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Emerging Themes from the Threshold Envisioning Event

Threshold Envisioning Event Recap

Three young adults at the happy hour reception in conversation.
The happy hour reception. Photo by Grace Porter.

In early November, a community of fifty young adults gathered at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, MN to identify our deepest held concerns, hopes, and dreams for God’s church at The Threshold Envisioning event. From those conversations, we distilled key themes that Young Adults want the church to know as it moves from the present moment, into the future. Each of those themes will be a chapter of the book.

Our time together on Friday began with gratitude practices, dinner, and conversation. We finished the evening with a reception. Our morning and afternoon on Saturday were shaped by the framework of an Awareness Examen. The examen invites you to reflect on moments of Consolation or hope, joy, freedom, and life and moments of Desolation or fear, brokenness, heartache and anxiety.

Young Adults posting their consolations written on post it notes on the wall of the chapel.
Young adults posting their consolations. Photo by Grace Porter. 

We then spent time reflecting on our life experiences with the church, noticing times, places, or experiences of desolation. Each person shared snippets of those experiences by writing them on a post-it note and sticking it to the wall. We followed the same process for reflecting on consolation and our experiences of church. As we listened to each other, and read what was on the walls, themes began emerging. Those were shared in small groups conversation and through a Mentimeter Poll, you can read those reflections here: Poll Results

In small groups, we worked on creating a Table of Contents where each chapter is a theme of what has emerged. Each group shared theirs and then everyone got to vote on their favorite chapters and book styles. At the end of the evening, the facilitators added up the votes and synthesized the chapters into key reoccurring themes. The keynote listeners started off our final day together by sharing what they had heard over the weekend. Then we had time to reflect in conversation and writing on our theme of choice. There were eleven themes that emerged from the weekend. Check them out below!

Continue reading “Emerging Themes from the Threshold Envisioning Event”

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”

Introducing Amanda Vetsch

 

head shot of amanda vetschAmanda joined the Riverside Innovation Hub team in August of 2018 as an Innovation Coach where she spent a year learning alongside of two local congregations and seven other young adults. From June 2019 – November 2020, she worked as the Communications Coordinator with the Hub while she finished up her M.A. in Theology with a Concentration in Justice and Reconciliation from Luther Seminary. She now works with the Hub as the Congregational Coordinator and Facilitator, which includes communications, facilitating a learning cohort, event planning, and general coordinating. 

Prior to working at Augsburg, she lived, played, and learned in Rwamagana, Rwanda as a volunteer with Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM), studied Biology at Viterbo University in La Crosse, WI and grew up in Minneapolis, MN. 

During her time as an Innovation Coach, she learned a lot of things and is most grateful for the opportunity to teach and grow with people as they experimented with the Public Church framework. Her favorite part of the work is Accompaniment and the various ways it takes shape, but her most favorite is meeting with people over coffee, or hanging out at coffee shops, or really anything that has to do with coffee. During her time as communications coordinator, she learned TONS about effectively communicating, managing systems, and investing in learning relationships. She’s excited to continue learning and growing with this next learning community.

When she isn’t working, she is likely playing volleyball, hanging out with family, and friends, exploring the great outdoors, watching Netflix or reading. 

Amanda is grateful for the opportunity to work alongside of faith communities as they discern how to live out their values and theological commitments in their geographic neighborhoods. She is hopeful that the work we do together can contribute to healthy, just communities where everyone can thrive. 

The Light-Bulb Moment: Parking Lot as A Listening Post

leaders of St. Lukes church are seated around a square table
Innovation Coach Asefa M Wakjira visits with Partner Congregations Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Minneapolis and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Minneapolis

Written by Sheila Foster, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Minneapolis, MN

 

This week, we hear from Sheila Foster, an Innovation Team Member at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis, MN. Sheila is excited to share her team’s light-bulb moment during the time of Accompaniment as they have been exploring ways to have authentic conversations with their neighbors.

