by Christine Hallenbeck, M.Div. Intern
Combine some fresh seminary ideas, a cross-country road trip and a Luther alumni brainstorming session, and you've got significant potential for innovative ministry.
The Abundant Life Together (ALT) Year is the result of such a combination.
After completing his first call in Moorhead, Minn., Josh Graber, '08, found himself on a visioning road trip. Ripe with ideas for young adult ministry, he landed at the home of classmates Katherine and Lars Olson, both '06, who were serving at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio.
"I saved my money from (my first) call, hit the road and drove around the country," Graber said of his pursuit to develop a program for young adults to share in intentional community and conversation while discerning their vocation through a Lutheran lens.
"Josh was passing through Toledo one time and stayed overnight with us," said Katherine Olson. "The next day, he spent the morning with us at our church. As we talked about our ministry in Toledo and he described his vision for ALT Year to us, things started to click and we realized—there's some real potential for partnership here!"
Since the conversations began, that partnership has developed into a nine-month discernment and service experience for young adults. ALT Year, now an ELCA Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community, began its first nine month experience in Toledo this summer. Graber is also in conversation with other potential sites around the country.
The experience will include opportunities in service leadership, independent projects and mentorships, exploration of devotional faith practices and a shared folk school-based curriculum.
"I've been working with young adult pastors and leaders in the church, especially Luther Seminary grads," Graber said, "to find texts and media and films that really speak to key theological concepts and that can ground this experience for these young adults."
This curriculum is largely modeled after that of Lutheran ministry Holden Village's Christian Life Enrichment Program for young adults, which was once run by Graber's parents.
"The church needs to find new ways to support and connect with young adults," Graber said, "and I hope this provides one way to do that. I hope we get even more creative in helping young adults grow in their faith."
Graber's vision for ALT Year began at a young age, as he grew up around the alumni of his parents' program. That vision came into even clearer focus during his time at Luther Seminary. He first formulated what ALT might look like while in a class with Emeritus Professor Rollie Martinson. He also created his own global perspective class while at Luther, during which he traveled to South Africa and Madagascar to study young adult communities that became models for ALT.
"It all started in a Luther Seminary classroom," Graber said, of the foreshadowing final paper he wrote for a course on ministry with single young adults. "It was the conversations I had at Luther and the connections I made at Luther that really helped form this idea."
Those continued conversations and connections have moved the ALT Year team's idea to action.
"Ten years ago, when we were in seminary together, Josh presented Lars and me with little notebooks and encouraged us to write down some of our ideas for 'reforming the church' in the inscription," Katherine Olson said. "I recently came across these notebooks and marveled that, all this time later, here we are doing something church-changing together!"