This week’s story is written by Marie Page, a congregational learning partner at Church of All Nations (CAN). She shares about CAN’s experience of understanding the land as their neighbor.
Throughout the past year, our leadership discerned that learning how to relate to the land as neighbor would be the most far-reaching and impactful focus for our RIH partnership. Over the past
winter, we had a core group of pastors, staff, youth, and adult members who met regularly to study the guiding philosophies and practices of permaculture in preparation for spring. The multi-year plans for our property were made after many discussions with our friends at Ecological Design [the women-owned design group behind Main Street Project, Tiny Diner, and more]; they incorporated a kid’s play area, culinary and medicinal herbs, fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, a pergola, and an outdoor worship space- all priorities for our community.
When spring [finally] came, we got to work! Our regular core group meetings turned into work days, and we even had a few “Permablitz” events with the whole community to kick start some of the most needed projects: removing typical sod, spreading compost, reseeding bee-friendly lawn, planting trees and perennials, and a lot of weeding.
We were honestly surprised by the number of people who came out regularly for core team meetings and that even more came out for our Permablitz and work day events. We could see the enthusiasm spreading as real visible changes took root around the church- wildflowers and grasses that we’d maybe only seen in stores or pictures, and especially our herbs. Our community has been blessed by several meals made with herbs grown right outside our doors, that many of us planted and watered and weeded.
We’ve also had many positive interactions with neighbors we’d not talked to previously. Many were grateful for the work we’re doing and curious to learn more. In addition, we’ve had talks with the local park just down the
hill, on our same lake- they’ve been working to foster native species all around their property and are enthusiastic. There was one individual who must’ve been upset over the temporary visual changes when we were doing initial digging and reseeding- they reported us to our local watershed district, but when the district came out and saw our plans, they were thrilled with the work we’re doing, as it will greatly slow the water flow and prevent erosion down into Silver Lake at the base of our hill.
Our children have responded beautifully. They were deeply impacted by our VBS program we put on this year, which we crafted intentionally as an offshoot of our permaculture project, to help them understand what we were doing and feel included in it. As we’d spent a lot of time studying how water moves around our property (in preparation for the addition of swales and rain gardens), we created a curriculum around the many ways God uses water to bring forth and sustain life. We were astonished by the degree of attention, focus, and enthusiasm for the stories and activities this year- far more than any of the standard programs we’ve put on in the past. At the end of the week, they each got a watering can and helped water the herbs in our front yard.
A few weeks ago we had a special Sunday program where 20 of our grade school children helped us harvest some of those same herbs they’d helped water this spring, which we will be processing for our craft fair fundraiser this winter. We were able to teach them how to care for the plants and pick gently with gratitude for the work they have done to make this gift for us. We also showed them how to notice which flowers have bees but to not be afraid of them- because the bees don’t want to hurt us, just like we don’t want to hurt them. They also learned how to notice when the herb is too young or too old to be picked.
This aspect has been the most profound for many of us. In bringing many forms of nature closer to our building, we’ve been able to reshape the narratives that many of us were raised with: nature is an angry “other” that will harm us if given the chance. Instead, we’re able to experience and share with our children that the land is loving and abundant when we approach respectfully- full of food and medicine both for us and for the many forms of crawling friends that have moved in to enjoy the harvest. (The variety and quantity of bugs, bees, butterflies, and frogs has surprised even those of us who’ve lived in this area our whole lives!)
It has been profoundly healing for many of us not just to learn these things ourselves but to watch our children grow up in a community where the land as neighbor is part of the air we breathe- seeing them greet their favorite plants, not scream and run from grasshoppers or even bees but approach carefully, with curiosity. This re-narration of “other” into “neighbor,” then friend, and then family is fundamental to our ministry as a church. It fills us with profound joy and hope to work towards a future where the natural open-hearted curiosity of our children can be guided with love to carefully navigate and embrace the unknown, rather than shrinking back or isolating from it in fear. Their hearts and minds, shaped in this way, will shape a better world.
