Amanda joined the Riverside Innovation Hub team in August of 2018 as an Innovation Coach. Prior to that, she lived, played, and learned in Rwamagana, Rwanda as a volunteer with Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM), studied at Viterbo University in La Crosse, WI and grew up in Minneapolis, MN.
During her time as an Innovation Coach, she worked with two amazing innovation teams and their congregations. 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.
She now joins the team as the Riverside Innovation Hub Coordinator. When she isn’t working, she’s either at Luther Seminary working on her M.A. in Theology with a Concentration in Justice and Reconciliation or playing volleyball.
Amanda is grateful for the opportunity to work alongside of faith communities as they discern how to show up as a Public Church in a way that is simultaneously authentic to the gospel call for justice, love, and mercy and most appropriate to their own geographic contexts.
This week, we would like to share a blog post written by Cassie Dong, our Communication Coordinator. Cassie was inspired to write this after participating in the “Palm Friday” chapel at Augsburg University last Friday. This blog post illustrates the Interpretative work our faith communities are working on.
If you are looking for a straight answer, stop here; there is none. If you would be willing to dwell into your neighbors’ story, your story, and God’s story, then keep reading. It will be long, but it will all make sense at the end. After all, only when you weave these very different stories together can you find how God is calling us to show up in our community. Be patient for this work is slow and challenging.
Our Story: Are we feeling guilty with “being Christian”?
As a young leader, I am used to being vocal about my beliefs. I speak up for people who have been marginalized and have no voice. Yet, one of the most difficult things for me is to learn how to publicly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that speaks true to the communities that I serve. It is challenging to find the right balance between living out my faith in the public square and to be compassionate toward people who have experienced trauma and pain at the hand of the church. I am disheartened to see faith communities resistant to use “God’s language.” Many faith communities come forward to acknowledge mistakes the church has committed in its long history. However, instead of closely looking at and changing policies, systems, processes, and cultural norms of white supremacy, colonization, and toxic masculinity, many people respond by no longer talking about their Christian faith in public. Are there ways for us, as Christians, to declare that Christianity is a religion of love? Can we live out our faith and allow God’s stories and our stories to guide us in accompanying our neighbors?
God’s Story: Palm Sunday
To answer those questions above, let me first share with you one of God’s stories. I would make an assumption that many of us have read or heard of the story in Mark 11:1–11 in which people “spread branches they had cut in the fields.” They carried these palms as they followed Jesus entering Jerusalem while shouting praises to God. From this Biblical narrative, we have Palm Sunday—the Sunday before Easter when many churches celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem by carrying palm fronds.
Let’s stop here for a moment and ask a few questions. During church service on Palm Sunday, when being given those palm branches, what do you do with them? Do you wave them while entering the chapel? Do you hold on to them throughout the entire service? Bring them home when the service is done? Do you know what exactly do these palm branches represent?
Our neighbor’s Story: The March for Our Lives
I would need to tell you about my neighbor’s story in order to answer those questions above. In support of stronger gun violence prevention measures, on Saturday, March 24, 2018, the March for Our Lives took place in Washington D.C. where between 200,000 to 800,000 people participated. In other places in the country, thousands of people—many were high school students and young adults—marched onto the street with protest signs sending strong messages against gun violence and demanding for change. Among those protest signs, there were some palm branches: some were held high above the head; others were tied to protest signs. Yes, Saturday, March 24, 2018 was the day before Palm Sunday.
Weaving together our neighbors’ story, our story, and God’s Story
On April 12, during the “Palm Friday” chapel, Augsburg University’s associate pastor Justin Lind-Ayres told us about his experience participating in the 2018 March for Our Lives. He compared those palm branches with protest signs we have today. He shared, when people held onto the branches and followed Jesus into Jerusalem, they were marching with Jesus to demand for a change and to celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ. Similarly, people who were marching with palm branches at the March for Our Lives were also advocating for social justice while celebrating the incredible leadership of young people who organized and led this national demonstration. Moreover, these people were explicit about their identity. They sent out an important message: the Christian community is standing with the victims of the Parkland shooting and those young leaders who fight against gun violence.
I shared with you about our concerns as Christians, Mark 11:1–11, the sermon about Palm Sunday, and the presence of palm branches during the March for Our Lives because these stories teach us how to live out our faith. No, it is not enough to just listen to our neighbors, or to only understand our identity, or to only know God’s story. Faith communities must be able to weave together these three stories to discover: Who is God calling us to be? What is God calling us to do? How is God calling us to show up in this community? Instead of ambiguously saying “we are not that kind of church” or “we are not that kind of Christian,” we must be explicit about our identity and our values—with words and actions. How can we fix our mistakes and/or remove misunderstandings and assumptions that people may have about the church and our faith without actually showing up in the community and being clear about our true Christian values? I strongly believe, as faith communities, we are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to challenge the particular bad news in our neighborhood.Only when we show up in the neighborhood—with humility and compassion—can we understand the bad news and truly discern the good news in our specific context. This is how we live out our faith.
