…a doctor of ministry, that is! Let me explain…
God has a funny way of dropping hints to guide me on my life’s path. In the span for 24 hours, I received an email about the Doctorate of Ministry program at Andover Newton Theological School (ANTS), learned that the senior minister at my church successfully defended her dissertation to complete her D.Min at ANTS, and spoke with a friend pursuing her M.Div at ANTS about her wonderful classes. When I shared the potential of getting my D.Min with my husband, he suggested I focus my studies and dissertation on the planting of our brewery/church. Brilliant! Long story short, I applied and was accepted to begin at ANTS this fall, 2014.
The D.Min program takes about 3 years to complete (September 2014-May 2017). I will be taking about four classes a year. Some classes that I am interested in taking include: “Ella, Louie, and Love: The Spiritual Reservoir of Jazz”, “Leading from Within: Spirituality and Leadership”, “Interfaith Community Organizing and Congregational Life”, “The Healing Power of Joy, Celebration and a Play-full Life”, “The Option for the Poor and Faith in Practice: A Public Theology of Resistance and Solidarity”, and many more!
I am going to focus all of my classwork on planting an emergent church (specifically my dream of this brewery-church called “Agape Brewing Community.”
I feel called to pursue my D.Min at ANTS because I would like to explore the possibilities of church renewal and emergent church planting. I have seen more and more of my peers falling away from the church—no longer do they see the church as an instrument for change, love, peace, justice, or community. I hope to change that by redefining what church is. I hope to glean wisdom from classes, readings, papers, and discussions with faculty and classmates to more clearly articulate and formulate my response to the missing link that may connect more people, particularly young adults, back to church: planting a brewery-church called “Agape Brewing Community”- a purposeful community striving to become ever more like Jesus in both word and deed, a place where we can all gather around a delicious, flavorful, freshly brewed craft beer or soda with the purpose of evolving ourselves and changing the world.
In case you are curious, here’s the essay I wrote explaining what I’d like to study at ANTS!
In her book, “Christianity After Religion,” Diana Butler Bass describes how Christianity is changing and how people are questioning conventional patterns of faith and belief. She writes, “People are traveling new paths of meaning, exploring new ways to live their lives, experiencing a new sense of authenticity and wonder, and practicing new forms of community that address global concerns of human flourishing” (Bass 4). People are craving a spiritual space beyond institutions and a new kind of faith beyond conventional religious boundaries. I especially see these changes happening amongst young adults.
The American Religious Identification Survey of 2001 found that somewhere between 25% and 30% of adults under the age of thirty claim no religious affiliation. This makes me incredibly sad and worried. I am thirty years old, and I am disheartened by the fact that so few of my peers are involved in a church. But I understand why. People feel angry, abused, and neglected by the church. People increasingly identify Christianity as “antihomosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, out of touch with reality, overly politicized, insensitive, exclusive and dull” (81). The church is no longer seen as a place to live out the love of God in “practical, relevant, inclusive, and healing ways” (24).
But there are signs of longing in the midst of the discontent. I have witnessed the authentic spiritual longing of my peers. They long for a better kind of Christianity; they long to make a real difference in the world. Bass writes that “somewhere these young adults have evidently heard that Christianity is supposed to be a religion about love, forgiveness, and practicing what Jesus preached, and that faith should give meaning to real life” (87). People “might well go to church if they could find a community that embodied God’s love and mercy in practical and meaningful ways.” (26)
I have found that my peers are more apt to engage in a spiritual discussion at a bar over a beer than at a church in hard, wooden pews or in my cold, stuffy office. Young adults are not without problems but increasingly they are without the guidance and the support necessary to solve these problems. I know of many young adults who move to an entirely new region of the country without a network of support. In addition to not having family and friends to fall back on, they also no longer have the church—a community, a network of loving connections. I have not ever known the loneliness and fear of not having a church to guide me. I have always taken comfort in knowing that I would never be homeless or completely on my own because of my church. But I know plenty of people who do not have this kind of community. While my peers often gather together in places like yoga studios, breweries, wineries, clubs, or bars, none of those places create for them the kind of supportive community I have at church.
There is no doubt in my mind that the church is undergoing a historic transformation, a resurrection, an awakening. New things are emerging from the demise of the old. Bass writes that “only rare leaders have called for or ventured into the last stage of institutional renewal” (36). We need to “wake up, discern, imagine, do”; we need to awaken to a faith that fully communicates God’s love, “a love that transforms how we believe, what we do, and who we are in the world” (37). In order to do this, we need to listen to the needs of the world and try “to respond in hopeful and imaginative ways” (86).
If accepted to the D.Min Program at Andover Newton, I would like to explore the possibilities of church renewal and emergent church planting. At Andover Newton, I hope to glean wisdom from classes, readings, papers, and discussions with faculty and classmates to more clearly articulate and formulate my response to the missing link that may connect young adults back to church: Agape Brewing Community. It’s my dream—a place where we can all gather around a delicious, flavorful, freshly brewed craft beer or soda with the purpose of evolving ourselves and changing the world. Together as a community, we can discuss and share our thoughts, concerns, feelings, and musings on life. Together, we can speak out and step up for the issues we care about most in the world. This would be a new kind of church: a purposeful community striving to become ever more like Jesus in both word and deed.
This new church plant would be a community of people who genuinely care about one another. The doors of this church would be open to everyone. We would offer people an opportunity not only to worship God in an authentic and meaningful way, but also to make a difference in the community by working alongside others, sharing resources, and challenging one another to mature in faith and in character. Agape Brewing Community would be a place for us to practice this thing called love. Our community would be centered around openness, inclusiveness, acceptance, service, love, compassion, freedom, celebration, curiosity, learning, living,
togetherness, relationship-building, and authenticity. Agape would be a safe place to explore and to express God’s love, to wrestle honestly with questions of faith and life, and to be real with each other, with the world, and with God. Bass writes, “Faith seeks freedom and life for all to experience God on their own terms and in their own ways, and then allows for communal experiences and collaboration to build a better world” (22). At Agape Brewing Community, we could live out our individual faith by loving, praying, serving, and worshipping together.
The church has always been a family to me, and this is the idea I would try to convey at Agape Brewing Community. I hope for Agape to become a place where people can find love, friendship and help, a place where one can rely on other people and not just on oneself. It would not be a place of indoctrination, but a place for community. Agape can be a place where we share what we have and care for one another. Even though there may be disagreements, conflicts, problems and misunderstandings, just like in biological families and in all other aspects of life, Agape Brewing Community can be there to respond with love, forgiveness, understanding, and healing.
In a recent article from Harvard Divinity School, Professor Emily Click says students “have a deep concern for humanity. They observe injustice, suffering, inequality, and want to do something about it. They may want to be part of a wider project, one that emerges from community… I think many millennials are intrigued by Jon Stewart or John Oliver, because they operate with very impressive levels of wisdom. But their insights are often tainted by cynicism. I yearn for millennials to find a place where their tender hearts can bloom, inspired by others who are motivated by altruism and the greater good.” I feel so passionately called to make Agape Brewing Community that place, and to have my experience at Andover Newton Theological School help me make that place a reality.