Thanks to the support of our members and partners like RIH, God is bringing forth a harvest far beyond what we could’ve asked or imagined- in our land, and in our lives. We can’t wait to see the new developments next year will bring!
This week’s story is written by Stephen Richards, a congregational learning partner at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Steve writes about his transformation throughout the process of practicing the Public Church Framework.
Ever had an argument in the car with your partner about the “right way” to get somewhere? My wife and I frequently have such “debates”, and it often boils down to this: she likes to plan how to get somewhere in advance, whereas I’m more of a “wing-it” guy. She likes to pre-navigate potential traffic snarls and find the most economical route to get somewhere, whereas I know where I need to go, have a vague idea of how to get there, and if there are any holdups along the way I’ll navigate my way around them based on what looks like the best option at the time. Needless to say, my wife and I often find driving together a frustrating experience.
This past year, working with the Riverside Innovation Hub has felt a lot like driving with my wife. When St Luke’s first started this journey and I was invited to be part of the team, I was excited about the idea of working to get more young people to come to church. Of course I wanted more young people coming to church; I wanted lots of people to come to church. However, I quickly began to realize that this was not the point. So I pushed back. If this is not about getting people into church, then what is it about? I remember regularly expressing a sense of frustration to our coach that I simply had no idea what we were trying to achieve. The “goal” was to find ways to connect with young adults in our community, but how to do that and what that might look like was opaque. “So what” and “What next” questions dominated my thinking. I found the process frustrating. I wanted a road map. I wanted a planned route from Point A to Point B. The trouble is, that’s not the way this works. You see, when you start asking “What is God up to in our community?” you’re heading into uncharted territory.
For too long I’d been looking for God inside the church building, and many “solutions” for how to address the dearth of young adults in our churches often begin there. If only our services were more exciting, if only we had better programming and the like. Using such reasoning we also talk about how God is or is not working in our midst. More people in church equals God is working, and vice versa. But instead, we were told to reflect on Ezekiel’s vision of the river flowing from the temple, and imagine this flowing out into our community. I liked the image, but continued to push back. I made the point that if the river was flowing from the temple then surely this means the river is flowing out from our church building? Our coach patiently allowed me to navigate my way through this.
When I joined this project I thought it was about connecting young adults to God in church. However, as we began to follow the river (both inside and outside of our community), I suddenly realized that it was about a different kind of connecting. In fact, it was me who was connecting with God as I began to realize my entire understanding of mission had been grounded in the notion that there was nothing of God going on outside “in the world.” Sitting inside a church building, I’d been staring at the walls wondering why more people weren’t inside with us, rather than going outside and asking them. The walls were preventing me from engaging with people. They were a physical barrier between our community and our neighbors. Whereas the veil separating us from God had been torn down in Christ, and in the years since then we had been physically and theologically putting it back up.
As we walked the three art forms, I became to see where God is at work outside the church. I should not have been surprised, because God is always at work everywhere! How do I know this? Because God is everywhere. There is no place where God is not:
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:7-8).
Once I began to realize that church is not the Ground Zero, the modus operandi of God’s activity in any community, I began to realize that the roadmap of mission I had been using had been leading me away from young adults; leading me further inside the church building (where they are not), instead of outside and into our neighborhood (where they are).
As we continued with Interpretation and Discernment work, I sensed that not only I had changed, but the team had also had a transformation. Our focus had shifted. We had begun to dream and imagine how we might go and meet people, rather than sitting in church waiting for them to come to us. Jesus told us to “Go,” and we were going. We began to look at ways we were already connecting with our neighbors; the Montessori School in our church building was an obvious one, but also the green space out front. We learned that people were using the chairs we had placed out there, they were tying ribbons to the Peace Pole and using the food box. We decided to focus on that as space as a place where God was present; Holy ground where we could start wading into the river.
