bridge during the day background with gray box and "Do we want to be good or real?"“Retamoza’s words have been with me all week. In some ways this challenge captures so clearly my own discomfort with the work of the Assembly; did we want to be good or real? This is, I think, a real tension for us as a church – at all three expressions. It’s a tension ongoing for myself. I know my own desire to appear good, to fall into the trap of perfectionism and performance, and I know how limiting that is when trying to root out injustice and inequity in our life together.

This invitation into the vulnerability, the messiness, and the real-ness of confession and reconciliation stood in such stark contrast to the Assembly. The carefully curated plenaries with the steady march towards resolution felt oddly incongruous with the challenge to deeply listen to the cries of prophetic grief. While I am grateful for the provisions and memorials that the Assembly approved, it was the lament and experience of prophetic grief in worship and from the leaders of Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria Perigrina that my heart continues to return to. I feel both profoundly determined and deeply anxious about the church that I love.”

Read the entire blog post here on the Minneapolis Area Synod blog!

“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. 

 

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 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 “

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”

How to Be a Good Listener: Advice from RIH Mentors

screenshot of 15 person zoom conversation

One thing that is unique to our current Riverside Innovation Hub learning community is the opportunity to learn from people who have experienced this learning process before.  In March, we hosted a panel conversation where six leaders, who were previously involved in the Riverside Innovation Hub, shared their wisdom, stories, and experiences of practicing Accompaniment in their neighborhoods with our current learning community. The panelists included Sheila Foster, Claire Kaiser, Lacy Tooker-Kirkevold, John Pedersen, Kaylie Johnson and Pr. Jen Rome. This first blog, of a three-part series, recaps some of the wisdom and practical next steps they shared. 

If you’re a current member of our learning community, you can also find a recording of the entire conversation on our Google Site.  


Question and Answer:

The first question posed  to the panel was about listening; Do you have any great ideas on how to be a better listener? How do you stay in “listening mode” without jumping to “solution mode”?

Pastor Jen Rome kicked off the conversation by sharing that her team had a hard time getting started. Like many people, they felt unsure about striking up a conversation with a stranger in the neighborhood. They found they had an easier time having the conversations when they were scheduled in advance. They made a list of people or organizations they wanted to connect with in and around the Mac-Groveland neighborhood, and picked who would talk to each person or organization. Then each person reached out to schedule a one to one conversation. A few examples of people they talked with included people on the neighborhood council, the staff at the park next door, and owners of the local businesses. They held each other accountable by reflecting on what they heard from their one to ones at their next team meeting. She also said they kept practicing listening as a skill in other contexts. As they continued to listen in the neighborhood, they were also listening to each other more intentionally at their own meetings and in the other spaces they found themselves in. 

streeview of the exterior of pilgrim lutheran churchKaylie said that her congregation didn’t necessarily struggle with getting started, but they did find themselves wanting to jump toward solutions. After their team had done some listening in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, they met as a team to share what they heard. As they were sharing with each other, they found themselves wanting to jump towards coming up with solutions. They realized they needed to check each other on that, and say, “no we’re listening right now, no solution, no answers. It’s okay to sit in the discomfort of not knowing what’s going to happen.” It’s often difficult to hear someone’s bad news and receive it without suggesting solutions or coming up with ways to fix what we perceive as problems. Their team learned how to listen to the bad news without immediately jumping into action plans, or offering solutions that may have come from assumptions about the neighbor, rather than a deep knowing of the neighbor. Kaylie remarked that learning how to do that is “part of the process, and part of being a good listener.” 

Continue reading “How to Be a Good Listener: Advice from RIH Mentors”

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”

Faith Practices & Neighboring Practices

The Riverside Innovation Hub at Augsburg University is just one of 115 organizations who received a grant through the Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Iniativitive in 2019 and 2020. The aim of the initiative is to help congregations strengthen their ministries and thrive so they can better help people deepen their relationships with God, enhance their connections with each other and contribute to the flourishing of their communities and the world. 

