Written by Hannah Sackett, our Campus Ministry Pastoral Intern. Hannah has previously worked with CCV through a local congregation involvement in our Riverside Innovation Hub. We are excited to have her on campus this next year. Find out more about Hannah here.
The school year has begun at Augsburg University! The buildings are abuzz with energy and life, and there is a general sense of newness as the community navigates what it looks like to be together again in these days. Much of what the school year may hold remains undiscovered and unknown; full of possibilities, but also perhaps tinged with some new-year-nerves. As the new pastoral intern on campus, I can relate!
This fall, the theme in Campus Ministry is “Uncovering the Mystery”, a theme that in itself allows space for multiple meanings: holding space for Scripture, learning from one another in community, and practicing listening deeply, to name a few. But it also encourages us to explore some big questions together. Does something need to be uncovered in our lives in order to live into God’s call more fully? How might we make space for new wisdom to take root, to reveal what has felt hidden? Will something about our vocation be made clearer to us this year? Maybe sitting in mystery together can allow for new understandings, as well as a comfort with the unknown.
For a period of time, I worked as a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. And during canoe trips, I was often eager to know my exact route, know where each portage trail began and ended, to know how things would unfold. Oftentimes, though, the geographical twists and turns on the lakes in real life were not as easy to navigate as they were on the birdseye view from a map. Commonly, in fact, you couldn’t really see a portage entrance until it was right in front of you – and it was definitely easier and more enjoyable to do with other group members. Over time, I became more comfortable with the phrase we often used, “Know as you go”. And while it’s not always easy, it felt like a life lesson that applied to more than just canoe trips. What can feel like a mystery is often revealed if we draw closer to it and pay attention together.
The theme of “Uncovering the Mystery” similarly invites us to come closer and sit together in life and faith’s countless question marks, in the hope that new understanding and new life is just around the corner, waiting to be revealed. We’re so happy to welcome students back to campus this fall, and welcome all to come be a part of all that’s going on in campus ministries!
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.
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 “→
I just about thought that I knew all that I needed to know about the term vocation as I began my role as the V-Portfolio Coordinator with the Christensen Center for Vocation. Turns out, the more I’ve worked on the V-Portfolio, the more I have realized how helpful being precise about what vocation is, intentional of discerning one’s own vocation, and being honest with yourself is for me and for students of Augsburg University.
Within the updated V-Portfolio website students are introduced or reintroduced to the term vocation, as it is defined as, “the way you are equipped, empowered, called, and driven to make our world a better place for all living things.” Colloquially vocation has been coined as a term that means the type of career or lifestyle one aspires to have. Vocation is something that happens in the future and begins with the individual. The V-Portfolio offers a different definition of vocation. As through the V-Portfolio, vocation is framed to focus on the present and is in response to the world, the neighbor. This is important work as our vocation is compelled to move because of the neighbor and that we get to decide how to respond using our own gifts, knowledge, and talents.
This winter was long. April felt like an extended March. There is a whole lot of beauty in the winter and the cold can be hard on our bodies. In the midst of the cold, snow and rain, the last week of April if one paid attention, the green began to emerge. The tulips that I planted last fall began to sprout and I could see bursts of green in the mixture of brown surrounding my house. I woke up to birds chirping out my window and watched squirrels dig up their nuts for nourishment that they had planted last fall.
I am an amateur gardener who definitely has lots to learn, but continues to show up in March to plant my own seeds knowing that not all of them will survive. During this Easter season of new life and resurrection, I am trying to pay extra attention to what around me needs nourishing. Which seedlings need water, sunlight, more space or coffee grounds added to the soil? When my tomato seedlings grow too leggy, I adapt by replanting them so the stems are fully supported and the plant can focus on rooting down to allow it to rise up. When my broccoli seedlings are too leggy, after googling why that might be, I realize that they are too warm. In response, I make a shift so that they are no longer under the humidity dome. Each seedling needs something different in order to grow and eventually bear fruit. Continue reading “Little Things are Big Things by Ellen Weber”→
The Christensen Center for Vocation is proud to present the 2022 Augsburg Youth Theology Institute. After two years of virtual programming, we are looking forward to returning to in-person programming on campus at Augsburg University. We will continue to follow recommended guidelines for health and safety and will welcome a new group of high school participants to reside on campus for this year’s institute. We are delighted to welcome two Augsburg University professors as co-instructors this year to lead the institute participants in theological exploration through a college classroom experience as well as experiential learning in the community. Participants will be led by college mentors who will engage small group learning and relationship building through daily devotions and experiential learning. Together we will worship together with guest liturgists and musicians from the Twin Cities and explore the neighborhood as we seek to understand how God is calling us to [reconnect] and live in unity.
