Story Magazine - Winter, 2010

Fair and Long: Trading Places

by Marc Hequet, Correspondent

How are we to be church in these times? Luther Seminary's Children, Youth and Family Ministry degree programs are exploring that question.

Two congregations agreeing to an experiment are sharply different: a 2,000-member parish in St. Louis Park, Minn., and, six miles distant, a 200-member inner-city church in north Minneapolis.

Anthony Fair and Keith Long, both Master of Divinity middlers and interns at the congregations, are the keys. "Where is God working?" Fair asks. "Where can I help today?"

Long adds advice derived from the Apostle Paul: "Be all things to all people."

Not much of a job description, is it? "They've had to be self-starters," acknowledges Terri Elton, director of Luther's Center for Children, Youth and Family Ministry. "We haven't told them what to do."

Yet with guidance from Elton and others at Luther, and from pastors at both churches, Fair and Long are making the arrangement work. Luther seminarians in Children, Youth and Family Ministry routinely get 20-month internships at one congregation. Fair and Long agreed to 10 months at each--and then, a trade.

Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis and Westwood Lutheran Church in adjacent St. Louis Park have a long-standing relationship, including joint youth activities. Yet the swap was a stretch.

Fair and Long themselves come from markedly different backgrounds. Fair, 47, a Marine veteran of the first Gulf War who grew up in New York City as a Roman Catholic, has worked as a singer, actor and dancer. Long, 30, grew up in St. Anthony Village, a Minneapolis suburb, and has a decade's experience in youth ministry.

What they have in common, though, is a skill for video. So as they set out on this odd mission, they decided to use it.

Fair started at Redeemer, Long at Westwood. An early joint video project worked well. At a Wisconsin autumn youth retreat in 2008--an event the two congregations had done together before--Fair and Long helped participants create video presentations showing young people's takes on a Bible study.

Other video projects faltered, however. Long says he and Fair have learned not to "assign" such projects to young people but instead to watch for kids who express interest--and who then can draw their peers into the project.

Luther Seminary's Children, Youth and Family Ministry program will keep experimenting with such staff-sharing models--and one such model may eventually work at your own church.

Fair and Long get praise from the Rev. Kelly Chatman of Redeemer, who calls the swap a "transformational vision for ministry." The Rev. Jason Van Hunnik, associate pastor at Westwood, agrees. The two churches "have a lot to learn from each other," says Van Hunnik. Fair and Long are "helping to move that along."

The context is fluid: Westwood was in a youth-director interim as Long arrived. When Fair joined the staff, Redeemer was expanding its youth ministry in cooperation with four other north Minneapolis congregations to encourage young people in regular worship and Bible study and to help them find jobs and develop leadership skills.

Fair, Pastor Chatman notes, organized an intergenerational Easter vigil with hip-hop as well as traditional music. Long is developing a Web site to promote youth ministry in the Minneapolis collaborative.

Chatman says another blessing on which Fair and Long have worked is combined confirmation events—including training and leadership in video, a confirmation retreat, a youth gathering and a banquet focusing on shared identity for youth ministry between the churches.

So how shall we be church? Such partnering may be the way--"sharing staff, overlapping ministries. Not saying 'our church has to do everything on its own.' This could be a way," says Elton, "to be church in the future."