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Creating space for new community

Creating space for new community

A few years ago I attended an intergenerational worship conference. Its focus was on exploring how younger generations experience worship at church. One of the speakers at the event was a rabbi from a local temple in Chicago. She told us that her congregation holds a “Sushi and Shabbot” event every Friday night for the mostly young professionals that walk past their building after work. Everyone is welcome to stop in and grab some dinner, even non-members. After they have sushi, everyone is invited to a traditional Shabbot service.

Women networking at a Chocolate Lounge Event at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Middletown, Ohio. April 2013

The rabbi told us that the members of the congregation support this event financially, and that the funding for it is included in their overall budget. The members understand that the young adults may not join their congregation or may not even be Jewish. Nonetheless, this congregation provides a space for sharing and building a new community.

One way that Women of the ELCA creates entry points for women of younger generations is through networking events.

These events are designed to be offered at times and locations that are convenient for women of younger generations, many times outside of church. This space is set aside for young adult women to connect with each other. Some of the women who gather have a church community but most of them don’t. In this space, women engage in conversations about what it’s like being a new mom, a student in seminary, newly married or a single woman who just moved for her first “real” job. Women connect over desserts and sometimes wine, although there is always a non-alcoholic “mocktail” that is offered.

In this space we also talk about Café, Women of the ELCA’s on-line magazine for young adult women whose writers are mostly young adult women in ministry. We share what “WELCA” does, and the women can learn about the ministries in which Women of the ELCA is engaged. Often we invite Women of the ELCA grant recipients to meet the women and talk about their organizations. Or we give participants a tangible object that symbolizes what our grants program does, such as a candle made by one of our grantees.

These events provide an important opportunity for staff and existing leaders to meet young adult women and to learn ways that we as a women’s organization can grow together. A networking event may not bring a woman to contact the churchwide office in Chicago to find an active Women of the ELCA unit or show up in the congregation’s pews next Sunday, but they will know a little bit more about what it means to belong to a larger community of women—a community that supports women and girls of all ages, a community that can feed them spiritually, a place where they can feel like they belong.

How can you create community?

  • Identify a need. Do students use the church’s parking lot? Maybe you can provide a space for students to stop by before their evening commute. Are there new members that may be interested in getting more involved with your women’s group? Do you have space for a new moms group? Or an exercise spot?
  • Find a time and space. If your church has a central location in your town, is there a part of the building that is open for use? Is there a pub or café where you could hold an “everyone is welcome” drop-in, small-group conversation (boldcafe.org provides perfect discussion starters)? Can your quilting group offer a beginners quilting class for the whole community every month?
  • Invite broadly. Once this time and space is set, make sure people know it’s there—put it on Facebook and your website.

This article, written by Elizabeth McBride, appears in the May issue of Interchange.