A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary

Global Vision - Spring 2012

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Luther Seminary receives grant to explore hospitality in multifaith settings

by Kari Aanestad, M.Div. Senior

Luther Seminary, in partnership with Trinity Lutheran Congregation Minneapolis, recently received a grant from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) as part of a project to study Christian Hospitality and Pastoral Practices in a Multifaith Society (CHAPP). Luther is one of approximately 20 schools nationwide that was selected to receive a grant toward this work.

The project, initially launched by ATS in April 2010, is an effort to compile best practices and discuss issues to help member schools "develop ways to enhance their preparation of graduates to serve faithfully and effectively in multi-faith contexts."

The six-member team for this project is co-directed by Mary Hess, associate professor of educational leadership, and Christian Scharen, assistant professor of worship and theology.

The focus of the project is the pastoral practice of Christian hospitality as presence and accompaniment in Christian-Muslim engagement.

Other team members include Terri Elton, associate professor of Children, Youth and Family (CYF) Ministry and director of the Center for CYF Ministry, Tim Coltvet, coordinator of contextual learning and coaching in the CYF program, and Amy Swenson, current M.Div. student.

"Through this project, Luther Seminary students, faculty and staff are accompanying Trinity as they live out what it  means to be present in their multicultural neighborhood," says Elizabeth Flomo,'10, GMI/CCE project coordinator at Luther Seminary, who served at Trinity as an intern during her M.Div. degree, and is a member of the project team. "As Pastor Jane has often emphasized, being present often means assuming the role of guest, being in a place of not knowing, not controlling, while remaining open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the situation."

Trinity, a multi-ethnic congregation with members of European, Ethiopian, Eritrean and African-American descent, is located in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood known by many as "Little Mogadishu" (the capitol of Somalia) because of its high population of Somali immigrants, many of whom are Muslim.

In recent years, Trinity has become a leader in strengthening interfaith relationships with its Muslim neighbors. Their senior pastor, Jane Buckley-Farlee was recently awarded the Race, Church and Change award in recognition of her multicultural ministry.

"It is remarkable to watch Jane interact with our students," said Scharen. "Her clarity about the radical character of God's grace and her openness to ask what God is doing through all the changes in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood spark their imagination as they consider the challenges of ministry in a complex, pluralistic society."

This project seeks to deepen Luther's understanding of interfaith ministry, especially among Muslims, and integrate those learnings into the classroom. Project participants have already visited local organizations, taken part in guided reflection with Trinity staff, and held courses in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

Hess recently took her fall course "Learning in the Presence of Other Faiths" on a field trip to both Trinity and Darul Quba, a prominent mosque.

"Having Mary Hess' class visit in the fall was an excellent step into living out the grant," said Buckley-Farlee. "(It changed) the lenses through which the students' did their classwork. The ministries of (this diverse) congregation were real from the start."

"It was eye-opening for some of the students to recognize what it means to be a Muslim can be very different," Hess said.

"There is so much ideological pressure in America against Christians and Muslims being in relationship with one another. Trinity is unique in that it serves Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians, who are in a political conflict with Muslims in their home countries and yet live next door to them in America."

Grace Gravelle, M.Div. middler and class participant, said, "We learned that it's OK to not have things in common (with our Muslim neighbors) as long as we're also open to being changed by the conversation."

The willingness to engage in conversations around difference is a critical component to the work. Gravelle adds, "We really need to educate our pastors in a global world on how to do interfaith work. If we don't know how to talk with people of other faiths or understand those faith traditions, we're not being the open clay vessels that we are called to be—the carriers of God's love and mission."

The grant project will conclude this September when project co-directors Hess and Scharen attend an ATS consultation to discuss their work alongside other participating schools.