SAVE THE DATE
Sunday, June 26th – Friday, July 1st, 2022
God’s People [re]connect!
We believe God invites people to live together in unity, a beloved community. As we emerge from two years of change and uncertainty, we invite participants to ask big questions about connection and disconnection.
By most measures, it was a typical Wednesday morning commute. Coffee in the cupholder, slow traffic, radio tuned to NPR, brain wandering and wondering if it is ready for the day. But this day was not a normal day. Local government officials were beginning to encourage us to practice social distancing, diligent hand-washing, and no face-touching. It was the third Wednesday of Lent and I was rehearsing my sermon for that evening in my head. My colleague and I had been invited to preach a 5-week Lenten sermon series on the Public Church at a local church. I was in the middle of a thought – reminding myself NOT to crack any inappropriate jokes about the pandemic during the sermon – when I noticed a crowd gathered on the overpass.
The Saint Paul Federation of Educators (St. Paul Public School’s teachers’ union) had just begun their strike and they were demonstrating on every overpass that crossed Interstate 35E and Interstate 94 in Saint Paul. I honked to show my support as I drove under the bridge. Then it hit me. These teachers are beginning their necessary strike which will require public demonstrations.
How will they do this while honoring the call to social distancing? We will be preaching tonight, encouraging a congregation to move into their neighborhood as a public church. How will they do this while honoring the call to social distancing? It has been two months since that not-at-all-normal morning commute, and I think I have some things to say about how we live as a Public Church in a pandemic.
We were asked to preach a sermon series on the public church at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Roseville, MN during Lent. The remaining services have since been canceled to allow for social distancing. This sermon was the last sermon we preached on Wednesday March 11, 2020. We wanted to share it with you, our partners, because we think it speaks to the tension and anxiety we find ourselves ministering in these days.
There is an irony in asking a congregation to “be public” when the times call for social distancing. The purpose of the Public Church Framework is to move us into a humble relationship with our neighbor for our neighbor’s sake. And sometimes the best thing we can do for our neighbor is disengage and physically distance ourselves. At times like this we must find new ways to be public, new ways to proclaim God’s mercy in the midst of fear.
Fear & Mercy
March 11, 2020
“Going on eastwards with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed.”
Today’s blog post comes from Kristina Fruge’s sermon at Augsburg University’s chapel on January 28, 2020. To listen to her message, click the soundcloud link below. To read her message, you can find the transcript below the soundcloud link.
Pay Attention – Lament – Be Bold
The theme in chapel this month as been: “Public Church: Sticking with Love.” Doing so, in part, by leaning into Dr. King’s words from his speech in August of 1967: “And I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love…hate is too great a burden to bear.” The question Pr. Babette & Pr. Justin posed to those preaching on this theme was:
Amid chaos and hardship in our society, how might we as church stick to an ethic of love and embody a public witness that works for justice and peace in God’s world?
This is a big question. One pleading for attention and demanding a response. It is a question directed at the church. And as someone born, raised, educated and employed in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the nation’s whitest Christian denomination…I offer a response to this question as someone a part of this community….
Right upfront, let me name this: The church has failed to respond to this question. It isn’t that we’ve been holding fast to an ethic of love and simply need to rise to the increasing challenges and chaos in the world. No. The hardship we see, which seems to grow in intensity each day, we in fact share responsibility for. I’m afraid that we, church, have been doing more to contribute to the hardship and chaos than we have been doing to confront it.
I know many of you could share examples to the contrary – examples of love lived out and people coming together for peace and justice. Dr. Martin Luther King and many others who took the charge in the civil rights movement would be examples of this. Please, do not hear me dismissing the miracles of how the Holy Spirit has worked in and through this church and each of you in this place. God’s witness does live here. I’ve seen it. However, I would suggest that more often the sacred ways God’s love has showed up in the world have been in spite of the church, rather than because of it.
The call to be neighbor beyond the boundaries of our own comfort and imagination will necessitate that we, church, face some uncomfortable realities.
Our American church history was built in tandem with breaking bodies and stealing homes through the unholy marriage between Christianity, slavery and the genocide of indiegenous peoples. The church has had a hand in countless casualties.
This history has not been righted and the casualties continue. The church, like many institutions, continues to be complicit in perpetuating unjust systems that benefit the dominant culture and harm those with less power and privilege.
We in the church have too often opted for a lukewarm misrepresentation of the gospel, one that quiets the radical, disruptive message and life of Jesus in favor of “nice guy” Jesus. We like the idea of loving the whole world, but we prefer to keep the fullness of Jesus and our neighbor at arms length.
