discipleship in the public square for the common good

February 6, 2014
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Confirmation = Faith in Action

 By Lindsey Ruhland | Family of Christ Lutheran Church | Chanhassen, MN

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”   (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

Trying to wrap my mind around the idea of Public Church can be a daunting task.  In previous blog entries, we have talked about the struggle of wanting a nice and tidy 5 step program while knowing that creating a program is not what the Youth and Public Church Initiative is about.  Numerous times in our seminars I have used our Faith in Action Projects at Family of Christ as one example of what this initiative is getting at.  I’d like to share a bit about these projects to inspire some ideas of what Public Church could possibly look like in whatever context you find yourself in.

At Family of Christ we ask each of our 9th grade students to complete a Faith in Action Project before they are confirmed.  Faith in Action Projects may take many different forms, but the idea behind them all is that our youth think about the ways God has gifted them and the passions they have and put that into some kind of action to meet a need they see.  To help them prepare, 9th grade students all take the Strengths Finder assessment and meet with a pastor or staff member to discuss their project.  In the spring, at the time of their confirmation, students make a display with pictures and text sharing about their project.  The Narthex is filled with displays of all the different ways the youth have put their faith in action.

One project that makes a great illustration is Hugs from Hunter.  During her 9th grade year, Marli’s younger cousin was killed in an ATV accident.  While gathered at the hospital in Hunter’s final hours, Marli noticed that his younger siblings were very frightened in the environment and had nothing to offer them comfort.  It was during this difficult time that Hugs from Hunter was created.  For her Faith in Action project, Marli and her friend, Molly, decided to raise money to purchase teddy bears and blankets that could be distributed to children who are at the hospital in frightening situations.  The bears and blankets would be a source of comfort during a difficult time.  Hugs from Hunter did not end when Marli and Molly were confirmed.  They have continued to distribute bears and blankets and are even in the process of making Hugs from Hunter an official non-profit organization.  If you’d like to know more visit www.hugsfromhunter.org

Some other projects that have been done include knitting hats for the homeless, leading a summer musical camp for elementary aged kids, hosting a fundraising dinner for a young boy fighting cancer, teaching adaptive dance for handicapped children, and much more.  Each year it is amazing to see the needs the students find in their community and the creative ways they find to make a difference.

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December 16, 2013
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Public Church Is Faith In Action

By Elizabeth Kolbe | Trinity Lutheran Church | Sleepy Eye, MN 

On April 12, 2013 I had the privilege of walking alongside a group of young people from my Synod (South West Minnesota Synod ELCA) as they participated in the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy Minnesota’s annual Day on the Hill. Even the snowy, blizzard-like weather could not keep our young people, as well as other individuals from all corners of the state, from telling their elected officials how they felt about renewable and sustainable energy production, from a Christian perspective. With the help of Pastor Stephen Rasmusson, Justin Rabbach from ELCA World Hunger, and Rhonda Otteson from the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, we turned an afternoon on ‘the hill’ into an overnight educational event in which the students, as well as the adults, learned and discussed global and local social injustices, and how we, as Christians, can respond to those concerns.

There were twelve students that attended the Day on the Hill, and stayed at Luther Seminary in an effort to educate themselves on different social issues as well as how to make a difference in regard to those issues. After a brief introduction of different major social problems in our ever changing world, and a snack, of course, the students got together in groups to discuss some problems that they see on a daily basis.

By allowing the students to put a name to the issues that they see in their world instead of identifying the issues themselves, the adults were practicing the art form of accompaniment. The adults were there to help and guide the students, if it were needed, but were not the catalyst in the discussion groups. Needless to say, all the participants were very touched and impressed by the discussions heard around the room. Students identified many interesting issues, but the most commonly named concern was bullying, racism, and prejudice in general. By identifying the issue, the students now had a starting point for further discussion.

The students knew that bullying, racism and prejudice were wrong, and they knew that it occurred in their schools, in their communities, and even sometimes in their churches, but they were not sure what to do about it. They were frustrated that so many things had been tried before and none of them had been successful. One student had even mentioned the (then) recent amount of teen suicides that were occurring in our area. The students wanted, and continue to want to make a change. We encouraged them to do research in regards to bullying in their respective areas, as well as reinforce the Biblical argument against bullying by searching through the Scriptures. Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts, we have not been able to come back as a whole group to discuss our findings, but students have been meeting with other students in their areas to help spread the word; let’s be the change!

