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In 2018, the Saint Paul Area Synod released "Stories of the Synod," a 24-page stewardship booklet detailing the synod's work. The stories inside are just a glimpse of the work that Mission Support makes possible. One of those stories, below, is testament to the conviction of faith that young adults bring to the church.
“Over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I went to Atlanta with a group of individuals affiliated with the Saint Paul Area Synod,” writes Rachel Hagen. “We examined past racial relations in the United States, explored current racial tensions, and dreamed about how we could bear witness as Christians in our own communities.”
Rachel was with “Road Trip: Atlanta”, a part of the Saint Paul Area Synod’s Young Adult Initiative. With the hope of equipping young adult leaders to engage with and be the witness of the church in a new day, the synod began the Initiative in 2017. Since then, young people from one-third of Saint Paul Area Synod congregations have participated.
“The hope in the Young Adult Initiative is that we can become a more in-tune synod while also providing a place for young adults to wrestle with their own sense of vocation as members of the body of Christ,” says the Rev. Justin Grimm, director for evangelical mission with the Saint Paul Area Synod.
“Road Trip: Atlanta” invited young people to travel to Atlanta, GA. There, the group met with local faith and nonprofit leaders and visited landmarks of the civil rights movement. They also immersed themselves in media about racial justice and privilege in America, including foundational writings of black theology and contemporary films.
As a young, black woman, Rachel was nervous about going to Atlanta. “I came into this trip struggling with my own pessimistic attitudes about the possibility of economic and social liberation for black Americans,” she reflects. After a few days immersed in the non-violent movement and hearing Dr. Bernice King speak, Rachel has been inspired. “When I begin to feel pessimistic about navigating oppressive structures and institutions, I can turn my energy toward my community and look for small ways to make a difference,” she says. “I believe interpersonal conversations have tremendous power and the potential discomfort at the beginning is greatly outweighed by the results. Starting a conversation can be difficult, but it is always a great place to start.”
Ruthie Mhanga, another young adult who went on the trip, walked away similarly inspired to engage in anti-racism work. “As a church, we need to be more concerned with justice for the marginalized in our communities than we are with the number of people in our pews on a Sunday morning,” Ruthie believes. “We need to be listening to how God is calling us to make sacrifices so others may live in freedom.”
In addition to grappling with social justice, the Young Adult Initiative also looks to empower young people to be the witness of the church in their community and the world. The Green Line Cohort focuses on the former. Riding the Metro Transit Green Line in St. Paul last autumn, young adults gathered at restaurants in different neighborhoods of University Avenue. They met with local faith leaders to talk about community, accompaniment, migration, and changing environments. For Kelsey Battleson, the six evenings together were a lesson in forming community. “What stood out wasn’t the Green Line itself, but rather the young adults who made up the cohort,” she shares. “The simple stories of our different backgrounds and what brought us to the cohort connected us deeply.”
These deep connections happen within our own communities but also abroad. In 2017, young adults from the Saint Paul Area Synod travelled to Tanzania. There, they walked shoulder-to-shoulder with their young adult counterparts in the Iringa Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. Gathering for morning learning sessions and traveling together on field excursions, the young adults found common roots in their Lutheran identity and in navigating the constantly shifting world. “By connecting change-makers in Tanzania with change-makers in America, we’ll see what new thing God might be calling us all to,” reflects the Rev. Peter Harrits, director for Bega Kwa Bega.
As the Young Adult Initiative continues with new cohorts of young people riding the Green Line and wading through social justice issues, the synod is also listening to what other needs and opportunities are being voiced by young people often forgotten by the church. As Ruthie reminds us, sharing the witness of the church and making change will take every single one of us – “Yes, that includes you.”
Churches are encouraged to share the content of these stories in their congregations. Any re-print should include: Saint Paul Area Synod, www.spas-elca.org. To request printed copies of the booklet, please call 651.224.4313. A PDF of the booklet is also available here.