And so we began. It was the start of summer and one of our team suggested we might offer people free ice cream after church on Sunday. So we did. We named it Ice Cream Sunday. For three months we stood outside the church eating ice cream, and inviting our neighbors to join us. In doing so we met lots of people and got to know their stories. We got to tell them our stories, but we never used this as a recruitment tool; just a way of showing love to those around us, you know, doing the very thing Jesus told us to do (Matthew 2:39). And as we did this week after week, relationships began to form. Barriers came down. We began to wade into the river; first ankle deep, then knee deep and finally waist deep. Some people came back just to hang out with us; people who had never stepped inside our church building. And as we listened to their stories we realized that God was at work in their lives and in our community. In fact, God had always been working in our community, we’d just never taken the time to go outside and listen. But now we were outside, and listening, and starting to see the walls come down. We’d torn up the roadmap, and with the Spirit’s leading had started to “wing-it”…
Phase Two came to an end on June 1, 2019 as our 16 partner congregations presented their project proposals. We transitioned into Phase Three over the summer of 2019. Our partner congregations will now spend two years experimenting with new practices and forms of ministry with young adults. This will be a time of continued learning, trial and error, adapting, trying, retrying, frustration, celebration, and growth.
We have shifted from using our Innovation Coaches to support these congregations to a learning cohort model. Each partner congregation will be in a learning cohort with other congregations attempting similar work. They will gather for regular reflection on what they are learning and what growing edges are emerging for them. The Riverside Innovation Hub will support this work by remaining in close conversation with these learning cohorts and leveraging the resources these cohorts need to move through the growing edges they are encountering.
This work will be less like building a program and more like tending a garden. It will be slow and patient work. Noticing what is taking root. Learning whether the bugs in the garden are harmful or helpful. Wondering if we overwatered or underwatered. Being surprised by the fragrance and shapes of what grows. These things don’t look the way they do in the grocery store! If our congregations will be successful in their movement into the public square with young people, and if we are successful in supporting them in this work it will have only happened out of slow, patient listening and wondering and responding to what God’s spirit is already doing with and without us.
Congregations in the Riverside Innovation Hub partnership have spent the better part of a year moving through the public church framework and taking stock of the learning and wonderings these experiences have generated. In the spring of 2019, teams submitted proposals for grant funds that outline their vision of the proclamation work they want to live into over the next two years. One of our innovation coaches, Baird Linke, shares the story of how this movement towards and into proclamation has and continues to unfold at New City Church.
Let’s hear it for the good news! Ten months gone by, and the churches connected to the Riverside Innovation Hub are preparing to put all their hard work and learning into implementing their grant applications! We are gathering to share our stories, to celebrate work well-done, and give thanks for the ways we have grown together. This is the stage in the Public Church Framework called proclamation, but it is not complete just by sharing the stories of the past year. Proclamation is not reporting—it does not live in the past-tense—to proclaim the good news is to invite others into the exciting “we know not what we will be” of what God is doing in the here and now. Proclamation is both remembering together where God’s been with us and joyfully participating in where God is going.
I have worked with New City Church in Powderhorn-Phillips through this program, and I want to share their good news with you. New City Church is trying to do church in a new way (shocking, I know). The planters of New City recognize the complicity of mainline Christianity in the history of white supremacy, cis-heteronormativity, patriarchy, and environmental degradation. Their goal in planting the church was to counter that history with a model of church that centers marginalized voices. They do that by prioritizing the experiences of people of color, the environment, LGBTQ+ people, and women in the life of the church. They have grown quickly since starting out in a living room and have done so while talking explicitly about Jesus to a community that, by percentages, does not necessarily identify as Christian.
Their plan for the Innovation Hub grant is to use the resources for a new effort called
the Incarnation Fund that will connect people of color in the New City community to healing practices including somatic experiencing therapy, nature-based therapy, and spiritual direction. Participants will work in small cohorts to grow in community while, as individuals, work with practitioners of color on healing from trauma. New City believes that investing in individual healing makes communal healing possible. This vision hinges on a key belief that guides New City Church (and illustrates proclamation well): inward transformation leads to outward
transformation and vice-versa.