The next morning before heading to the capitol to be briefed by the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy Minnesota on their agenda for the day, Justin led us in a discussion about advocacy, as well as how to be an advocate. He also spoke about service learning, and how to reflect on the service we are about to do, as well as the service we did once it is done. How can we learn from our experience in order to make the next experience better for all participants?

As we trudged around the streets surrounding our state’s capitol, snow filling our nice shoes, I thought to myself how awesome it was to be surround by these young people who want to make a difference in the world! Being a part of their inspiration to change the world gives me the strength to continue in my endeavors, and quite honestly, gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. To watch these students actively practicing their faith for the benefit of others is a good example of how active faith is public church. Though there are still some kinks left to iron out, living a faith that is both intentional and active is my understanding of church.

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November 25, 2013
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Small Danish Congregation… Going Public!

By Sarah Grans | St. Peder’s Lutheran Church | Minneapolis, MN

I work at an interesting congregation; we are small, but mighty! Our young people come to church with great grandmas, and grandparents, and parents, and aunts & uncles. Our congregation is alive with many generations and deep roots in Grundtvig Theology.

The neighborhood is changing over from retirees and empty-nesters, to young families who want to walk to their neighborhood church for their faith experiences. We have a diverse group of youth who will embark on this endeavor of becoming a public church. They will be the leading force who will ask our congregation what it means to be a public church in our community.

Our congregation serves well, gives well, and strives to reach out to those who need us both beyond and within our neighborhood. But our presence and work in our neighborhood is becoming more important to our congregation. Our youth go to different schools within different school districts, but they have established roots here at St. Peder’s and they care about this neighborhood, the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis.

This summer, our young people went on a mission trip to Puerto Rico. In the past, our preparation for these trips would have consisted of mostly housekeeping ideas and a little bit of faith formation. This year, our preparation focused more on deepening our faith and our understanding of the mission that was at hand. We worked hard to notice and unpack the need for deep justice down in Puerto Rico. We were also able to link our experience to the need for justice here in Minnesota. It was an honor to accompany the youth on this journey of discover. It is my hope that these transformative experiences will help carry our congregation into becoming a public church with our youth.

Right now these youth are keeping their eyes open for what our neighborhood might need, what our neighborhood might have to celebrate or mourn together. We are working to gather as much knowledge about our neighbors and neighborhood as we can. This will be key to seeing how St. Peder’s can continue to serve the Longfellow neighborhood.

But I am also wondering what our congregation needs in order to be successful at becoming a public church. How can our congregational leadership come alongside our youth leading this initiative and work together to implement these ideas? How do I encourage our congregation to work alongside of our young people as they are ready to take our congregation public? I’m not yet sure how to prepare our congregation to be receptive to this idea of being a church that is not only outside of our walls, but also outside of ourselves.

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November 18, 2013
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Seeing New Things or Seeing Things New?

By Don Marsh | Augustana Lutheran Church | West St. Paul, MN

As our group of Confirmation age youth came to a stop on a street corner near our church they were challenged to turn slowly around calling out the things they noticed that brought healing or pain to the community.  A National Guard Armory that we agreed could bring both; a Perkins restaurant that brings healing in the sense that it is a gathering place; our church building itself which, thank goodness, we all agreed brings many good things to our community.  So far, so good I thought. This might just be a really interesting experience for us.

As we continued to turn and observe our surroundings a young lady blurted out….”What is that”?  I followed her line of sight and realized, to my surprise, that she was looking at the Allina Health Clinic that literally shares a parking lot with our congregation.

That is a clinic; actually a rather large clinic in fact; to which she responded “we have a clinic in our parking lot”?

So many times our congregations are not even aware of the communities we inhabit, much less representative of them.

We were on a prayer walk.  An exercise suggested as one activity congregations might do in order to get a better sense of what their community is like. In our case, Augustana Lutheran Church is in a first ring suburb surrounded by an ever changing demographic yet our congregation continues to be a “regional” church that people drive in to for any number of reasons, most of them good.

What this experience brought home to me is the fact that many of our members drive in to our nice, newly remodeled and expanded facility to do church and completely miss the fact that our building is only one of many places in our immediate community; a community that is showing ample signs of wear and tear, bumps and bruises. How can our congregations truly serve our communities when our members aren’t even aware of or in touch with our communities?

