by Mark Staples (January / February 2001 • Volume 17 • Number 1)
From North Quincy, Massachusetts to Fresno, California, and from congregations to campus ministry sites, the Churchwide Initiative, "Leaders for the Next Century" has elicited some creative approaches and alliances in leadership development.
Mark 4:3-9 — Sower of the seed
(Editor: Three years ago, the ELCA designed seven "initiatives" for our churchwide mission, including one on leadership development. The following article describes what has transpired over the past couple of years with the initiative "Leaders for the Next Century.")
A churchwide plan to develop leaders in this century is winding down after three years, but the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America initiative has sown seeds that will take root for years to come.
That is the feeling of the initiative's chair, Bishop Steve Ullestad of the Northeastern Iowa Synod. "We've been pleased to review so many creative ideas as described in both the grant applications and the reports describing how the grant recipients carried out their ideas to develop new leaders," Ullestad said.
The initiative has been entitled "Leaders for the Next Century," reflecting when it was established.
"Not all the plans achieved fruition for sure," Ullestad added. "But many of the reports we have received showed truly unique approaches and alliances for the church at a very critical time."
Each of seven denominational initiative task forces received funds to use as they saw fit to develop fresh ideas around a theme. The Leadership task force decided to use its allotment to award grants to community-based organizations, congregations, and other ministries.
Over two grant-making periods, the initiative awarded more than $130,000 to 51 grant recipients in 1999 and 2000. Some 250 applications for funds were sent to the initiative. Seventeen recipient programs are at the midpoint of a two-year effort, but all 17 have sent reports of their progress.
Many of the other programs have been completed. The recipients showed the cultural and geographic diversity across the ELCA. The grants in some cases were given to projects that paired experienced leaders with potential candidates for congregational or institutional leadership.
Other projects had goals to hone leadership skills through networking. A third category of awardees had plans to "immerse" growing leaders in the life or culture of their ministry setting.
Ullestad said the attempt to generate proposals from community-based organizations, congregations, and ministry settings created something of a stir two years ago. "Some people contacted us to say, 'Are you sure this program is really meant for us?' They seemed surprised by the community-based approach. We have been inspired to observe some of the creative connections which are being initiated around the country."
Ullestad said the funded projects have generated at least several hundred new leaders "including some individuals who had never before been encouraged to be leaders."
The following are examples of some of the creative programs.
In North Quincy, Massachusetts, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church had become concerned over a predicament afflicting many congregations. Over the years the congregation had become "disconnected" from its community, said the Rev. Rebecca Parrish Wegner. "We studied the transitions in the congregation's community and culture and decided we wanted to 'reconnect.'"
The North Quincy community was becoming populated with "young and coming" people who knew virtually nothing about the congregation. The non-Anglo population in the community is 22 percent with Asians comprising the largest growing segment.
"We had to face our lack of engagement (with the community) and our lack of visibility," Wegner said. "We checked our findings by becoming active in a local neighborhood organization." The pastor also joined the city's Human Rights Commission and now chairs it. "We formed a working relationship with a local Jewish community organization and began a dialog." Now, making use of the ELCA Identity Project, the church advertises on a local subway line. A key layperson worked on a community survey project to determine local needs and concerns.
Plans call for volunteer teams from the church to interview shoppers to learn more about the hopes, dreams, and concerns of unchurched neighbors. "The teams will be made up of mixed age groups. We also plan to stage community panel discussions to dialog about the community's strengths and weaknesses. Then we'll interpret our findings as a basis for future planning toward 're-rooting' ourselves. Lack of communication has been a big problem in the past, but we have choices about what to do in the future."
The plans call for possible addition of a worship service and adding new ministries depending on what the congregation learns during the second half of the program. (Pastor Wegner recently accepted a call to a congregation in Brunswick, Maine–ed..)
An intensive nine-month curriculum was developed and studied by seven parish nurses in Winter Park, Florida. The goal of the program was to strengthen participant nursing practices by integrating in them a broader understanding of faith and health. "The nurses represented seven different faith communities and three denominations," reported Mary R. Jacob of Lutheran Counseling Services in Winter Park. "Parish nurses can become isolated in their health ministry vocation because of the nature of the work. This study plan brought the group mutual support, new ideas, and strengthened their sense of commitment and purpose."