Many members of New City Church are already engaged in projects for outward transformation in the community. It is an activist church and the wealth of talents and community connections that New City holds was overwhelming at first. How could we choose just one cause to come behind, especially when there are already groups whose entire focus is on one of the many needs that New City cares about?
We realized that we needed to dig into New City’s young identity to find a use of the money that fit. We asked people about what value people found in New City and realized that it wasn’t that New City was doing the same justice work that the members are doing. People value New City because it gives them a place to root their work into a relationship with the divine and challenges people to learn how to be in a diverse community that centers marginalized voices. The community organizers didn’t need New City to be another organizer. The advocates didn’t need another advocate. They need a place where they can hear that they are not alone—that God is moving through a community with them. They are hungry for inward transformation.
A lot of resources have been spent over the last year on the inward transformation of white people in order to be in a racially diverse community where the cultural norms around white-body supremacy are broken down. That work has yielded huge dividends for the health of the New City community, and at the same time has dedicated time and energy into formation for white folks. Recognizing that disparity, New City wanted to balance the scales and use the Innovation Hub grant—the largest financial investment to come to New City outside of the Methodist church—to prioritize ministry for people of color. The Incarnation Fund took both of these needs we identified and aligned the creation of something new with the story of life that New City Church has been telling from the start.
The story of God is evolving and diversifying in different places and circumstances. Small changes in the genetic code result in wildly different forms of life, but it is all life. Our job in proclamation is to be spiritual ecologists, surveying the landscape for life in its abundance, celebrating old connections, new growth, and working to make that growth possible. The Incarnation Fund is rooted in this ecological vision of our communities—the healing of the whole is directly tied to the healing of the parts. The story of New City Church and the Incarnation Fund is just beginning, and it is one of many. I give thanks for the ways that God is moving in your hearts and communities, and I pray for courage and faith as you move forward sharing the good news you have heard and are a part of creating. Let’s hear it for the good news! Amen.
Ezekiel and the Public Church Framework (2018) — Jeremy Myers, PhD explains the Public Church Framework and the biblical imagination that serves as its engine, specifically Ezekiel’s vision of God’s abundance. There are discussion questions at the end to help churches explore how to apply this framework to build a sustainable, deep connection with its neighbors.
Liberating Youth from Adolescence by Jeremy Myers (2018) — Jeremy Myers calls the church to challenge the dominant societal view of adolescents as “underdeveloped consumers” who can only contribute creatively when they mature into adulthood. Myers argues that young people are innately creative creatures called by God to love and serve right now.
Discernment Questions for Faith Communities (2017) — Consider these questions an opportunity to engage your leadership, young adults and other key people in your community as you discern your faith community’s possible call into deeper ministry with young adults.
Disrupt Worship Project — This project offers full liturgical resources and diverse experiences and viewpoints, featuring “voices from different denominations, clergy, deacons, lay leaders, and (sometimes) people who don’t do church but do love Jesus.”
How We Gather — One of the most widely-read documents in seminaries and community startups; a 2015 student-led exploration of how Millennials are finding and building communities of meaning and belonging has morphed into a ground-breaking study of organizations that are effectively unbundling and remixing the functions historically performed by traditional religious institutions.
Faithful Report by How We Gather — a report reviewing and examine a number of innovative communities to help inspire religious leaders and those who are leading change from within
On Monday August 6, 2018, we began training our eight Innovation Coaches who will spend the next ten months coaching sixteen local faith communities into a method of discerning and generating innovative ministry with young adults (List of Partner Faith Communities). Our coaches are young adults between the ages of 22 – 30 years old. They come to us from lives lived around the globe — the Twin Cities, Iowa, Rwanda, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Argentina, South Dakota, California, Texas, Europe, Philippines, China, Missouri, and Montana. Read about Our Innovation Coaches!