 

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church is excited to be a part of the Riverside Innovation Hub Project. Our team of six, with our Innovation Coach Lindsay Boehmer, has been meeting regularly. There are others who have joined in on our meetings along the way.

Where the story began.  Back in December, we were all in the midst of preparing for the Christmas season in the church and in our lives. After a Sunday morning worship, four team members, including myself, gathered to collectively write our monthly reflection about what we had experienced, discovered, and accomplished in December. This was not a planned gathering — it was born out of a moment that most team members were in the same place at the same time. Initially, we set aside 30 minutes with the goal of getting our reflection accomplished before Christmas. However, the time and conversation turned into so much more. Our 30-minute conversation turned into a 2-hour conversation, and what we discovered helped to move us forward. 

With curiosity and uneasiness came fruitful conversations.  In our discussion about Accompaniment and what that really meant, there was a realization that asking strangers questions — putting ourselves in a vulnerable place by engaging with people we do not know or have connection with — is scary and challenging. How do we do that in an authentic manner, so we feel confident enough to ask questions and listen? We reflected on what kind of questions we can ask, what do we need to share of ourselves to be able to ask those questions, and what are we afraid of. The question then became — are there more opportunities we might be missing with engaging in a listening post? And can we create a listening post in our local neighborhood that feels relevant and authentic?

In our time of Accompaniment, I had given a lot of thought to spaces in our surrounding neighborhood that St. Luke’s has connections with. These places included: the space on our church building’s front lawn which includes our garden where our neighbors pass through and sit; our front lawn where neighborhood children play; our prayer box where people walking by can leave a prayer or take prayer resources; and our emergency food box that makes food available to those in need. 

The light-bulb moment.  Then, a new place came into my mind; I asked our team about our church parking lot that is a block away. Some members did not even know that we had a parking lot! They assumed the parking lot belonged to the surrounding businesses or the Montessori School that we share our building with because their playground is in the parking lot. 

This revelation sparked an incredible series of wondering questions.  Who parks in the lot? Does the parking lot get used all the time and by the same people? Do the people in the apartment buildings across the street park in the lot? How can we get to know the people who use the parking lot? Do they live in the neighborhood or do they drive in from other places?  There were so many questions about who these people — local neighbors might be — and what we might learn from hearing their stories! 

Since this incredible moment of discovery, we have had the opportunity to get to know the businesses surrounding the parking lot. We have made plans with the Coffee Shop, who shares our parking lot, to host a Coffee Hour event with our neighbors. We are planning to give flyer invitations to the people parking their cars in the parking lot, surrounding business, and nearby apartments. We plan to invite them into a conversation about who our neighbors are. We want to listen to their perspectives about where they see consolation and desolation in the spaces and places we share.

We hope to have an opportunity to listen and realize where God is at work in our neighborhood. There is now a desire to know the story of others and, hopefully, this will lead to building relationships we did not even know were possible.

The Second Movement: Interpretation

Written by Jeremy Myers, PhD

 

Public Church Frame Work: Accompaniment, Interpretation, Discernment, and Proclamation (a Cycle)
The Public Church Framework

The second movement in the public church framework is Interpretation. This is when we move from hearing our neighbors’ stories back into the stories of our particular faith communities. This is an incredibly important step and one that is tempting to skip for a few reasons.

  • We want to skip this step because we might not know what it is we believe as a faith community.
  • Or we want to skip this step because we think theological and biblical reflection aren’t as important as action. We want to move straight to action.
  • We also sometimes think we can skip this step because interpretation will just simply happen without any intentional effort.

Interpretation is an important step in this process because people want to know how faith impacts their daily lives. It is the role of the faith community to help their people learn to see the world in light of God’s promises. We also want our collective actions to clearly express the essence of who we are, what we believe, and the world we believe God envisions for us. This interpretive move is what makes the public church framework different than many other outreach, or public efforts. Theology matters and this theological turn in our work needs to be intentional.