As we move through Lent, into Holy Week and eventually Easter, Christian communities across the globe are moving through story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as they gather together. This three-part blog series by Riverside Innovation Hub Program Manager, Kristina Fruge, reflects on how we struggle to steward the gift of this complex but beautiful story and why we must continue to come alongside each other in our call to live into its promise.
The first post of this series leaned into the truth of life and death’s necessary relationship and the complicated beauty of being called to be a dusty people. This second post reflects on how often Christian communities forget their dusty calling and replace it with musty practices and habits.
I remember as a young child playing in my Granny’s basement on rainy days when the backyard garden was too soggy for rowdy kids to explore. The cement floor was cold on my bare feet, and the cinder block walls were lined with stacks of boxes and other household items. There was enough room to run and play in the dim light and even kick a dodgeball around for a modified version of soccer with my brothers. These rainy days would bring a burst of energy into what was, on most days, an unlively place. Our shouts of child’s play would cut through the musty air that filled the space—the thick fragrance of time and artifacts of my grandmother’s life and family’s history that had been hidden from the light and elements for years. When the sun would return to dry out the neighborhood, we’d rush up the stairs and out the screen door to join the lady slippers, dragonflies, pine trees, and cardinals playing and alive in the backyard.
Granny’s house and neighborhood hold many of my earliest memories. It was one of several places I felt at home growing up. Another home away from home for me has been the church. The particular faith communities have changed over the years, but together these communities nurtured within me a sense of groundedness in understanding my purpose and identity through the story of Jesus. There have been times in my life when I forgot who I was and whose I was. It was the story of Jesus showing up in my life—through a faith community, a friend, or even a stranger—that helped me remember. I am a child of God, and so is my neighbor—and, this world doesn’t work if we don’t love each other and ourselves as God so dearly loves us all.
I have deep roots within the church and its people. I hold in tension an immense gratitude for the church and a deep heartache for the ways we, as the church, have too often played it safe and fallen short. I have witnessed and contributed to the ways we, as the church, have grown musty in our ways and our places. Much of what I have experienced in this church often reminds me more of my grandmother’s basement than her backyard.
In my experiences of worshiping in and working with the church over the years, it has often felt like an underlying goal of the church is to recruit people to our team, our activity, or our faith. This objective is not always explicit. However, the desire to see people participating in our churches in the ways we have enjoyed being a part of the church seems to, functionally at least, be shaping where leaders and congregations invest much time and energy. Getting people to show up for our stuff is seen as a marker of health and success. If it’s not happening enough, we are anxious and work harder to get people to come. If people are showing up, we assume we’ve found the solution to buck the trend of declining church participation and just need to keep doing more and better of the same thing. But if how we measure “success” or health is based on how many and how often people show up for our stuff, then we have forgotten who we are called to be.
We cannot forget.
The gospel in fact displays a much different way of being church. We are the ones who are supposed to show up—in the world, in relationships, in places of brokenness, of community, of complexity. We are a dusty people, and this should propel us to live boldly and humbly in the unsheltered and uncertain places. Remembering our dusty calling should embolden us to not be afraid of death or loss because we know it’s only part of the whole story, and the whole story is God’s and it is good.
When we forget these truths we are tempted to let cultural markers of success or anxiety about our survival motivate our actions. We default to habits and ways of being church that are musty.
Musty and dusty should not be confused with each other. Both connote a sense of agedness, but one has seen the light, and the other has not. Musty things may have been dusty things when they came to be—ways to worship or be in relationship with others or gather community in ways that were meaningful at the time. But they haven’t been given space to let the light, the neighbor, or the elements shape or change them. Musty things do change, in their own way. The longer they are removed from the impact of the world around them, the less vibrant they become, the less life they hold or offer. They may even pick up an unpleasant odor. They lose their impact, significance, and transformative power because we remove them from a relationship with a world that places demands on us. Yet, we MUST keep them around as they are, inadvertently assuming it’s the thing that brings life—the way we worship, the program we built, the ministry structure that worked, or the building that has housed a particular worshiping community.