What might happen as we begin to encourage people to be more attentive to the community rather than focus so much on what happens within the walls of our church buildings? This is a glimpse of what the Public Church Initiative is all about.  While a prayer walk is perhaps a baby step it is one way we can begin to be more aware of the community that surrounds and desperately needs us. What are the things in your neighborhood or community that you think go unnoticed by those in your congregation? Do our congregations have an obligation or call or responsibility to be aware of what is going on in our neighborhoods? How can you begin to link your congregation with the good and bad in your neighborhood?


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November 11, 2013
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Have we lost our Manners? Our inability to honor and embrace difference in and for the public square

By Rev. Melinda Pupillo | English Lutheran Church | Lacrosse, WI

I still remember the day (many years ago now) when I sat face-to-face with a recruiter for a volunteer youth organization. As she interviewed me for a year of Christian service, I made myself clear. “I have to tell you,” I said, “I don’t much care for this idea of witnessing. It’s like taking our faith and banging someone over the head with it. I’m just not OK with that.”
“Good,” the recruiter said. “We don’t believe in that either.”

Wisely this recruiter understood the difference between the good news that we share, and the manner in which we share it. As many of us now consider what it means to have a public faith, my fear is that we have lost our manners. That is to say, we no longer know how to express our faith publically.

Like my misunderstood perception of what it is to be a witness, many of us now misunderstand what it means to be a public church. We hear “public” and think “partisan.” And as good, respectful church-goers, we know that word to be inflammatory. So instead of speaking out, we hide under the auspices of impartiality. Yet as human beings, we can no more claim to be impartial, than we can claim to be without sin. “God made us different on purpose,” I like to say. We have been created with specificity. Being human means making room for those distinct, God-given perspectives that can come between us, and to even be hospitable toward them.

But we have lost our manner in which to do this. We speak so as to prove ourselves right. We listen to find fault and that the other is wrong. To say that we are going public feels more and more like we are going to battle. This is sin.

For our manners to be restored, living out of our Lutheran identity can actually make a difference. We know that God cannot be encountered in either/or thinking, but through the paradoxical relationship between two conflicting truths. Perhaps the public voice of our Good News can be found in the same way. For it is through relationship that our gifts and needs flow back and forth. We need the differences that God has created in the other.

We know, too, that we cannot stand but for the grace of God that fills us through Jesus. Perhaps our public encounters could be filled with this same power. Trusting in God’s grace, we can find validity both in ourselves and in the other we encounter in the public sphere. We can begin to trust that the image of God is found in all people.

There are difficult conversations ahead of us. But systems of injustice have been allowed to thrive for too long. I pray that by God’s grace, we might find courage to both speak and listen in a manner which reflects Jesus Christ in our midst.

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July 30, 2013

Drinking from a Fire Hose

By Lindsey Ruhland | Family of Christ Lutheran Church | Chanhassen, MN

When I returned to the office after a few days out on our YPCI Fellows retreat, my co-workers asked me how the retreat was; my reply “It was like drinking from a fire hose.”

We are now six months into our 2 year stint as the first ever YPCI Fellows and so far it has been an incredible experience.  Each time we meet I leave feeling excited, inspired, and affirmed in my call to young people but yet I struggle to articulate to others just what it is we are doing.  I say it’s like drinking from a fire hose because there is so much information and insight that comes from our seminars that it is sometimes challenging to take it all in let alone find ways to share it with others.  Prior to our retreat I had been feeling anxious about the outcome of my time in this group.  I believe what we are doing and what we are about is critical to the future of the church. Developing a new way of thinking about church is difficult, messy work, and I began to feel afraid that after two years, my ministry at Family of Christ would look the same as when I started.  I wanted to know exactly what the outcome would be and I wanted to know the outcome now and I wanted it in 3-5 easy steps on a checklist.

As Gretchen wrote in her previous blog, we had a conversation about the outcome of this process on the retreat.  We asked the question, “So what exactly are we doing?”  In this conversation someone shared an analogy that has since shaped my thinking about this initiative and helped to alleviate some of my anxieties.  What we are doing is developing a toolbox; not a checklist, curriculum, or magic program. Throughout our seminars, retreats, trainings, readings, and writings, we are working to develop a new framework for youth ministry.   I like to think of this framework as our toolbox and inside of this framework, we are developing our “tools” to use for being public church.  Some of these “tools” are accompaniment, Biblical imagination, discernment, and proclamation.  Each time we meet, we learn about our tools and explore the different ways we can use them.  We can all develop the same tools and share information about these tools, but each of our contexts will use the tools in different ways at different times.

