By Chloe Ahlf
Six years ago, I sat down with Meredith Pain, Rachel Manz and Megan Henry for the first time. We had all, separately, approached the pastors about a ministry group within Gloria Dei that focused on young adults. Nothing existed. So, Pastor Lois brought the four of us together to dream up something ourselves. One thing was certain: we wanted community with the other young adults we saw scattered around the edges of the church. We saw each other in worship, on committees, in the choir, passing through the hallways in and out of the church building, but we had no meaningful connection with one another. We wanted these other young adults to be a central part of our life as church, together.
Six years later, this group has become church. We named ourselves the 20-Somethings/30-Somethings, though we often refer to ourselves simply as “Gloria Dei Young Adults,” and our events appear in my phone as “Young Lutherans.” Our numbers fluctuate, as faces come and go. We’ve welcomed people new to the church, new to the neighborhood, new to Minnesota. We’ve said goodbye to members who moved across the country for new jobs or school. Sometimes people simply stop coming, and we ask one another if we’ve heard from them, hoping they are well.
And, along the way, I’ve witnessed something magic: the church in action. The living, breathing church as we all yearn to witness it. This motley crew of people have helped one another through everything, from unemployment, divorce and toxic job situations, to difficult neighbors, break ups and tough decisions about school or living situations. We’ve also joyfully celebrated with one another as we got married, graduated, got promoted, had babies, bought houses and more.
We gather once a month for food and drink. When we gather, we experience radical hospitality as we welcome new people, support one another, ask difficult questions, laugh and make playful bets, seek advice and offer help. I often look around and marvel at the group: We have one thing in common, one thing that brought us all here – our love and longing for a church community. If not for this, this ragtag crew would never have connected. Our lives sprawl in every different (and often opposite) direction. But for one night each month, we unite over our love for the church.
Last year when I made the extremely difficult decision to take a temporary absence from the church, the only thing I knew for certain was that I wouldn’t leave behind my young adult crew. I tearfully told them about my decision to take a step back from church life. Without questioning, they supported me immediately. And since then, they’ve offered support, caring and understanding as I continue to grapple with my relationship to the church. This group, my young Lutherans, have kept me tethered to this hope that church can be a place of beauty, healing, acceptance, compassion and love without judgement. I witness all these things every time we get together.
When we gathered on Tuesday, March 10, more than 10 of us crammed together into a booth at Groveland Tap. We laughed together, asked about our jobs, what support we needed, our plans for the summer. A few of us talked about having lunch together in the coming weeks or helping each other with projects. Although we made bets about the pandemic, I don’t think any of us realized that this would be the last time in quite some time that we would laugh together face-to-face, and feel the warmth not only of so many people squished together in the corner of a restaurant, but also the warmth of the love that passes from person to person in our little but fierce community.
On April 14, many of us logged in to a Zoom call. From across screens, we asked each other about which things we are fearful, and the ways we now find joy. As always, we offered support both in prayerful and tangible ways. A member who couldn’t log into the Zoom call texted me: “Tell everyone I miss them. I hope to see you all soon.”
As our entire church community has witnessed in the past few months, God doesn’t call us to stay inside the church building. I learned that over the past six years as this small, often broken, always loving, group of people met in restaurants and homes – and now computer screens – across the Twin Cities. Even in a pandemic, we can create a healing, compassionate community. We can be church.
If you are a young adult (20-something/30-something) who seeks a community within the church, we welcome you. Please contact Chloe Ahlf at firstname.lastname@example.org. While we all continue to find our way through the pandemic, sometimes with great clumsiness, one thing is certain: you are welcome here.