It is not the buildings or programs or things we’ve made that are the source of life and promise and joy. The Holy Spirit’s activity in the world is not contingent on the church’s participation. At best, we work to pay closer attention so we can point to the work of the Spirit and get caught up in it. At times this means we need to get out of the way.
We can also nurture spaces and invest in relationships where the Holy Spirit can show up and do what She does. These spaces and places of community and relationship in its many forms create the gaps in our lives and assumptions where God can get to work touching, transforming, healing, reconciling. When we hold on to the musty practices and programs, we miss the point. We focus on the wrong thing. And stuff starts to stink. The gaps for the Spirit to work within and through get smaller and smaller. We rigidly work to maintain ways of being church that focus on preserving buildings, leadership structures, programs and our sense of control and this distracts from where God is pleading for us to focus—on people, on creation, on the dust present in death and new life.
What is one musty thing in your congregation? What would happen if your congregation got to the work of letting it become dusty? What if we took that musty practice or belief or program out of the basement, into the light and the world and risked how it might be impacted, challenged, or transformed by encountering the neighborhood? Would we be willing to risk even the death of our musty ways, trusting that death and dust are a needed part of new life?
The reality of death hits close to home for a declining church, but this absolutely does not mean God’s activity and love in the world is in decline. In the wake of death, we dusty people know that good news is rising to take its first breath. As dusty people we can trust this good news and even participate in it. If we remember who and whose we are, we can let our musty ways die. This is sacred and faithful work. We can lean into the truth of our dusty calling, remembering, not forgetting, that when things die they give over their space and energy for new life to emerge.
The rain is letting up, and the neighborhood is eager for us to burst through the doors, into the sun, and breath in new life together with creation.
As we move through Lent, into Holy Week and eventually Easter, Christian communities across the globe are moving through the life-giving story of Jesus as they gather together. We are reminded in this season that this resurrection story has the reality of death as a cornerstone of the truth it speaks. This three-part blog series by Riverside Innovation Hub Program Manager, Kristina Frugé, explores the complexities of being a people whose Christian story requires us to hold death and life in the same desperate grasp. The series will reflect on how we struggle to steward the gift of this complex but beautiful story and why we must continue to come alongside each other in our call to live into its promise.
Nearly 15 springs ago we brought a tiny spry Vizsla pup home. We named her Roxy. She was our first “baby” as a newly married couple in our new-to-us home. She brought joy and mischief to our family through all it’s ups and downs. She was the constant source of comfort and companionship through the birth of three children, the loss of three other pregnancies and the many other in between moments of our life together. She worked her way into the hearts of our family and our children and taught us all how to love and let others love us.
This winter Roxy also taught us how to grieve. Our family huddled together over her aged body, shedding tears and final kisses knowing that her spirit had accepted the end. She impressed upon the hearts and minds of my young children that love is costly. She also clearly showed how it’s all worth it. After especially long days, I often find my 8 year-old son huddled in a corner or on the stairwell trying to push the tears back into his eyes with his fists. “I miss Roxy,” he sniffles. She was always his most faithful ally, at the ready to comfort and cuddle with him at the close of the day. I sit next to him, with tears welling up in my own eyes and press my hand to his heart. I say, “Do you feel that hurt right here?” He says, “Yes.” I tell him, “This is the greatest gift. Not everyone gets to feel this. This sadness in your heart is proof that you got to love and be loved unconditionally. You will always have Roxy’s love and it will remind you how to keep loving.” Logan shakes his head knowingly and we hold on to each other and the cherished memory of Roxy’s love for us.
This loss has created a gap in our family. It feels similar to what I see when I look out the window at a winter that has overstayed its welcome. Daily, I pine for a glimpse of green grass and the hope-filled promise of new buds on trees. I strain to hear the sweet songs of the birds beckoning spring to takeover the chill of this season. We are in a gloaming, in-between time. Winter’s barrenness holds fast as signs of a fresh season begin to spring to life. Christians have a name for this season that parallels the truths that creation has on display this time of year. It is called Lent.
Lent is a season that works to open a gap in our routines and our false assumptions about ourselves and our neighbors. It parts the veil, shedding light on the vulnerabilities and fears that we work hard to keep at arm’s length. It names the unpopular truth that from dust we have come and to dust we will return. Churches find their pews most full on Christmas and Easter, the joy-filled seasons of the year. We prefer the glad-tidings of celebrating the birth of Jesus and the triumphant Hallelujahs of Easter’s resurrection chorus. But Lent disrupts these two seasons with the harsh, brutal reminder of the necessity of death. The fullness of God’s love for the world as embodied in Jesus is not complete without this part of the story. The most vulnerable truth Lent points us towards is the intimate and integral relationship between life and death.