This training included three intense weeks (August 6 – August 24, 2018). Here were some of the components of that training:
Morning and Evening Prayer each day
A day in Voyageur canoes on the Mississippi River as we explore our theme text, Ezekiel 47:1-12
Time with Augsburg University president Paul Pribbenow exploring the University’s call to be an institution for the sake of the neighbor
Learning about Martin Luther’s theology of vocation from Dr. Mark Tranvik
Learning to practice one-on-ones with Harry Boyte from Augsburg University’s Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship
Finding our type in the Enneagram with Tyler Sit from New City Church
A Salon Dinner and day-long training on creativity, change, and welcoming resistance with Rev. Marlon Hall — pastor, filmmaker, storyteller, and anthropologist
Intercultural competency assessment and training
Immersion into the Public Church Framework
The goal of this training was to equip our coaches to be able to walk into two faith communities and help them engage young adults in their contexts in new ways, creating opportunities for the faith communities to listen and learn. We understand innovation to be that thing that happens when we are responsive to both the movement of the Holy Spirit and the demands being placed upon us by our neighbor in a particular place at a particular time. Our coaches learned to help faith communities locate themselves in these places and respond with hope.
Our work with these faith communities launched on September 18, 2018.
We were blessed to be invited into the lives of 12 local faith communities currently doing exceptional ministry with young adults. This post summarizes our that research and the themes which are currently emerging at this point in our analysis. The analysis is not complete and will, therefore, reveal more as the research team continues to work through it. However, we have already identified many important themes. This project takes an assets-based approach, looking to learn from what faith communities are already doing well rather than focusing on critique. Our findings, and this summary, reflect that asset-based spirit.
These twelve local faith communities were nominated by their peers as communities currently doing effective work with young adults. They vary in denomination, size, context, staff structure, and in how they engage with young adults. No two faith communities are the same. They include:
The Riverside Innovation Hub’s research team consists of eight faculty members from across various disciplines including Religion, Sociology, Psychology, Political Science, Social Work, Education, Communication, and Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies. Our researchers visited the above faith communities in groups of three to conduct site visits, focus groups, and interviews with senior pastors and young adult leaders. These focus groups and interviews were recorded and then transcribed. The Riverside Innovation Hub staff identified key themes emerging from these site visits, focus groups, and interviews. The research team then coded these transcriptions using key themes (listed below).
We discovered some fascinating and helpful characteristics which we are excited to share. The following nineteen values were present in our study congregations in various levels, amounts, and combinations. We have organized them into four characteristics to help us imagine how these values shape the character of a faith community. If the local faith community’s call is to proclaim good news into people’s lives to displace their bad news, then what we see below are the various ways in which these faith communities are doing just that. They do it through unique and context-specific practices, but these context-specific practices share the following characteristics.
CHARACTERISTIC #1 — PLACESHARERS
These faith communities have found ways to effectively enter relationships with young adults by engaging in the real joys and struggles of people’s lives. They are not afraid of tough conversations or hard questions. They allow people to bring their real selves to the table.
Authenticity—There is no need to hide or fake who you really are. Individuals are able to be authentic because the leaders and the community are both authentic.
Vulnerability—Participants are welcome to share their deepest longings and their shortcomings because the leaders and the organization both model this vulnerability.
Complexity—There is eagerness to engage difficult issues and difficult conversations. Faith is both taught and practiced in complex ways.
Energy—There is a noticeable quality of connection. It might not always only be lively, it could also be reflective. It matches the place where the young adults find themselves.
CHARACTERISTIC #2 — ROOTED IN THEOLOGY
These faith communities are clear about their beliefs and practices. Their theological convictions shape their lives together. Their sense of mission is clear and compelling and is reflected in what they do.
Explicit— Faith community is explicit about its values, mission, and story. They know what they stand for and they are explicit about making it known.
