Ministry in Context

Director's Word: Spotlight on Intern Tom Westcott and St. Mark's Pub Theology Project

Since Christmas, I’ve been writing in this space about "getting involved with what God is doing." It is a way to think both about the identity and purpose of the church, and of the call of our lives as God’s beloved. It is also a way of re-framing mission from something we "do" (now, or then) to something we "are" (all the time). It is easy for me to see what God is doing loving the world—I just need to listen to our interns from Luther Seminary! They are getting involved in what God is doing in the world. They know God is at work loving and reconciling the world, doing justice and offering mercy, healing, forgiving, and raising from the dead. And so are they, in partnership with the congregations they serve. Here is the latest installment, then, showing how our interns and their congregations are getting involved in what God is doing in the world.

[Tom] knew he had an intern project to plan, and wanted it to emerge organically out of listening to the hopes and fears of the people he is called to serve. [...] Tom went out to talk to community members, from as diverse locations as the police station and local bars. From all this listening and study, he determined a clear need was an opening up, a continual reformation of the church. He heard a desire for a place ordinary people could risk talking about their faith, questions they have, and convictions they’ve come to. Around the same time, he ran across a book by Brian Berghoef called "Pub Theology." The match between need and project was struck.

This month, I’ve talked to Tom Westcott, Intern Pastor at St. Mark’s, North St. Paul. Tom blogs at Insights from the Intern, a wonderful conversation I encourage you to check out.

I was captured by Tom’s internship project: to start and regularly host Pub Theology as a public gathering for conversation about life and faith.

Tom loved the class he took at Luther called "Reading the Audiences," fondly referred to as RTA. The course requires students to study a congregation and community, asking what God is up to in the life of a particular church and context. Then from this listening and learning, students ask what God is calling them to do next, and plans a leadership project imagining they were a new leader in the community. This seemed to Tom a wonderful process to repeat as he began internship, partly to take the disciplined time to learn more about his congregation, St. Mark’s, and their context in North St. Paul. But further, he knew he had an intern project to plan, and wanted it to emerge organically out of listening to the hopes and fears of the people he is called to serve. As with RTA, Tom went out to talk to community members, from as diverse locations as the police station and local bars.

From all this listening and study, he determined a clear need was an opening up, a continual reformation of the church. He heard a desire for a place ordinary people could risk talking about their faith, questions they have, and convictions they’ve come to. Around the same time, he ran across a book by Brian Berghoef called Pub Theology. The match between need and project was struck.

The first months were bumpy, but soon, with the opening of the local Big Wood Brewery, they hit a stride. Tom boldly propositioned the owners and they were excited to host St. Mark’s Pub Theology. They meet during regular hours, the last Thursday of the month from 6:30-8:30. They get an attendance of 15-25, and regular interest from strangers and staff.

St. Mark's Pub Theology topics are broad, and fostered by quotes and questions Tom prepares in advance. One month was Reformation in the church: what needs keeping, what needs reform? Tom says their focus is "on being out in the public with their faith, not cloistered away. We’re trying to show faith is happening in unexpected places!"

Not surprisingly, the demographics are an under-forty crowd, but they’ve had attendees who range into the upper 70s and even 80s! Most are also Sunday attenders, but the group has been a portal for people in the community to connect with the church-they attend Pub Theology first, to check it out, and only risk attending church later.

I loved listening to Tom’s story about ministry with the people of St. Mark’s. I hope others of you are willing to ask yourselves how your lives, your ministries, your communities, are getting involved with what God is doing. How are you, as those who belong to Jesus, empower by the Holy Spirit, sent into the world to share God’s love? In the face of grinding poverty, of the degradation of creation, of intolerance, of great hurt and illness, of deep shame and brokenness, how are you loving the world in response? Write me a note and share your story!

Peace,

Chris

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