As we continue to share our work on this blog, what are some “tools” you’d like to read more about? What are some of the most valuable/ useful tools in your toolbox?  Which ones do you use the most often in your context?

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May 29, 2013

Living Into Interim Time

By Gretchen Roeck | Minneapolis, MN

So what exactly are we doing?

That was one of the questions that came up at last week’s retreat at Bay Lake Camp. And, to be completely truthful, we don’t know exactly – at least not yet . We do know what we’re not doing: we’re not creating a curriculum to sell in the future, and we’re not laying out action steps on how to save the church.

It’s not an easy time to be leaders in the church. We are in an in-between time – interim time. What used to work no longer works, and we don’t know what the future looks like. The writer John O’Donohue describes this kind of time well in his poem “Blessing for Interim Time”,

No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between
Unsure of what has been, or what might come …

The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.

“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.”

In many ways, the Youth in the Public Church Initiative is trying to live into this interim time. We’re trying to live into interim time by listening to our children and our youth, to their yearnings and dreams. We’re trying to listen to their “bad news,” so that we can proclaim God’s Good News.

This kind of listening is hard, difficult work. This kind of listening requires us to remain open to the unknown and to new possibilities. It requires an honesty to face failures. It requires a willingness to change. It is so much harder to listen into the unknown than to execute a well-conceived curriculum.

But our curriculums aren’t working like they used to and our young people are demanding, needing more. So we are called to listen and to live into interim time.

Part of listening well comes from knowing ourselves well. We all come with our own unique histories that inform the way we hear and interpret the world around us. The more aware we can become of the experiences that inform our worldview, the better able we will be to listen to others who have different histories and perspectives. That’s why at our retreat we took part in an anti-racism study, so that we can better listen to the world around us.

O’Donohue tells us, “it is difficult and slow to become new.” But, he continues, if we can faithfully endure interim time, the more refined our hearts will become for their arrival in the new dawn.

The new dawn has not yet come for our church, but it is coming. It is a hard time to be leaders in the church, but it is a very exciting time as well. How do you or have you practiced listening in your own church? How do you “get out of the way” to listen? What are your hopes and dreams for the new dawn of our church?

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May 1, 2013

Hearing My Call In Accompaniment

By Elizabeth Kolbe | Trinity Lutheran Church | Sleepy Eye, MN

There has been countless times during my two year indoctrination to youth ministries that I have not felt as though I was ‘adequate’ enough to perform my duties. The first time someone called me the Director of Youth Ministries instead of ‘the youth worker’ scared me. Although I grew up as a ‘church kid,’ I do not have the theological training so many others in this field have. I got a BA in anthropology, minors in ethnic studies and Spanish; what the heck makes me qualified to direct the ministry of youth? When I start to doubt my abilities to lead youth, I am always brought back to that saying, “God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.”

Sitting in our fourth YPCI seminar, I realized that God had equipped me for this job! My education (and passion) is in applied anthropology. Applied anthropology studies the characteristics that change and control human relationships. It relies on basic principles in human interactions, language and ethnography to solve problems faced by contemporary people and cultures. So basically applied anthropologists attempt to solve problems for a group of people based on the context in which that particular group of people find themselves, using the theories provided by research. The basic method to conducting applied anthropology in the field was mimicked in this month’s YCPI seminar, camouflaged under the title of “Steps of Accompaniment.”

The ELCA Global Mission Unit defines accompaniment as walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality. The process of accompaniment works with those particular people that have a vested interest in the problem at hand, and its potential solution. Applied anthropological practices, as well as the process of accompaniment do not identify and solve these problems for ‘less fortunate’ people, but instead walk with the people they are assisting, helping them to identify and vocalize their own perceived problems, and support them in the creation and implementation of solutions to those problems.

I realized maybe that was why I was called into this position with the church. The church is losing ground. We are losing numbers, not because people are any less convinced that there is a God, but because more and more of those people that believe in God are finding that church is not fulfilling their needs. Every group of people, including a worshiping congregation, has problems. Sometimes they need a hand in identifying and vocalizing those problems. Maybe it takes an applied anthropologist to assist a congregation in identifying their needs, creating a community-based solution, and implementing their plans.

