It’s long, it’s wordy. It’s what we did in 2010 and what 2011 has in store for The 99 Collective.
In April 2010, after attending the Glocal Mission Gathering in Eau Claire, WI, three young adults decided to collaborate on an effort to try to better connect the young adults in and around the ELCA who were working for a more just and inclusive world. Inspired by Accompaniment Theology, Katie Ernst of Minneapolis, MN, Ron Werner of Bend, OR and Bjorn Peterson of Seattle, WA agreed to begin work in creating a movement of young adult leaders who would collaborate in working to facilitate and practice Radical Hospitality. We placed a high value on diversity, creativity, accountability to one another, and action. The vision was to connect leaders in different communities and social locations who were already working in these areas. In part, the vision was to battle the loneliness and isolation many young adults in the church feel as they work out their vocations and calls to God’s peace through justice.
In June of 2010, we made a request to Sunitha Mortha and the Global Mission Unit for a grant of seed money in order to begin identifying, gathering, and organizing these young leaders. We used the ELCA social statements as a beginning point for conversation and quickly identified leaders in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Maryland. The group ranged in age from 18 to 33, college students to working professionals, seminary students to small business owners. The funds went to three main efforts. First was an initial gathering in Bend, OR in December of 2010 to share the vision of what we called The 99 Collective. We spent a weekend sharing our dreams and frustrations and affirmed one another in our common call to serve God, the church and the wider world in a way that was radical, inclusive, informed and accountable.
During the weekend, the 14 young adults who we refer to as the “core” worked out a strategy for beginning such a movement. We affirmed the need we saw in our communities and friends for such a group and the hunger we believed young adults and the broader church to have for living out the theological consequences of our faith in even more direct ways. We also agreed that living out the dream of God was difficult on our own and that we would all benefit from knowing who our collaborators were around the country. So we adopted as a mission statement the following: The 99 Collective is a young adult led movement of the church that seeks to practice and struggle for radical hospitality for all people.
With such a lofty goal, and the spread out nature of our new community, we agreed that a Web site might be a good place to begin to connect and inspire each other and the collaborators we hoped to attract. We contracted with one of our core members to construct a Web site to act as a hub of story telling, connecting, resources and challenge. She also plugged us in to multiple social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter. The site went live in early January 2011. Since we started posting in mid January we have had to date (today is Feb. 24) more than 23,000 post views on Facebook, about 2000 visits to the99collective.com and over 6000 pageviews on our site. We have published more than 50 posts and our goal for 2011 is a total of 600 posts from 50 different authors.
In order to further organize and develop strategy for 2011, and to connect this new group of young adults more directly to Accompaniment Theology and the many partners we have in this practice in the ELCA, our third budget expense was to gather the core in Chicago in January of 2011 at the GMG training event held by the Global Mission Unit. We participated in the group sessions, met with the Lutheran World Federation Youth Desk Director, planned further collaboration with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, connected with Youth in Global Mission alum, and shared vision with the hosts of the 2011 GMG sites. In our time as just the 99 collective, we affirmed our commitment to identifying young adult leaders of increasingly diverse backgrounds and to share our vision with them, including the Accompaniment Theology that so many of us were excited about.
To this end, we committed to having core members of The 99 Collective at each of the 2011 GMG events. In addition to attending, we are committing ourselves to finding and personally inviting ten young adults in each city/region to attend the GMG events. The goal is at least two-fold. First we want these young adults to know that they are not alone in their understanding of the gospel and the work they are called to do for the Kingdom of God. We will be teaching a workshop track on Radical Hospitality and the importance of creative collaboration at the GMGs.
Secondly, we want to expose the young adults to the other generations of collaborators in God’s justice that are in their communities and churches. People they likely do not have relationships with now, but with whom relationships would be mutually beneficial in the future. Although we are calling on young adults to take on new leadership roles, we do so in the humility of knowing the wisdom and experience of those who’ve gone before us in this work. We value the inter-generational nature of this work.
The 99 Collective has further plans in development for 2011. We have been asked by Sunitha Mortha to collaborate with Global Mission in developing the programming for the LYO gathering to be held sometime in 2011. We are eager to take an active role in connecting these new young leaders to ourselves and their own future in the church. In addition, The 99 Collective is in discussion with the Global Mission committee of the Oregon Synod regarding our planning and leading of a conference in the fall of 2011 in Oregon.
Next month, 10 of us will be traveling to the Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, DC and spending time with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Baltimore, MD. We will receive training and resources from LIRS to aid in our mutual efforts to show hospitality to our international guests and soon to be citizens. We will then participate in the conference where we plan to officially launch our publicity and efforts to connect. Thus far, we have had a kind of “soft opening” and the Ecumenical Advocacy Days are our “Grand Opening”.
The strategy and goal for all of this is to begin to empower new leaders in the church to reinvigorate our collective commitment to Jesus’ peace through justice. Thus far, we are not organizing specific actions on a national level as much as trying to teach and share stories of collaboration on local levels with diverse partners for the work of God’s justice. We believe that the most effective way to change our world is through relationships, not campaigns.
So, we are trying to create a new dialogue around relationship building using the language and theology of Accompaniment. We believe this dialogue will lead to action on the part of communities and it is our hope that through the actions of diverse communities we can begin to inspire the ELCA as well as other groups to take more active leadership roles in God’s work among us. To this end, we are doing our best to abandon the gloom and doom language many in the church use when talking about the future of the church and attempting to change the narrative through capacity building.
In the meantime, we hope to gather the three founders of this group in March to write curriculum for the GMG tracks, plan the year’s budget, explore creating a 501(c)(3) status, and further organize our efforts so that they are as transparent and accountable as possible. Thanks to all who have had a role in making this dream a reality for us and the many people who are already being challenged and inspired by our collective efforts.(CC)