I have heard pastors say their faith community was not ready to do the work of interpretation because they did not know the bible well nor did they fully understand what the congregation believed. If that is the case, then we have our work cut out for us. Those who gather with our faith communities should know what we believe, they should understand the biblical narrative and how it might still shape our lives. If we plan to engage our neighborhoods in a way that is life giving, then we must think about that engagement theologically.  

This turn and attention to habits of interpretation urge faith communities to move beyond what they are not – the markers by which they may define themselves against. “We are not like that kind of church or those Christians.” It moves a community to more closely claim what they are about, why they exist, and why it matters.

There are three strands, or narratives, that we weave together using the artform of interpretation. We weave together the neighbors’ stories we’ve heard in our accompaniment with our own stories as a faith community and with what we believe to be God’s story. Each of these strands help us better understand the other two strands we are working with. These three strands should enlighten one another as well as push back against and challenge one another. This is slow and tedious work but it is vital to forming both our communities of faith and our work in our neighborhoods.

Here are five main questions offered that guide the work of interpretation. How you chase after the answers to these questions is up to you, but we recommend involving as many other people from your faith community as possible. The more perspectives you get, the richer the dialogue will become.

  • What are the core theological convictions of our faith community? It is not an expectation of this work that your entire faith community is on the same page with what they believe. There is no expectation of uniform, doctrinal agreement. However, we do believe it is vital for faith communities to be having these conversations even if they lead to the realization that your faith community is incredibly diverse in its theological convictions.
  • What are the key components (stories, metaphors, etc.) of the biblical narrative that shape our life together as a faith community? Again, the expectation is not uniformity but transparency. There are certain aspects of the bible we think we cling to until we have time to consider it more deeply and we discover these aspects do not really serve a purpose in our daily lives. On the flip side, often  lesser known parts of scripture might be more helpful or more transformative as you begin digging into them together. Who would have ever thought that we (the Riverside Innovation Hub) would have turned to some obscure vision of Ezekiel when looking for a biblical metaphor to frame our project? We have continued to be surprised and blessed by the profound depth of the Ezekiel text that has shaped this work.
  • What are the significant events in your faith community’s history that have shaped your identity?Your community most likely has many stories of sadness and trauma as well as stories of hope and resiliency. Unearth these stories. Learn from them and allow them to show you how they both shape your view of your role in your community and allow them to empower you for that work.
  • How do these theological convictions, components of the biblical narrative, and events from your past influence the way you hear and understand the stories you encountered in your accompaniment experiences?This is the key theological move. This is when you begin to see and learn not only what your community believes but how those beliefs shape your life together and life with your neighbors.
  • How do the stories you encountered in accompaniment push back against, challenge, or affirm your core theological convictions and beliefs? The interpretive move is not a one way street. We should be careful not to assume that our theological beliefs are impervious and only help us understand our neighbors’ stories. We should also allow our neighbors’ stories to interpret our beliefs and understandings about God.Interpretation goes both ways. Our understanding of our neighbor will deepen when we see our neighbor through God’s story. Our understanding of God will deepen when we see God through our neighbor’s story.

The public church framework continues to move us to a place where we are ready and able to proclaim good news into the lives of our neighbors that will actually be good news to them because it is speaking to, confronting, or displacing the very real bad news they are facing in their lives. It also continues to move us to a place where we might actually begin to hear our neighbors proclaiming good news to us. In order to arrive in these places, it is vital that we make the interpretive move and learn to hear and see our neighbor through God’s story and vice versa.

Accompaniment — Being The Church Beyond The Walls

By Jeremy Myers, PhD

 

The Public Church Framework begins in accompaniment. This sounds and looks great on paper, but we have found many leaders and congregations struggle with this artform. They struggle with putting it into practice. They even struggle with the word. So, it is important to explain what accompaniment is, what it is not, why it is important, and how it might be practiced.