Value Alignment — The faith community’s mission, leadership, and ministries align with the young adults’ values.
Wisdom — Participants are engaged in the integration of theology and real life. They value thinking theologically about the world and thinking worldly about their theology.
Sacred Objects & Rituals — Important symbols of relationships and transitions are present in important artifacts and actions. These help participants make meaning and help give shape and identity to the community by creating collective awareness, experience, emotion, & energy.
Good News/ Bad News — The articulation of how young adults are experiencing suffering or bondage in their lives (bad news) is present as well as ways the faith community is working to accompany them and/ or provide relief and freedom.
CHARACTERISTIC #3 — COMMUNITY
Faith communities are intentional about building community and bringing young adults into that community. There is a palpable sense of family and support and young adults are instrumental leaders.
Social Networks — Young adults find their way into these faith communities through their social networks.
Participatory —Young adults are resources, active in the life and leadership of the faith community. There is noticeable representation of young adults within the faith community.
Relationships —Meaningful relationships with peers, mentors, across generations, and across other differences are valued and nurtured with intentionality.
Leadership —These communities value their leaders for their vulnerability, accessibility, and relationality. They are seen as strong preachers, teachers, and caregivers.
Belonging —There is a sense of solidarity and “we-ness”.
CHARACTERISTIC #4 — PUBLIC
These faith communities empower their people, including young adults, to actively live out their faith in their public lives in a variety of ways. There is a high value placed upon the community gathered for worship, but always with an eye and ear towards those beyond their faith community.
Vocation —Tangible action for the good of the neighbor is valued and expected, but as an expression of freedom in Christ rather than legalistic acts to appease God.
Inward/ Outward —The needs of the individual and the gathered faith community are met while simultaneously being open to and engaged with those beyond the faith community.
Context —The location of the faith community is an important factor in the faith community’s identity and the young adults’ experience with the faith community.
Social Justice —The faith community and/ or the young adult lift up social justice as an important component of the life of faith.
There was no special program or approach that made these congregations successful. We believe their success with young adults is related to their clarity of conviction and intentionality about engaging their young adults in leadership roles so that they might lead the faith community into living public lives of faith that matter.
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.
Spring at the Riverside Innovation Hub has included the completion of two significant milestones adding coaches and faith communities to our team of partners!
YOUNG ADULT INNOVATION COACHES
We have brought together eight dynamic 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, Germany, Norway, Montana – 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.
FAITH COMMUNITIES FOR TRACK 1 AND TRACK 3 PARTNERSHIPS
As we complete site visits with Track 1 leaders, we are encouraged by the curiosity and hopefulness present in each place. Track 1 faith communities are eager to begin a four-year partnership of accompanying, interpreting and discerning towards contextual life-giving proclamations of the gospel in relationship with young adults. Track 3 faith communities will be meeting together in July as they prepare to engage as learning partners with Riverside Innovation Hub and our cohort of faith community leaders during the life of the project.
The faith communities selected – while all local to the Twin Cities – include a dynamic mix of contexts. The place and neighborhood for each faith community presents a diverse landscape to experiment with and learn about ministry with young adults. Learning more deeply the stories of the neighborhood and discerning what a faithful response with the gospel looks, sounds and feels like in these places, will take shape in unique ways among each faith community. Large suburbs with professional networks, multi-cultural faith communities in urban and first ring suburban contexts, neighborhoods of diverse faith traditions, contexts filled with thousands of young adult students at local universities and colleges, neighborhoods where young adults transition in and out frequently, contexts that span the economic spectrum and congregations that do as well.
The blend of faith communities stepping on board as partners creates a promising cohort of faithful leaders and learners. In addition to their unique contexts and stories, our faith communities all share a hopeful curiosity for what the Spirit is up to in the lives of young adults and a humble honesty about the challenges present in our communities. We look forward to learning together about they ways our faith communities are called to shape life-giving ministry and relationships in response to the neighborhood.