In rural Wisconsin experiencing farm crisis, the Churches' Center for Land and People used a grant to establish a "Connectors" project "to equip potential leaders with perspectives and skills needed in networking for churches to tackle rural concerns."
Miriam Brown, coordinator of the project, said the chief aim was to empower faith-filled leaders to take their place in the public discussion over difficult issues. Some 50 individuals were oriented into the new program. Forty emerging leaders took part in a two-day retreat "that helped them name the connections they can make and how to use those connections as spheres of influence regarding rural issues."
In the Florida/Bahamas Synod a grant funded the establishment of an internet "electronic faith community" within five college campuses — the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, the University of North Florida, the University of South Florida, and Rollins College.
The network set up a weekly exchange of prayers and list serve communications. As a result of the network, students from the various campuses set up exchange visits to each other. The group planned presentations and provided leadership for worship at the Synod Assembly in May 2000. Student leaders were Lutheran, Episcopalian, Church of the Nazarene, and Presbyterian in background.
The project also involved campus pastors from Lutheran and Episcopalian backgrounds. The network helped the student "peer ministers" explore the relationship between their baptism and vocation and discover the difference between career choices and vocation. Overall, the project invigorated the campus ministry effort.
The program had a major impact on a dozen emerging leaders, according to the report writers, Cory Phillips, Shari O'Brien, and Keith Runge. "Leaders at all levels, not only rostered leaders, should participate in training, be installed or otherwise be recognized by the community to which they are called."
"Ministry by all the baptized is an integral part of the Lutheran heritage, but the equipping of the saints is often lacking. This peer ministry model is replicable for the whole church in that the leadership is neither professional nor rostered, but the natural consequence of baptismal vows."
In Washington, D.C., Pastor Leonel Cruz and Project Coordinator Rosario Hernandez initiated the Santa Maria Youth Project to engage Hispanic youths to serve immigrant peers. "We had observed that newly arrived Hispanic youth are at risk without support," Cruz said. The project's mission was to create a cadre of local youth to work with immigrants to hone their skills in such areas as mathematics and English.
|The funded projects have generated at least several hundred new leaders "including some individuals who had never before been encouragedto be leaders."|
Cruz, the pastor of Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria in Washington, said the project adapted to meet the needs of each youth. The outcome? "We had eight young people from Central America and Mexico get involved in the cadre. They all have great potential to become leaders for the church and society."
"We discovered," Cruz added, "that young people will develop their own talents when they have the opportunity to reach out to other youth. The tutors became better educated themselves, and they learned of the needs within the community-at-large. Their leadership emerged from the bottomfrom their own experience in working with their own reality. It is an experience we have really learned in Third World countries like El Salvador and Africa."
Some of the participants in the cadre project were not initially members of the church's faith community and most have become involved in the church now, Cruz said. One individual has made a decision to attend seminary.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Lutheran Ministry in the Fenway involved "Big Sisters" from a Lutheran campus ministry program in a mentor program with young, inner-city girls from Boston's Roxbury neighborhood.
"The project succeeded in its aim to focus on interdependence rather than service, expanding the vision of the young women involved to see partnerships of church and society in ways quite different from typical volunteer service programs," said the Rev. Joanne Elise Engquist.
The experience involved a time of sharing at monthly meetings between big and little sisters plus times of "paired" sharing on other occasions. Over two years, the program grew from eight pairs of young women to a dozen, and the program had a waiting list of little sisters much of the time.
While mentoring of big to little sisters was a key, "the big sisters learned a great deal about what is important to the youth of today and have discovered ways to connect to needs and interests despite cultural and generational differences,"
Engquist says. "Experienced big sisters became more assertive leaders and grew in their capacity to be mentors. They also proved to be excellent role models for the new big sisters who came into the program."
In Washington, D.C., Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area formed a City Youth Corps of 45 youth and 9 adults that gave senior high youth a chance to learn about the needs, challenges, and gifts of urban peoples. The program functioned via an action/reflection model. Once a month, youth gathered to engage in a service project, share a meal, reflect on their activities, and then enjoy recreation together.
