By: Christa Meland
What could a weekly experience look like that makes you come alive? What opportunities, education, or experiences will help you get involved? If you had $1 billion, how would you make your community more just? And what keeps Minneapolis from acting and living justly?
Fifty people—mostly Millennials who live in or near the area—gathered at the Powderhorn Recreation Center in Minneapolis on Sunday evening for a “Friendraiser” to discuss those four questions and to help shape the future of New City Church, which Rev. Tyler Sit is planting in the Phillips-Powderhorn neighborhood. The event was facilitated by local nonprofit Midtown Community and co-hosted by Uptown Church, another United Methodist church start in Minneapolis. (Churches are being planted throughout Minnesota thanks to funds being raised through the Reach • Renew • Rejoice initiative for congregational development.)
“I saw this event as one really great, fun way for us to be able to hear how we might be a blessing to people,” Sit said. “For any leader, it’s a question of maintaining a vision and passionately pursuing that vision while constantly informing that vision and strategy with narratives of people living and working on the ground.”
Most of the two-hour event was spent in brainstorming sessions with those very people. But first, Sit cast a vision for a church that’s focused on environmental justice, which he describes as the intersection between racial, economic, and ecological justice.
Environmental injustice, he told attendees, “grieves the heart of God,” and “God is calling for resurrection here and now.”
He said New City Church will launch this fall with two components: a weekly evening worship experience inside a home and social justice formation opportunities that teach people hard skills they can employ to make a difference in their communities—for example, fundraising or community organizing.
Those ideas resonated with attendees, who chose which of the four key questions they most wanted to discuss and then sat in small groups to talk about them. They shared their ideas with each other and wrote them on Post-it notes that were pasted on the wall for all to see. All of the ideas on the Post-its will be compiled into an e-book that’s e-mailed to all attendees and that will help Sit as he continues to form New City Church.
Small-group discussions touched on a wide variety of topics. Many expressed a desire for worship services to be a co-created experience rather than a spectator event—and Sit said he’s looking at spiritual exercises like art meditations, journaling, and discussions about sermons in order to fulfill that desire.
When talking about challenges people in the Minneapolis mission field are facing, attendees cited isolation, college debt, housing segregation, food scarcity, power dynamics, the high cost of health care, apathy, and busyness. But they also talked passionately about their hopes and dreams for their neighborhoods—including safe spaces where people can build community, holding each other accountable to work for justice, creating practical connections between worship and service, partnering with groups already working toward equality, and intentionally bringing people of different races, classes, and backgrounds together.
“This was not just a leader sitting in front of a room and telling people, ‘here’s the vision—it’s my way or the highway,’” said Sit. “A Friendraiser is about exploring the stirrings you feel in your heart. From your context and particularity, you then decide how you want to participate, whether that’s sharing ideas on a Sunday evening or investing more deeply.”
Sit said many people came up to him at the end of the event and said New City Church is where they want to grow spiritually.
Toward the end of the event, participants were invited to reflect on the experience and offer words of encouragement to Sit. One young man said he’s not interested in traditional church experiences with organs and robes, but he loves New City Church’s focus on social justice and wants to be part of it. Other attendees echoed that sentiment, and many said the Friendraiser stirred up their passion.
“The fire is re-ignited,” one person said. “I actually have hope in Christianity again,” said another.
“I think God showed up in serious ways,” said Sit. “The Holy Spirit really invigorated that room.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church