About a year ago I had the privilege of working with a group of people thinking about the future of the church, ministry with young adults, building something from scratch, pulling in partners from across the church (local and national), engaging a local community and calling a mission developer who came to our New England Synod with an idea.
Here is the idea: Renew the church by focusing on young adults.
This intentional new ministry would provide a space for young adults to live together, worship together, learn together, work together, lead together, imagine together, and struggle together. This ministry would be an intentional time of discernment and preparation to engage the issues these young adults believe to be important, and could impact the community in which they would live. The structure of this ministry would be to set it up a gap year experience for those who are 18-25 years of age. A gap year is a nine to twelve month period in between things (in the gap) – between school and college, between college and a career, between jobs, between years in school, and so on. The Living-Learning gap year would set-up a ministry focus area for learning that participants would share in common,* while at the same time giving people space to pursue their own individual interests. Mentors from congregations and community leaders from the local context would connect with the participants. This ministry would be a ministry of the whole church, in little enclaves of a dozen or so participants in one of several locations throughout the country which would also be in contact with one another for shared learning and mutual support. (To date there are three initial sites under development – in Eugene, Oregon, Toledo, Ohio, and New Haven, Connecticut. Several other sites are also under consideration as this ministry expands across the ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America].)
To put it bluntly, this idea is pretty cool.
Living-Learning is even cooler a year later, now that this idea is starting to take shape on the ground. There is a lot of potential for people to get involved, and as one of the primary leaders of the New Haven site for its first year of its development, I can share that the ministry has already been gaining ground among congregations, each of our fifteen conferences across all of the New England Synod, and we had a great showing at our Synod Assembly this June.
Pastor Josh Graber is our mission developer of this project (he’ll be at St. Michael’s September 23, 2012). He is working with each of the pilot sites and leaders, each of the three synods’ mission tables where these ministries will launch (I serve on that committee in the New England Synod), ELCA churchwide staff, a national leadership team he has brought together, and many local congregations, non-profit organizations and service agencies surrounding each of the three cities. His vision for this ministry stems from his connection to a similar program his parents ran at Holden Village in Washington, an interest in the folk school tradition across Scandinavia, and other similar programs across Africa and other places in the world. He is a gifted leader skilled in community organizing and he focused his first pastorate at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead, Minnesota on ministry with young adults.
My initial interest in this ministry begins with my own ministry with young adults through my years with Lutheran Campus Ministry while I was in seminary, and working among young adults across five seasons on summer staff in outdoor ministry with Crossways Camping Ministry and my year-long position with Lutherdale Bible Camp and St. John’s Lutheran Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin.
My deeper interest in this ministry is strengthened by an understanding that throughout the church’s history the church has been strengthened and renewed by small intentional Christian communities like these. The desert Fathers of the first few centuries called the church into a deeper spirituality. The monastic movements of the next centuries developed Christian music and brought Christianity to Northern Europe. The Irish monastic movement kept learning and literacy alive during the so-called “Dark Ages” and re-Christianized much of Europe. Monastic centers became centers of learning, and eventually developed the first universities.
While Protestants broke down many monastic systems in the 16th century placing a greater emphasis on the faith of everyday people and everyday work and family life, intentional communities re-emerged. Bishop Nicolai Gruntvig of Denmark helped institute the folk school concept in the 18th Century, and in our own country Lutherans have developed a large network of camps, retreat centers and campus ministries and long-term mission immersions across the country. Many of our leaders today point to experience in those ministries as key places of their faith development. In our current context where camp is not for everyone, not everyone goes or makes it through college, and the job market continues to stymie even the best prepared, an alternative setting for leadership training and discernment is needed.
My future interest in this ministry is the hope that ideas like Living-Learning become the catalyst for church renewal and re-engagement with local communities. The energy of young people serving in the communities, while reaching out and integrating this new ministry alongside the ministry of local congregations serves as a great template for such renewal and can engage all generations. Living-Learning is an emerging, relational ministry connecting people, resources, passions, commitments, and love for others with the depth of faith in Jesus Christ the Spirit continues to nurture among us throughout the whole church.
Although I am no longer able to coordinate the efforts being made at the New Haven site now that I am dean of the Southern Connecticut Conference in the New England Synod, I have never been more optimistic about the potential of this ministry. I continue tobe grateful for the team od leaders who continue to prepare this ministry set to launch next fall. Living–Learning is an amazing opportunity for the whole church to be renewed, by investing in young people as they discern their future, serve in the community and grow in faith together.
Who wouldn’t want to be connected to an idea like that?
To find out more:
“Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you. Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:12-16)
* (The New Haven site’s focus area is: Housing and Architecture: Design, Sustainability, and Justice for the 21st Century World.)