The project began with a meeting to develop the format of the program. Youth identified organizations they'd like to work with and problems they thought should be addressed. Then small groups planned the next month's activities.
"Many of the youth had been relatively uninvolved in their churches and are somewhat more active now," reports the Rev. LeeAnn Schray, coordinator. "They've become more willing to reflect on what they are doing, and the scope of what we are doing has grown beyond the Lutheran community to other city agencies and not-for-profits."
She continued: "Many of the youths take the initiative for planning now more than they did in the beginning. Youth leaders are beginning to realize they can make an impact and effect changes in their churches. They've started to strategize about ways to address issues like recycling in their churches. They've discovered with each other that people are most willing to lead if they can identify their own passion and connect it with a world need. Our participants also realize now that anyone can be a leader!"
In Fresno, California, Direction Sports of the Lutheran Campus Ministry of Fresno matched university students with children from a culturally diverse community to provide academic support in the context of basketball. The project also provided leadership and cross-cultural training for university student volunteers.
The effort focused on the complex social and academic challenges facing children in the community, and it thus served as a real life, multicultural lab for university students who were trained as leaders in the project, reported Don Romsa, coordinator.
He added that each program day began with 20 university students meeting for about an hour with 20 children to assist them in creative projects related to math and reading. Following those sessions, 20 other university students provided the children with skills development in basketball and team play. Three student coordinators supervised the project.
Direction Sports led to the creation of a second program, Project GIFT (Growing in Friendships Together). The second program provides companionship and tutoring for children from low-income families on Saturday mornings.
In Rockford, Illinois, Rockford Area Lutheran Ministries used a grant to sponsor PLAY works, too!, a recreational summer playground program making use of teen leaders to teach at-risk teens and children nonviolent conflict resolution techniques.
The teaching made use of creative play activities and taught youth to serve as role models in their personal conduct and behavior. Mariel Heinke, director, said the program involved 32 teens in relating to 1,400 community children in 1999 and an additional 18 teens becoming involved with the children in 2000.
"Conflict is normal, but violence is not" was the program motto, according to Heinke. The ministries program used partnerships with community-based organizations, such as the YMCA, Park District, child care agencies, and churches, to develop the program.
"Reinforcing nonviolent responses to conflict is a challenge because teen real life experiences regularly includes a far different response to conflict," Heinke explained.
In addition, when the program found an adult leader to pair with a teen to unobtrusively share leadership responsibilities, the teen leader often felt a greater degree of success.
In Strawberry Point, Iowa, Ewalu Camp and Retreat Center sponsored two Urban Immersion Summer Camps to introduce rural youth to the inner city. The purpose was to dispel urban/rural and racial myths and to acquaint campers with urban/rural ministries and life, said Dale Goodman, executive director of the camps.
Twenty youth participated in the two camps. The campers visited various inner city ministries and then spent time toward the end of each day processing their experiences.
"The most observable change was simply a new level of awareness," the director said. "A few participants expressed the resolve to do something to improve the circumstances they had seen, though they did not know exactly what."
Even "unsuccessful" endeavors have led to key learnings. The Northern Rockies Institute of Theology, a continuing education program of the Montana Synod, intended to sponsor an immersion event last May, later scheduled for November 2000.
The planning group for the project experienced frequent leadership changes, according to the Rev. Jessica Crist, director, and a key tribal leader who began working with the group became unavailable for a time.
"The rules on the reservation are not the same as the rules of the church and culture with which our planning team is most comfortable," Crist said. "Working with the Northern Cheyenne is far less linear than most of us are used to. But it may well be that the lessons we learn from working with the Northern Cheyenne will be very useful to us as we imagine the church of the future, a church far less linear, less structured, less denominational than the church we grew up in."
In conclusion, this churchwide initiative is phasing out its work at the conclusion of the two grant-making periods and is no longer awarding grants, Ullestad said. "We look forward now to developing ways to share throughout the church what we have learned, including reporting out creative models for developing leaders that might be replicated across the church."
Ullestad said the grant reports had also provided the task force with information to connect like-minded efforts across the ELCA.
Mark Staples is Director of Communications for The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.