The rhythm of life, death, and new life is woven into every fiber of the world God created and is creating. Each day on my way to work and home, I drive a few extra minutes out of my way to follow the parkway along the Mississippi River. The trees that reside along the riverbank state this truth each season, a constant reminder of how creation is called to be.
For months, their brittle branches arch naked through the chilly sky until spring emerges with signs of new life budding and humming and growing larger as the days get longer. This makes way for summer’s flourishing green cover that helps the planet breath and shades the soil and its critters from the sun’s warmest days. Finally, and always, autumn arrives with a vibrant burst of color as the trees beautiful hues point to what always must follow life and flourishing—death. This dying display of beauty gives way to the barren and dormant winter season, and the waiting begins again.
And so as this gap in the seasons daily displays the complexities of death and life, how do we pay attention to the truth? How do we let the soil filled with decayed bits of life from last summer teach us? How do we be aware that the stuff of loss all around us is also creating the space for life to breath anew again? These are the things I will ponder this week as we honor what would have been Roxy’s 15th doggie birthday. We will spread her ashes in the places she loved to run, play and explore, adding them to the mix of muck and spring mess that is preparing for a new thing.
The season of Lent begins by reminding us that from dust we came and to dust we will return. This is not a morbid sentiment, but a statement of the sacredness of the cycle of life and death and new life again. The trees along the Mississippi River speak this truth as they move through the seasons, just like the memories of our silly, loving, bed-hogging dog Roxy will remind my kids that love is worth the risk of loss. The dust pressed into our foreheads on Ash Wednesday reclaims this holy life giving element of dust, soil, ash—the remains of what was once living which holds the power to bring about life and love again.
We are a dusty people. This is our calling. In a culture where death is perceived as the enemy, we are called to embody this mystery and live it out defiantly.
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 faithcommunity? 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.
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.
My name is Ha Dong, but you can call me Cassie. I was born and raised in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. My childhood was imbued with memories of me playing in the rain forest and on the high mountains. My mother used to own a small hotel in Sapa, a town located in the far north of Vietnam. Spending my summers in this beautiful little town gave me opportunities to meet with many people from different ethnic backgrounds in Sapa as well as tourists from all around the world. My early engagement with people from different cultures, faiths, and backgrounds later became foundational to my spiritual journey and my vocation.
At the age of sixteen, I went to study abroad in the United States. I later attended Augsburg University to complete my B.A. in International Business and Marketing with a minor in Graphic Design. I interned with The Arc Minnesota and Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota where I was able to use my creativity and marketing knowledge to support social services for people from disadvantaged communities. Being an Interfaith Scholar at Augsburg was the highlight of my undergraduate experience. It was a chance for me to reaffirm my belief in God and to tell the world that I am a Lutheran pluralist—that I am proud of my Vietnamese traditions; I hold strong to Buddhist teachings of love and compassion (that my grandparents taught me!), and I am a Christian.
I was a student worker for the Riverside Innovation Hub during its Research phase. I am so excited to continue being a part of this wonderful project. I look forward to seeing churches seeking to honor Christ in their unique context by building and maintaining meaningful relationships with young adults.
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 accesibility 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.
Our Riverside Innovation Hub staff has been blessed to work with Rev. Margaret Kelly this past year as our Hub Coordinator. We celebrated her last day this week with Riverside Innovation Hub. She has been instrumental in supporting the research phase of the project, application process with congregations and hiring of our Innovation Coaches. As a team member, she has brought a deep passion for the church, a commitment to the work of Riverside Innovation Hub and a welcomed witty humor to our first year. We value her partnership and friendship and wish her all the best as she moves into full-time social work with chidren’s mental health.
Mararet has written some final thoughts to share as she moves on from Augsburg…
It is both with sadness and excitement that I have resigned my position with the Riverside Innovation Hub. The work the Hub is doing is incredibly important. It has been my great pleasure to play a support role to Dr. Jeremy Myers and Kristina Fruge. The theological thoughtfulness that they approach the work of innovation in ministry is without compare. Our church is in good hands when I see this project taking shape under their leadership. It is hard work and it is good work. Thanks be to God for courageous leaders who risk trusting the Holy Spirit.
I am leaving to pursue full time work as a clinical social worker. I am returning to mental health case management, but this time with children who have a diagnosed mental illness and need extra support to stay in the community. I will be working in Ramsey County and look forward to utilizing this part of my training. My passion is the intersection of faith, addiction, and mental illness. This is one of the ways I pursue that passion.
I look forward to hearing the stories of the congregations who have been emboldened by the Riverside Innovation Hub.