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Breathing life into old connections

Lutheran colleges invest in building relationships with local congregations

As with many areas of life, the way in which Lutheran institutions of higher learning develop and nurture relationships with congregations and their members is undergoing some changes, while many basics remain the same. Metro Lutheran asked staff people with these responsibilities at local colleges and universities about their roles and some of the activities involved.
Concordia University
St. Paul, Minnesota
“As director of church relations at Concordia University, St. Paul, it is my job to connect the mission and ministry of the university to congregations,” said Amy Scholz. “This is done by providing guidance, leadership, and programming that facilitates beneficial relationships and collaborations between our university and its congregational communities.”

Amy Scholz, director of church relations at Concordia University, St. Paul, greets a delegate at the 2010 Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod Convention in Houston. Photo provided by Concordia University, St. Paul

The definition of community at Gustavus has always been broadly understood to include both internal as well as external relationships.”

She added, “I oversee strategy, planning, and implementation of a comprehensive outreach process to Lutheran constituencies for the purpose of enhancing partnerships, relationships, student recruitment, congregational support, and identification of benefactors. I coordinate university representation at circuit, district, and synodical events within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I also host events for pastors, church workers, and laity.
“The relationship we have with our congregations is vital. Those wonderful people in the pews are our alumni, volunteers, potential students, parents, grandparents, and benefactors. The pastors and staff at congregations are our family in Christ, As we do our best to become a resource for them, they, in turn, become a resource for us through connections, referral of students, and ideas in ways to continue our relationship with them.
“I work in partnership with many departments on campus — our Oswald Hoffmann Institute for Christian Outreach, Office of Admis- sion, University Advancement, Campus Ministry, our College of Vocation and Ministry, Music Department, and faculty, staff, and students, just to name a few. They help share Concordia’s story with congregations in a variety of ways — by our music groups going to congregations to perform in a concert to Concordia hosting a kickball tournament in our Dome over Sea Foam Stadium for youth in congregations.”
Gustavus Adolphus College
St. Peter, Minnesota
Grady St. Denis, director of church relations at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, said, ”At Gustavus the role of the church relations effort is primarily to oversee the organization and governance structure of the Gustavus Adolphus College Association of Congregations (GACAC), attending to the life and growth of those relationships, and working with congregation and synod leaders to develop resources of benefit to the congregation. Over two decades of steadily building on these resources, we have developed quite a menu of ways we serve the congregation.”
St. Denis traced the history, noting that the Gustavus Association of Congregations was formed in 1989. Currently there are more than 540 member congregations of the association, the largest of its kind in the ELCA.
St. Denis commented, “The GACAC Retreat Center (17 beds) is used for adult groups and the Youth Hostel (four private suites each with a living room and 20 beds) is reserved for confirmation and other youth retreats.
“More than 80 percent of Gustavus students are involved in our programs, which also engage more than 500 ELCA congregations and numerous corporate and other community partners. The definition of community at Gustavus has always been broadly understood to include both internal as well as external relationships.”
Asked about the importance of these relationships, St. Denis said, “This work is important for many reasons. To begin with, it is central to the mission and identity of Gustavus. We cannot be Gustavus if we are not living from our Swedish and Lutheran roots. This work is also important because in some ways the wider view of the vineyard has been lost and when we work together all of us step into a greater possibility and reality of community.
“We have a phrase that guides our work at Gustavus: ‘Make Your Life Count.’ For me, this is a reminder that I have been created by God for a purpose and to stay focused, making the most of both the moment before me and the whole of my life’s work that others may be blessed by my life.”
Concordia College
Moorhead, Minnesota
The primary church relations and congregational liaison person at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, is the director for the Office of Vocation and Church Leadership (VCL), Tom Schlotterback. “The creation of the office was in response to shifting landscapes, both internal and external, with regard to church relations, interfaith relations, and lifelong learning,” he explained.

“Of course, the bottom line is always attracting students and hopefully friends and financial support!”

“Our new Forum on Faith and Life and Office of Vocation and Church Leadership will work closely to cultivate public conversation and exploration about questions of community life, faith, service, and ultimate concern. With a true spirit of collaboration, creative entrepreneurship, and highest possible scholarship, the Forum will seek to breathe life into the valued relationship between Concordia, the church, and world. The Forum aims to be an accessible resource of research, publication, lifelong learning opportunities, and inspiration for the ELCA, its synods, and its congregations within the college’s corporation territory and beyond.
“The Office of Vocation and Church Leadership, the Concordia Dovre Center for Faith and Learning, and the department of religion team together in serving area clergy of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod in what is called the Pastor-to-Pastor Program. This is a supportive ministry network for pastors designed to care for body, mind, and spirit of participants. Program features include lifelong learning gatherings and monthly colleague groups.”
Augsburg College
Minneapolis, Minnesota
David Wold of Augsburg College, Minneapolis, explained, “When I came to Augsburg as college pastor, President Charles S. Anderson and I saw possibilities for connecting with congregations in creative ways, given our location in the midst of hundreds of congregations. When the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America came into being, we had the choice of ownership by the national church or by synods. We chose to be owned by four synods that contained 700 congregations within a quick reach of our campus — Minneapolis Area Synod, Saint Paul Area Synod, Southeastern Minnesota Synod, and Northwest Synod of Wisconsin.
“The Augsburg Youth Ministry Round Table ran for well over 20 years and … was a monthly opportunity for growth and renewal of a sizable number of young professionals and volunteers.
“The Augsburg Congregational Basketball League and Tournament runs in church gyms in January and February with a big tournament at Augsburg in March. We celebrated the 20th year this year, and we have about 1,000 people involved as players, coaches, and gym coordinators each year
“A Young Adult Ministry Center provides housing for young adults to live in while moving into the Twin Cities or while in transition. We also had a great deal of programming and worship opportunities for young adults of the Twin Cities.
“Other activities include orientations and trainings for church councils, confirmation retreats, Youth Ministry Days with recreational and educational programming, concerts, Urban Plunges, Augsburg Alternative Summer Youth Gatherings — several days of music, education, and service opportunities. Habitat for Humanity partnerships with congregations and Food and Shelter Partnerships with congregations and agencies. …
“Of course, the bottom line is always attracting students and hopefully friends and financial support!”
St. Olaf College
Northfield, Minnesota
Janet Thompson is with the Office of Advancement and College Relations at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. “My portfolio includes church relations as well as some other supervisory and administrative responsibilities for our division,” she explained. “I see my role as connecting St. Olaf College to the larger church in ways that are beneficial to both. While the office of the college pastor tends to the internal needs of the community, church relations looks outward.
“In the broadest terms, I am a touch point, a point of contact or connection between the church and the college as well as being a source of information and networking. Roles include hosting a biennial conference on worship, theology, and the arts; working with our Lilly grant to place summer interns in inner-city congregations in the Twin Cities; administering the Philip N. Knutson Endowment grants; overseeing the selection and awarding of two existing scholarship funds for St. Olaf graduates who pursue an MDiv at an ELCA seminary; hosting church groups on campus — from congregation councils to VBS groups and youth groups.”
While many things change in church relations work, some things remain the same. Mark Johnson of Edina, Minnesota, a former Director of Admissions at Augsburg, related how important touring college musical groups — choirs, bands, and quartets — have been. The young musicians make friends in congregations they visit and often stay in the homes of members, making additional friends for the college. Johnson told the story of a touring Augsburg musician who lost his shoe as he ran to catch his bus. A local high school student stopped to help him. As the story goes, when it came time to choose a college, that high school student chose Augsburg “because of a lost shoe.”

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