These are uncomfortable and dangerous realities. I am not going to dissect them further here, but they must be named as they drastically shape the landscape we, church, must figure out how to travel upon. What I offer in our short time together, are three invitations to the church that I believe offer more faithful bearings from which to navigate the realities of this world and the call to enter into it.
Our first invitation: Learn to pay attention. Mine the gaps.
Author Annie Dillard spends much of her writing pondering the curious gaps in the natural world. (read quote – Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 268-269) I revisit these words often because they remind me to slow down and be present and open. This attention to the gaps has helped me learn to pay attention to the world. All of it. The beauty, the heartache, the sacred.
This practice of paying attention helps me notice the gaps here too – between us people. You know these gaps. They exist in the spaces where broken systems damage people’s lives, safety, identity and opportunity at a livelihood. These gaps often exist along racial, class, gender, religious or political lines. They show up at the borders we arbitrarily draw between humanity and all of creation. These gaps can be so overwhelming that they create another gap, the one that exists between me and my neighbor and my fear that I’m incapable of crossing it sufficiently enough to respond, to repair. The gap between the heartache of the world and our ability to enter into it in reparative ways is staggering.
I suppose it’s not so surprising that we often sidestep the gaps, if we have the privilege to do so. And when we don’t have that privilege to do so, we are left carrying the heavy burden of life, seemingly alone. The heartache – my own and my neighbors – is something I would rather bypass most days for fear of what I might really encounter or be asked to respond to if I enter in.
Here is where the psalmist comes in. And our second invitation…
Enter into lament. Hold space for confession.
Let me reread just a few stanzas from our Psalm this morning…
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
The text is raw. This lament, like many of our psalms, stings. I find myself simultaneously drawn to its words and resisting them. The psalmist’s pleas for God’s presence and their prose, naming the rushing waves of deep heartache, stir memories of pain. Have your tears ever been your food, day and night? Have your bones ever ached in agony? Have you ever felt abandoned, not knowing where your help would come from?
Lament psalms are the most common psalm in scripture, yet ecumenical studies of worship liturgies, hymnals and contemporary Christian worship music have found that our American biblical narrative is heavily lopsided in favor of praise and celebration. The psalms and other songs of lament are the most often omitted.
Lament is not a posture the church in America often opens itself up to. Soong-Chan Rah, pastor and author of Prophetic Lament, says this: “The American church avoids lament. The power of lament is minimized and the underlying narrative of suffering that requires lament is lost. But absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart forget…We forget the necessity of lamenting over suffering and pain. We forget the reality of suffering and pain.”
Walter Bruggemann says that the main point of lament is to point to the fact that, “Life is not right. It is now noticed and viced that life is not as it was promised to be.” The voices of lament that linger in neighborhoods, homes, and schools… in rivers, farmland and forests across America in 2020, are exactly the kinds of voices we should be straining to hear. How will we ever know what our proclamations of good news must sound like, taste like, feel like, look like, if we do not dwell in the places of lament and let the waters of the world’s grief swell and speak.
We must be willing to pay attention to the gaps and enter the places of lament. And when lament speaks truth to unjust realities, we must be open to how our proclamation requires confession.
And on that note, the last invitation I offer this morning is this: Be brave. Be humble.
This is why we need more than “nice guy” Jesus. Nice guy Jesus thinks of love as a warm feeling we can have for others at a safe distance. Nice guy Jesus works to protect the comforts of privilege and would never dream of challenging our complacency.
Jesus wasn’t a nice guy. Loving yes, absolutely yes. Nice, no. The bold intensity of the way Jesus loved brought him out into the gaps of this world, into the places where those who were most forgotten dwelled. The bold intensity of the way Jesus loved brought him face to face with gaps in systems and practices that were way out of line with God’s intentions for creation. The way he loved was so radical, it earned him many enemies and it ultimately got him executed. This love knew the reality of suffering and pain. This love did not sidestep heartache. It stepped further into it.
This is the kind of love Dr. King aligned himself with. The kind of love was and is a verb. Like Jesus’ love, it lives in bodies and steps into the gaps of heartache, pain, and injustice. This embodied love is a way of being in the world. It is the source of courage to do what is right in the face of fear and uncertainty.
Sometimes I need to remind my nine year old, you can be afraid and brave at the same time. Whether he is attempting to rock climb for the first time or needs to go into the dark basement alone to get a clean pair of socks, I tell him, you can be afraid and still find courage to do what you need to do. I think we church, can do the same. It will require a posture of trembling and trust. We will need to be brave and humble.