Steps of Accompaniment

The first step of accompaniment is to identify the stakeholders, or those people that are affected by any action that you would do. Who can gain from these changes? Who can be hurt? You want to include all people, and from as diverse mix of backgrounds as possible.

Next you want to pitch the idea. Based on the knowledge or research that you have, what do you think your stakeholders need (or do not need) in order to improve their situation? Explain your ideas to them, and make sure everyone agrees to the plan.

After agreeing to an outcome, brainstorm ideas with your stakeholders and others involved as to how the group can achieve that outcome. Think of not only solutions, but possible road blocks based on the context and culture of the group or community in which that group finds itself. Think of a plan of action on how to collect information to support or refute your ideas. Some methods include hosting a community forum, key informant interviews, prayer walks, community asset mapping, and door-to-door surveys.

Now that you have a plan, the next step is to train a team to help you gather the information that you seek. Once the team is trained, send them out to collect information about the community.

Once you have received the information about the community, it needs to be reflected upon and the findings interpreted. After you have interpreted the findings, you need to discern the call and make a plan. What has all this research and data collection led you and your team to realize about the needs of your community?

Would this work in your context? Does walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality necessarily mean going  through all these steps, or can it just be as simple as letting your neighbor tell their own story, identify their own issues, and working with them to create solutions to those issues? How would you approach the artform of accompaniment in your community? Please share your ideas with us.

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February 4, 2013


Imagine being a part of a congregation whose sole purpose was to serve the community in which it is located. Worship would regularly flow out into the public places of the community as the congregation seeks ways to celebrate and mourn with the community at certain sacred places and times.

The leadership teams of the congregation would be active participants at community meetings. Teams would be trained to visit neighbors and pay attention to community needs and assets in order that the entire congregation – children, youth, young adults, seniors, etc. – might live out their collective and individual vocations by being civically engaged in ways that truly matter to their community.

This public worship, public listening and public engagement would stimulate questions among the youth who are asking, “What does this mean?” Confirmation and Christian education in general becomes a lively process of seeking to respond to the congregation’s questions about theodicy, redemption and vocation as they arise out of the congregation’s engagement with its surrounding community.

Formation and discipleship happen as this intergenerational faith community seeks to discern the movement of God’s spirit in their midst and how they are being called to respond. Imagine what this might do for the young people of this congregation? For the entire congregation? For the residents of the community? Imagine!

These are exactly the type of faith communities the Youth and Public Church Initiative seeks to create; faith communities where discipleship happens on the fly as the congregation seeks intergenerational expressions of faith in the public square for the common good.

The Youth and Public Church Initiative was officially launched on Monday January 28, 2013 at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. This new initiative was launched in the form of a fellows’ cohort. Ten practitioners (people working in children’s, youth and family ministry as ordained or lay people) were selected to join us in this endeavor. This cohort will gather once a month for the next year to explore the theoretical and theological foundations and practices (or construct them when necessary) that are needed to challenge and empower the church to become more public.

Our first cohort of fellows includes . . .

Sarah Grans | St. Peder’s Lutheran Church | Minneapolis, MN
Tom Gustafson | Messiah Lutheran Church | Minneapolis, MN
Peter Johnson | Living Water Lutheran Church | Cameron, WI
Elizabeth Kolbe | Trinity Lutheran Church | Sleepy Eye, MN
Don Marsh | Augustana Lutheran Church | West St. Paul, MN
Melinda Pupillo | English Lutheran Church | Lacrosse, WI
Gretchen Roeck | Trinity Episcopal Church | Excelsior, MN
Lindsey Ruhland | Family of Christ Lutheran Church | Chanhassen, MN
Karen Williams | Mt. Carmel Lutheran Church | Minneapolis, MN
Beth Wolslegel | Westwood Lutheran Church | St. Louis Park, MN

Want to learn more? Subscribe to this blog to get updates from the Youth and Public Church Initiative. This blog will feature articles on the theological and theoretical foundations that inform this work, the artforms that shape our practices and case studies featuring our fellows and their congregations.

The Youth and Public Church Initiative is an idea whose time has come. Please join us on this journey!

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