Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Guiding theological question: How does our community (i.e. family, neighborhood, religious, school, and workplace) help to reveal, shape, and then affirm the callings that draw us to God?
Guiding Scripture passage: In Romans 12:5, Paul reminds us that “Though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and that individually, we belong one to another.”
Signs of change:
- We’re observing a deeper understanding for the idea that everyone has a story worth hearing, which has already created a greater sense of belonging AND willingness to share.
- We’ve heard from members of the small groups who continued to meet online during these days of sheltering at home that they have formed some very strong bonds with one another as a result of regular gatherings in smaller groups and more informal settings.
- A congregational communications survey in May revealed that many respondents want to walk through these difficult days ahead with others who are committed to listen to and learn from one another in a more meaningfully, sustained way.
Year 2 Activities
- Continuation of our small group initiative, along with an expansion to include 12 new small groups with new topics/themes.
- Host Virtual Community Conversations to bring together various stakeholders to discuss how we rebuild a neighborhood that thrives and represents the diversity of the community.
- Initiate an Intergenerational Interviewing Project that pairs teens/young adults with elders in the community.
Year 1 Learnings
- Everyone has a story worth hearing! This belief, stated by Pastor Ingrid in our Year 1 proposal, has been lived out in the activities we hosted (Storytelling Workshop) and the initiatives we rolled out (small groups), in the prayers we pray in worship (“Lord God, you have called us to ventures where we cannot see the end…”), by the personal stories of vocation our members have shared in worship or via the church newsletter (See Josh Becker’s article from the COMMUNITY CHURCH recounting an end-of-life encounter with a long-time patient), and most recently, by our congregation’s response to neighborhood devastation in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer.
- Understanding our spiritual state of being is deepened when pursued in the context of community. As we’ve seen small groups take to Zoom to conduct much of the ongoing business and spiritual life of the church, many have realized just how important these personal relationships can be even on a laptop or smart phone – to see and hear from one another and to be seen and heard. And through these small group experiences, many have been reminded just how much our spiritual well-being depends on our siblings in faith.
- Our understanding of vocation has expanded more fully in the midst of a global pandemic and a world-wide reckoning with racial injustice. Following George Floyd’s death, many people of faith were rendered speechless as we watched centuries-old anger and disappointment, hope and promise rise up with thousands of peaceful protestors of all colors and backgrounds and ages. Many Holy Trinity members were asking, perhaps for the first time in their lives, “How am I being called to respond to the injustice that oppresses my siblings of color every day?” There is an urgency for white people to come to terms with our complicity with systemic racism, but it would be so overwhelming to try to respond to EVERY injustice so we’ve had to look within ourselves and “listen” for the Spirit to lead us and show us the path forward.
Resources Developed by Holy Trinity
Small group leader guide — Without a doubt you have a story to tell. What are the things that you are doing in your life that make your story part of the human story, part of God’s story? Holy Trinity is about to launch a number of small groups around a variety of interests in the hope of allowing members to connect with others in a way that does not always happen on Sunday mornings.
- Newsletter article on the CCI birding group
- Newsletter article on the CCI lectio divina group
- Newsletter article on the CCI aging group
- Bulletin reflection on the call to be a physician
Recommended Prayer & Study Resources
We used the following Prayer of Good Courage (ELW Service of Evening Prayer) in our Small Group Leader Guide, to be used to open or close their small group gatherings. Our middle school ensemble has also been learning a musical setting of this prayer which will be introduced to the congregation in worship on March 15. We hope that it will continue to be incorporated throughout our worship during the remainder of the Lenten and Easter seasons this year:
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Pastor Ingrid Rasmussen’s sermon on calling for the Feast of the Epiphany.
- Howard Thurman’s Essential Writings or Jesus and the Disinherited. As a congregation, we are trying to expand our reading on vocation to include BIPOC authors. (Thurman writes, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”)
- One of our leaders has been reading about wilderness travels (A Year in the Wilderness by Amy and Dave Freeman, All Creation Waits by Gayle Boss, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and Wishtree by Katherine Applegate). Through her study, she has come to realize how important it is to share the story of our planet with the children in our community. We spent time in November learning about the importance of trees and listening to what they may be trying to tell us! And then in Advent, the Godly Play and Trinity Village children shared The Tale of Three Trees, which beautifully communicates how our dreams and God’s dreams for us can become intertwined in unexpected ways!
- We launched the OUR WHOLE LIVES Sexuality Curriculum to a small group of high school youth in November. This work has been helping these young people understand themselves (and others) in a more holistic way.
When did your church last take on something new?
While rooted in the Lutheran tradition, Holy Trinity is not afraid to try new things and adapt when things go in unexpected directions. A recent example of this was the 2016 “Journeying toward Justice: Privilege and Race in Our Church” conference.
The idea for this stemmed from discussions within the congregation around racial justice and a desire to learn more about how white privilege is at work within the church. These issues had been the topic of adult forums on Sunday mornings, preaching from the pulpit, focused conversation in Council meetings, small group book studies, and individual conversations, and there was a desire to take a deeper dive into the subject and hear from a variety of speakers. With support of the Council, Pastor Ingrid Rasmussen started plans for a small conference with a handful of attendees from Holy Trinity and a few neighboring congregations.
What began as an idea to host 25-50 people, soon grew as the word spread and more people and congregations expressed interest. In the end, the conference drew over 450 people. We did not predict the response we received.
In developing and implementing this conference, we were reminded that trying new things can help the congregation and our larger community grow and learn from one another and that we can do more than we think we can. We also grew in our awareness that, although we have worked hard to understand the many privileges that some in our congregation carry, we still have a long way to go in our quest to embody beloved community.