If embodying a public witness of justice and peace in the world that aligns with Jesus is our aim, then we must enter the places where deep calls to deep. Where the waves slam with a forceful intensity, where we are in over our heads. These places are immense, frightening, powerful, and even, beautiful. We can do this trusting God is in it, already working in the mystery, beckoning the waves to tide towards justice.
As we go about from this place today, I plead with you to carry these invitations:
Learn to pay attention. Mine the gaps.
Enter into lament. Hold space for confession.
Be brave. Be humble.
And for heaven and earth’s sake, stick to love and stick together. Amen.
Today’s blog post comes from Jeremy Myers’ sermon at Augsburg University’s chapel on January 21, 2020. To listen to his message, click the soundcloud link below. To read his message, you can find the transcript below the soundcloud link.
I don’t want to stand here in the wake of Dr. King’s day and give you a bunch of my words. So, my intent is to allow Dr. King tell us what it means to live our lives as public people of faith. But, to get there, I must share a couple of my own stories.
Those of you who have been confirmed in a Lutheran church might be familiar with the question, “What does this mean?” It is the question Martin Luther uses through his small catechism to help his readers begin to understand what the various confessions of faith in that catechism might mean for their daily lives. It is a powerful question within the Lutheran tradition. One we should always keep in front of us.
In November of 2014 we put my father into assisted living because his dementia was beginning to the win the fight for his mind. He had been a Lutheran pastor his entire professional career and he loved asking the “What does this mean?” question. One day a local pastor came to the assisted living home to lead a bible study. This pastor turned to my dad and asked him when he had last experienced Jesus’ love in his life. My dad looked the pastor square in her eyes and responded, “What does this mean?” I’m not sure if my father understood the pastor’s question. He could not remember how to take communion. He couldn’t remember the words of his favorite bible stories or hymns. He no longer even remembered who I was, but he held on tightly to this question, What does it mean?
In April of 1968 my father was a 26 year-old seminary student doing an internship at an African-American congregation in St. Louis. He was assigned to preach the Sunday after Dr. King was assassinated. He couldn’t find the words to write a sermon, so his pen and pencil sketched this picture as he asked himself, What does this mean? My dad was trying to figure out what it meant to be a pastor in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination. What does it mean to be a public Christian leader in the midst of pain, and suffering, and tragedy and evil?
Before I go further into Dr. King’s sermons, I first have to give you some context. This is from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
This is me. He is talking to me. And, I believe my father knew Dr. King was talking to him as well. Dr. King is a radical, calling us to be radical
Dr. King has given us many ways of thinking about what it means to be a public Christian leader. In August of 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was asking and addressing this question. He and others were arrested for protesting segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. He had been criticized by Christian and Jewish clergy for breaking the law and being an extremist. He penned the famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail in response. Let me read an excerpt from it.
YOU spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. . . But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist.
Was not Jesus an extremist in love? — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.”
Was not Amos an extremist for justice? — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
Was not Martin Luther an extremist? — “Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God.
So, the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”
When someone asks, What does it mean to be a public Christian, it is safe to say, it means to be an extremist for love.
The “transformed nonconformist” is another phrase Dr. King uses to describe the calling of the Christian in the public square. He says . . .
“In spite of this prevailing tendency to conform, we as Christians have a mandate to be nonconformists. . .
The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. The trailblazers . . . have always been nonconformists. In any cause that concerns the progress of [humankind], put your faith in the nonconformist! . . .”
Nonconformity in itself, however, may not necessarily be good and may at times possess neither transforming nor redemptive power. . . Paul [in Romans] offers a formula for constructive nonconformity: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Nonconformity is creative when it is controlled and directed by a transformed life and is constructive when it embraces a new mental outlook.
Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit. The transformed nonconformist, moreover, never yields to the passive sort of patience that is an excuse to do nothing. . .
[They] recognize that social change will not come overnight, yet [they] work as though it is an imminent possibility.
When someone asks, What does it mean to be a public Christian, it is safe to say, it means to be an extremist for love, a transformed nonconformist.
Dr. King uses the title of drum major to name both our desire to be the best and our call to be servants. He says . . .
“let us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade.
Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior. A need that some people have to feel that they are first, and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first. . . And think of what has happened in history as a result of this perverted use of the drum major instinct. It has led to the most tragic prejudice, the most tragic expressions of man’s inhumanity to man.”
[God says], “Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you’re going to be my disciple, you must be.” But [God] reordered priorities. And [God] said, “Yes, don’t give up this instinct. It’s a good instinct if you use it right. It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do.”
And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness.
When someone asks, What does it mean to be a public Christian?, it is safe to say, it means to be an extremist for love, a transformed nonconformist, a drum major for justice.
