Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Seminary classes for the rest of us

Year-old Faith in the City initiative provides them

A half century ago the then-prominent theologian and churchman J.B. Phillips wrote a seminal volume titled Your God is Too Small. Now a Twin Cities ministry initiative is telling local Lutherans the same may be true of their ministry-in-daily-life vision.

One of the advocates for “Seminary of the Streets,” now entering its second year of operation, put it directly. Said Mark Johnson, a lay ELCA churchman from Excelsior, “I think people live in a bubble — and don’t want to.” Johnson, a member of Mount Calvary Lutheran (ELCA) in Excelsior, helped launch Seminary of the Streets, an initiative of Twin Cities-based Faith in the City.

Along with Johnson, key players in getting Seminary of the Streets launched have included the Rev. Kelly Chatman, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in north Minneapolis, and the Rev. David Wangaard, until recently on the Minneapolis Area Synod staff.

Deb Hutterer is executive director of Faith in the City, a ministry consortium supported by Augsburg College (where her office is located), Fairview Hospitals, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, Luther Seminary, and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. The bishops of the two Twin Cities ELCA synods sit on the advisory board of the group.

Deb Hutterer

Helping non-theologically-trained Lutherans discover what it means to be serious disciples in realistic and practical ways can help get them “out of the bubble” where they sometimes too narrowly see their world.

Says Hutterer, “A key intention of Seminary of the Streets is to promote missional curiosity.” Helping non-theologically-trained Lutherans discover what it means to be serious disciples in realistic and practical ways can, she is convinced, help get them “out of the bubble” where they sometimes too narrowly see their world — and their opportunity to make a godly impact.

Few of the 221,000 Lutherans in the ELCA’s Minneapolis Area Synod will ever set foot on a seminary campus, much less enroll in courses there. Nevertheless, Seminary of the Streets offers an opportunity for people in the pews to learn — and get serious about — mission where the rubber hits the road.

Understanding community

The program is entering its second year in September. Hutterer says last year’s launch had her thinking small. “Honestly, I had hoped we could get five participants in a class. We ended up averaging 35 to 40 in each. We thought that was wildly successful.” Overall, more than 500 people participated at least once during the first class year.

Last year’s textbook for a series of eight once-a-month classes was the New Testament Book of Acts. The offerings were held in a variety of locations around Minneapolis, mostly in local church buildings. A field trip took participants to Concordia University, St. Paul. “We actually crossed the Mississippi River for that one,” Hutterer said with a laugh.

Faculty members were drawn from the Minneapolis Area Synod office staff, Luther Seminary, and Augsburg College, as well as including individuals with special expertise and who are serving Minneapolis congregations. The titles of some of last year’s classes indicate the wide spectrum of topics covered: “The Purpose of the Church in the World”; “Who is Living on the Streets?”; “Mapping Metro Disparities”; “Our Missional Imperative” (concerning immigration); “The Issue of Race”; “Homelessness.”

More than 20 congregations sent participants last year. The mix was gratifying to Hutterer, who was happy to see both urban and suburban churches getting involved.

Mark Johnson, the Excelsior layman who challenged Lutherans to find ways to get outside their bubble, has an entrepreneur’s way of looking at things. Thinking about Seminary of the Streets and its potential, he asked a provocative question (which he then proceeded to answer): Q. “If we were a factory, what would we produce?” A. “A new GPS that assists travelers by providing glimpses of the Kingdom of God among us.”

In a PowerPoint presentation she created for Seminary of the Streets, Hutterer says the program intends to cultivate “courageous discipleship.” She wants to see the age profile of participants expand in the second year to include more in the 18-29 demographic, which would complement the large segment of 50 and older, who are already on board. “Realistically, we know it’s harder for 30-50-year-olds to get involved. They have a more immediate ministry focus: caring for their still-at-home children.”

Seminary of the Streets is off and running for a second year. Topics for the new set of classes were not available as this article went to press. It was clear, however, that the focus on missional curiosity would continue to be an underlying concern. “Some people have [missional curiosity], Hutterer says, “but they don’t know how to step out. A community, like Seminary of the Streets, can help that to happen for them.”

For more information about Seminary of the Streets, call Hutterer at 612/359-6499, or send an e-mail message to huttered@augsburg.edu.

Fall class schedule

Session #2   “Reorienting Sacred Space:  Context, the Arts, and Change”
Date: Thursday, October 13th, supper at 5:15 pm, interactive “class” 6-8 pm
Location: Salem Lutheran at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis

Session #3 “Building the Beloved  Community: A Matter of Race & Grace”
Date: Thursday, November 10th, supper at 5:15 pm, interactive “class” 6-8 pm
Location: Shepherd of the Hills, 500 Blake Rd, Edina

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