People sitting around a tableOne such organization is Augsburg’s neighbor – the Minneapolis Area Synod! While our efforts are distinct, both initiatives seek to create learning communities of congregations exploring their call to be neighbor, rooted in the particularities of their faith traditions. These tandem projects also allow additional opportunities to learn from each other about this work. 

Please enjoy this contribution from our partners at the Minneapolis Area Synod – Nick Tangen and Maya Bryant – who are leading the synod’s Thriving Congregations work called, “Faith Practices & Neighboring Practices.” 

Continue reading “Faith Practices & Neighboring Practices”

Awareness

The congregational facilitator staff in our Riverside Innovation Hub work at the intersection of relationships and learning. Put another way, they are stewards of change, accompanying our congregational partners towards discerning the call to be neighbor in their places. As one might imagine, this work presents great challenges at times. Geoffrey Gill, one of our RIH facilitators, shares in the blog below about is commitment to awareness – a critical component of what helps him show up in this work and in the world. 


The most important practice I have put into motion in my 30s is meditation and slow moving exercises like tai chi and Qi gong. People take medication to help regulate their mind and body and I do the same thing with meditation. It’s a daily practice (well, almost everyday).

Man stares at reflection in mirror

I used to watch my dad do yoga when I was younger and so as I got older I just started naturally incorporating it into my life. Although, it wasn’t until recently that I started practicing consistently. That’s when I started to see changes. Changes physically, mentally, and emotionally. I especially noticed that when stress or anxiety came up, my body was adeptly aware. It was almost like it knew what to do to get it back in its normal state. For example, I was in a meeting recently on zoom. I was being trolled by some lady who, my bias, has some heavy personal mental issues and trauma with black men. She tried to put it all on me because I wasn’t giving her attention. She said some crazy things to me. Things I won’t repeat here.

After the meeting I realized that my body was in some sort of shock. I was stuck in my seat. I didn’t want to move, but I had to go to the bathroom. When I sat down in the bathroom, I realized I hadn’t been breathing. I was breathing of course, but not really breathing. So, I started breathing deeply; like in the belly deep and then I closed my eyes. As I was breathing, it popped in my head that I was still holding the stuff that lady said. It was like I was holding my breath and simultaneously holding all the words this lady said, inside of me. As I breathed I consciously said, I give it to you God. After about 10 or so minutes later I felt a release. Like a dynamic force being lifted off of me.

Continue reading “Awareness”

Riverside Innovation Hub Congregations Gather & Learn Together

Our 12 partner congregations gathered for a third learning event this February. This group began together in July 2021 with a launch event to build community and introduce key ideas about the call to be public church. In the fall, an Interdisciplinary Developmental Inventory (IDI) training was offered to congregational teams to develop a posture of cultural humility. This was followed by a hybrid event in October where teams focused on ways to practice accompaniment in their neighborhoods.  Accompaniment is simply the big and small ways we set out to hear our neighbors’ stories – to hear how they are experiencing bad news and good news in their lives. Congregational teams have spent the last handful of months learning about their neighborhoods and listening to their neighbors in a variety of ways.

This most recent gathering on February 5, brought us back together to continue our vocational discovery work together by introducing the second artform of the public church framework – interpretation. Our current public safety realities prevented us from gathering together at Augsburg, but we still found meaningful connections during our online Saturday morning session. We learned some new technologies to enhance our online conversations and stayed cozy with hot chocolate, tea and the companion of our pets from home. We reflected on key themes congregations are hearing from their neighbors in their accompaniment work and we began to explore and name our key beliefs and theological convictions to aid our interpretive work. You can read more about what these interpretation questions sound like in  this blog post by Congregational Facilitator, Amanda Vetsch.

 

zoom meeting and coffee

Our questions and conversations together set the table to begin wondering…

 

What does God’s story have to say about the stories we are hearing from our neighbors and vice versa?

 

How does what we are hearing from our neighbors connect to God’s hopes and dreams for our world, our neighborhood, and our neighbors?

Continue reading “Riverside Innovation Hub Congregations Gather & Learn Together”