Dr. King also calls us to be of tough mind and tender hearts. Or maybe to be informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders. He says, . . .
[God gives us] a formula for action, “Be therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.
Jesus reminds us that the good life combines the toughness of the serpent and the tenderness of the dove. To have serpentlike qualities devoid of dovelike qualities is to be passionless, mean, and selfish. To have dovelike without serpentlike qualities is to be sentimental, anemic, and aimless.
When someone asks, What does it mean to be a public Christian?, it is safe to say, it means to be an extremist for love, a transformed nonconformist, a drum major for justice, a tough-minded serpent, and a tender-hearted dove.
And Dr. King new the source of these things. He knew the source of love, the source of transformation, the source of justice, of toughness, and of tenderness. And so did the psalmist in our text today.
3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. 4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, 6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; 7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free; 8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. 9 The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
It is God who brings justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, freedom to the prisoners, and sight to the blind. And it is God who brings us to the oppressed, to the hungry, to the prisoners, and to the blind. To be a public Christian is to be a tough-minded, tender-hearted, transformed, nonconforming, extremist for love who boldly follows Christ into the fears and heartaches of this world.
Our research team will seek a deeper understanding of how congregations and other faith communities are effectively engaging young adults. Our hope is to learn from those who have developed effective practices, systems, and communities in order to share what they have learned with other faith communities who are seeking to improve their ministry with young adults.
Before we begin to define effective engagement and describe our methodology, it is important to highlight our team’s commitment to interdisciplinary studies. The life of faith cannot only be studied theologically, nor can the dynamics of a faith community or congregation. Christianity confesses belief in an incarnational God. Jesus is God’s word become flesh. God’s word lives and moves among us, in this physical world. Lutheranism confesses a belief in the Deus Absconditus or the “hidden God”. This is the belief in a God whose revelation is not obvious but hidden. It is the belief that God reveals Godself to humanity in, with, and under the physical realities of life. This nature of God’s revelation demands that our inquiry be interdisciplinary. God is to be found in the stuff of this world – nature, human community, struggles, etc. – and therefore the other disciplines shed light on the substances and phenomena in which God is present. Second, because God is hidden in these phenomena and substances, our inquiry must be theological otherwise our interpretation of the thing will be incomplete, from a theological standpoint. Therefore, in order to fully understand how communities are effectively engaging young adults in a life of faith, our inquiry must be interdisciplinary – theological and scientific (for lack of a better term right now).
We have allowed our commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry influence not only our interpretation of the data we will gather, but also our definition of important variables on the front end. Some Christian faith communities might consider effectiveness to mean large numbers of participants, large numbers of conversions, or assimilation to a particular lifestyle condoned by the specific faith community. Our team’s understanding of effectiveness is shaped by the following commitments, which grow from our own discipline-specific theories as well as the teaching and learning culture at Augsburg University.
Our intent is not to eliminate faith communities who hold a different definition of effectiveness, but to offer other explanations for why what they are doing with young adults seems to be working and in what capacity is it (or is not) effective. A system will always behave the way the system is designed to behave, but that does not always mean the system’s effectiveness is optimal or healthy.
Therefore, effective ministry with young adults will . . .
Reflect an ethos, or spirit, of effectiveness indigenous to the community.
Take place at the intersections of faith and the arts, faith and political activism, faith and environmental stewardship, and interfaith engagement as well as other places where faith is wrapped up in active, public lives.
Listen deeply to their life stories in order to hear and understand the “bad news” in their lives so that “good news” might be proclaimed in word and deed. It will provide a promising alternative to a personal theory that is no longer working for them.
Weave together text and context in a way that results in deeper understanding of both the text and the context.
Learn from them, equip them, and empower them for active discipleship that is theologically aware and publicly engaged.
Be developmentally appropriate for those in this age category (i.e., relationships based on values, not activities; right and wrong is easier to determine at this age than in adolescence, questions and answers are more relativistic).
Have a strengths-based perspective that enhances the strengths that are already present in individuals and the community.
Produce grassroots interaction rituals, which results in “collective effervescence,” or an intensification of collective awareness, attention, experience, emotion, and energy.
Clearly communicate these rituals as well as the community’s stories and values along to the participants.
Will balance the desire to address the needs of the individual while simultaneously addressing the needs of the larger context and the world.
Will demonstrate a desire and ability to adapt to new members and maintain a cohesion between its inward identity and external identity.
We assume any congregation currently engaged in effective ministry with young adults has already incorporated many of these things, whether they know it or not. Effectiveness is very contextual and we try to leave room for that, but at the same time we hold some commitments which we believe should always be present. Our working definition of effective ministry will continue to grow and change throughout this study.