What is it?

icon_three arrows going outwardAccompaniment is the word we use to describe the first artform, or movement, of the Public Church Framework. It is used to describe a faith community’s movement out into its neighborhood or context. It assumes a desire to know the neighbor, and their story, in their own words. It assumes our neighbor is not just “everyone in God’s creation”, but is also those who live right next-door — people, institutions, systems, watersheds, grove of trees, herds of cattle, and other creatures around us.

Accompaniment takes seriously the location in which our faith communities are planted and challenges us to do the intentional work of getting to know these places and those who call these places home. We do this become we believe God is already at work bringing about redemption in these places. Accompaniment is a way for us to uncover the work God is already doing in our neighborhoods. Accompaniment happens as our faith communities engage their neighborhoods and neighbors in order to (1) hear how they are already experiencing wholeness, healing, redemption, reconciliation and (2) how the faith community might come alongside their neighbors as they seek these things. If our faith communities want to proclaim good news into people’s’ lives, then we first have to do the hard work of listening to our neighbors’ stories.

What is it NOT?

Accompaniment is often misunderstood in some particular ways. Therefore, it is helpful to be explicit about what accompaniment is not.

  1. Accompaniment is NOT searching for a problem to solve. It is not a way in which we look for something to fix.
  2. Accompaniment is NOT market research. We are not conducting a survey in order to discover what type of church our neighbors wish to join.
  3. Accompaniment is NOT agenda-driven. It is not a process of listening to others in order to find ways they might fit into the work you are planning. Accompaniment prioritizes the neighbor and their story.

Why is it important?

The artform of accompaniment is important for several reasons. Some theological and some practical.

It is important theologically because we confess faith in a God who accompanies creation. The God of scripture creates a world of accompaniment where humans, other creatures, vegetation, climate, etc. accompany and provide for one another — for better or worse. God’s creative word that brings about this creation becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ who is God’s word accompanying (dwelling with) us. God’s spirit continues to free us and empower us to be in accompaniment with one another. Therefore, accompaniment becomes the way in which we live out God’s mission in our world and specifically in our neighborhoods.

Accompaniment is also important for practical reasons. The reality is that fewer people are seeking to be involved in faith communities. If we wish to play a meaningful role in people’s’ lives, then we will need to seek them out and engage them in the places where they live their lives rather than expecting them to show up in our places. Lastly, if faith communities want their members to learn to live into God’s mission in their daily lives, then faith communities will need to practice this together. Our faith, and Christ’s love, compels us to accompany our neighbors.

How is it practiced?

There are endless ways to practice accompaniment and the Public Church Framework resists prescribing best practices. It is the work of God’s people to learn how to put accompaniment into practice in ways that match their context, their neighbors’ needs, and their own assets. That said, here are a few ways to get started.

