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Ministry in Context

Sharing Voices: Spotlight on Intern Matthew Fleming and Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd's #iam_ Project

Matthew Fleming, a Luther Seminary M.Div., is currently serving as the Pastoral Intern at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Minneapolis with Pr. Debra Samuelson. Last month, Matthew wrote a unique reflection on the congregation's beautiful digital ministry project, the #iam_ Project. Although the Lenten season is now behind us, we hope you will enjoy Matthew's reflection on this smart and thoughtful project.

The #iam_ Project began with a team of staff and lay members of the congregation that met weekly to plan for Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd’s change to the Narrative Lectionary. As we rounded the corner of the Old Testament and moved toward the year of John, we noticed the peculiar claims of Jesus. Jesus says, “I am,”—ego eimi in Greek—reaching all the way back to the burning bush where God revealed a name to Moses in four fragile letters, YHWH. God is a verb—and a slippery verb at that!

With a talented group of artists, teachers, marketers, and a couple lousy pastors around the table, we came up with an idea. We would invite the congregation to give us forty days, to explore the story of this man who says, “I am,” defying empire and culture. And then we would invite our own congregation to say, “I am,” in the face of all of the forces that claim our allegiance, that define us, that try to brand us with their identity.

Participants in The #iam_ Project have taken “selfies,” either with their cell-phones or in a home-made photo booth. By taking selfies, people are able to claim who they are, tweeting to the hashtag, #iam_. The results have been surprising. People of all ages, tweeting who they are, witnessing to God in their lives, and articulating their own #iam_ claims.

Through self-expression, and social media, we have claimed our identity as God’s heirs to the great promise of I am. We have filled in the blank of #iam_ with our identities as people of God, refreshed to live a better way and called to serve people around us.

Throughout this process, we are also redefining what it means to be a part of Christian community. We live-streamed our services to college students living abroad, people who had never walked in the doors of our church, and to a senior housing cooperative. By creating channels of conversation between digital natives and digital learners, younger generations have taught older members of our congregation what it is like to live in a world that is marked by constant connectivity. Likewise, younger members have engaged in intentional conversation with their elders.

The final product of The #iam_ Project is a reredos designed by two artists our congregation, Linda and Brita. Throughout the season of Lent, people have added their selfies, both from Twitter and from our in-house photo booth. As Linda and Brita say in their own words, “This wall, created out of wire fencing, becomes invisible from a distance. It symbolizes God as the supporting armature in our lives. We can’t see God, but God is always here, in this life, and with us in every moment. The “selfies” we hang on this wall will move with the slightest breeze, symbolizing the Holy Spirit actively present in our lives, the very moving presence of I AM.”

The most surprising fruits of this experiment in digital ministry have been the Tweets each week. Parents and teenagers contribute together in digital space. Project participants have witnessed to an unfathomable promise, that Christ abides in our deepest questions of, “Who am I?” and offers a promise and a challenge: I am.

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