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One in mission | Linda Valentine

A different ‘feel’ for faith

Congregation’s bold approach helps church and community thrive.

new pic linda v

Linda Valentine is executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency

In the months leading up to the 221st General Assembly (2014), Presbyterian Mission Agency Board members and staff envisioned an assembly that would be life-affirming for the whole church. Since our gathering last month in Detroit, ripples of life-giving hope are already spreading across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

In calling us to “abound in hope,” the theme of this year’s assembly, Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly, urged us to make room in our church communities for people to share their stories of faith, a spiritual discipline already embraced by a growing number of congregations, including the Church of All Nations in Minneapolis.

Under the visionary leadership of Jin S. Kim, Church of All Nations is a growing congregation that averages just under 200 in worship. Its membership is approximately 50 percent European American, 25 percent Asian American, and 25 percent a combination of African American, African immigrant, Latino-a, Native American, and other ethnocultural groups—with 25 groups represented overall.

“From the church’s beginnings 10 years ago, we made an intentional commitment to the core values of equal parts diversity and intimacy,” Jin says. “To that end, we decided to borrow from the African American church tradition of testimony, which allows for authentic speech about our experience of God and one another. It is a way for both formally trained staff and congregational members to live into the Reformation ethos of the priesthood of all believers in a fresh way.”

Churches of all nation's family retreat photo

A few Church of All Nations families together on a retreat

Twice a year the church opens its service to the community’s faith stories, inviting a dozen or so people to share for about three minutes each. At other times, members give testimony in place of the traditional sermon. “There’s nothing in the Bible that says you need a diploma to proclaim the gospel,” Jin says.

Intimacy is cultivated through a variety of practices, such as an extended passing of the peace, which often tops five minutes, and by keeping the church small to midsized.

Jin says today’s young adults—many of whom sense a widening gap between a largely monocultural church and a multicultural society—discover a different feel at Church of All Nations. “Feel is really important to this generation and the number one thing they look for in a church,” says Jin. “When they visit, many say our church is what they’ve been looking for but didn’t know existed. Our mission to the rest of the world is to invite others into that kind of diverse yet intimate way of being human.”

The church’s innovative initiatives are by no means limited to worship; they also are helping to transform the community and create leaders for the church.

Many mainline churches are “real-estate rich and people poor.” Church of All Nations has converted part of its facility into community housing, a practice that Jin encourages other churches to adopt. Currently, three young adults, including a parish intern, live rent free in the church building. All receive a modest stipend for the work they do for the church.

“This program has definitely livened up our young adult ministry,” Jin says. “By being a core community, our residents attract young people to the church. There is so much more life and activity and hanging out that happen at the church because people live there.”

This “high risk, low anxiety” church also offers a wider community housing program—currently with eight sites—through which church members live in a Christian community rooted in the daily life and ministry of the church.

Plans are also under way to launch “Underground Seminary,” an alternative form of theological education and rigorous training that will allow small cohorts of students to earn an unaccredited MDiv degree.

Such vision calls for our support, affirmation, and prayer, as together—with God’s help—we raise up and strengthen the next generation of leaders for a church yet emerging.

 

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