  • Neighborhood Prayer Walk Learn to practice the Ignatian Awareness Examen, a contemplative prayer exercise that guides you through an examination of your day as you prayerfully seek moments of desolation and moments of consolation. Moments of desolation are times of sorrow, brokenness, fear, anxiety, etc. Moments of consolation are times of hope, healing, courage, peace, etc. Then use this same method as you walk through the neighborhood in which your faith community is situated, asking God to show you the places of desolation and consolation in that neighborhood. Practice this with other members of your faith community and your neighborhood. Together, map the locations of those places of consolation and desolation.
  • One-to-Ones — Learn to practice one-to-ones. These are intentional listening meetings between two people with the sole purpose of getting to know the other person, their desires, passions, interests, and heartaches. Here is a helpful tool from the Episcopal Church that explains the one-to-one relational meeting and offers some great questions. Their questions to be used “with neighbors and people not in your church” are particularly rich questions for accompaniment. 
  • Listening Posts — Identify places in your faith community’s neighborhood where people gather. Places where you need to be present to meet these neighbors and hear their stories. Find ways to be in the places more often. These are great places to meet people for one-to-ones.
  • Neighborhood Storytellers — Identify the storytellers in the neighborhood. These are the people with long institutional memory about the history, events, and dynamics of the neighborhood. Take time to meet them. Schedule a one-to-one with them. Learn from them. Remember to actively seek out the storytellers in your neighborhoods who are marginalized — people of color, the poor, immigrants, etc. These folks are storytellers as well and have important perspectives of life lived in the neighborhood.
  • Show Up — Find out when important gathers are happening in your faith community’s neighborhood and show up at those gatherings. These might be festivals, neighborhood association meetings, school board meetings, election debates, etc. Show up and listen.
  • Visit — Pick some of the questions for neighbors and people not in your church from the one-to-one guide and then boldly start knocking on doors in the neighborhood around your faith community. Kindly ask if them might have a few minutes to answer a couple questions – no strings attached. If they participate, then make the most of that opportunity as a segue into a relationship with that neighbor.
  • Gather Find reasons and ways to gather people from the surrounding community either in your faith community’s space or in other spaces in the neighborhood. For example, host a debate for local candidates during election season. If there is a tragedy, gather the community together in a public space to lament and mourn. Learn more about Friendraising then partner with a local non-profit and see if they might let your faith community host a Friendraiser for their non-profit.
  • Environmental Audit Learn what the environmental issues might be in your neighborhood. What watershed is your faith community located in? What does it mean to be in an accompaniment relationship with creation in your neighborhood?

 

icon_ a starBest questions?

Again, we resist prescribing best practices for accompaniment or any of the artforms in the Public Church Framework.

Although the ones listed above are a pretty good place to start, it is vital that your faith community discovers how it can do this work in a way that matches the assets and needs present in your context. We are willing to share what we consider to be the best questions of accompaniment. What are the practices your faith community will develop in order to be able to chase after and answer these questions? These questions can also be found in an earlier blog on Best Questions in the Public Church Framework.

 

  • What is our neighborhood or parish (geographical location)?
  • Where are our listening posts?
  • What are the places and spaces in our context we are in relationship with and have a history with?
  • What are the places and spaces in our neighborhood we are curious to learn more about?
  • Who are the neighborhood historians — people who know the history of this place?
  • Who is our neighbor? What are the demographics of our neighborhood (race, socioeconomic, single family/rental units, age)? How do these compare to the demographics of our faith community?
  • How are our neighbors experiencing hope & joy?
  • How are our neighbors experiencing anxiety, fear and heartache?
  • What are our neighbors’ hopes, dreams and desires for our shared neighborhood?
  • Who cares about the things and people our faith community cares about?

 

icon_happy faceCommit to Action

  1. The most important thing is to get out there and start doing this work!
  2. You do not need to perfect it before you start doing it! 
  3. Move out into the neighborhood, ask good questions, and listen!

Introducing Program Director, Jeremy Myers

headshot of Jeremy Myers
Photo of Jeremy Myers, Program Director

Jeremy has been a member of the Religion department at Augsburg University since 2006 with specific responsibilities for facilitating the University’s Theology and Public Leadership degree program, the Youth Studies minor, and the Augsburg Youth Theology Institute. He is a rostered Deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). You can learn more about his views on ministry with youth and young adults at his blog, or by reading his book Liberating Youth from Adolescence.

Jeremy has served in the field of ministry with youth and young adults professionally since 1997. He loves working with those in this chapter of life and equally loves helping faith communities become more engaged in their lives.

He believes young people today are not longing for anything different than previous generations. But the culture in which they experience these longings has grown increasingly complex and the gap between our young adults and congregations is greater than it has ever been. This gap has appeared as congregations have failed to move into this complex culture with their young people. Jeremy is certain congregations can learn and implement practices that move them into this complex public square where their young adults are seeking to navigate life and faith.