The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Pressing the ALT button

In Toledo, young adults are called into alternative community

In a fast-paced world characterized by headphones, smartphones and text messaging, a small group of young adults are being called to Toledo, Ohio, to live and learn in a monastic-like setting so they might deeply understand their faith and ability to change the world—and help grow the church.

Called Abundant Life Together, or ALT, it will initially gather (and eventually house) 12 men and women ages 18 to 25 in St. Paul Lutheran Church in downtown Toledo for ninth months starting in September. The goal is to set up ALT communities in sites across the country.

Though no one is connecting the two, the ALT acronym may prove a prescient marketing effort since "alt" is also Internet slang for the "alternate" command on a computer keyboard, which has become young people's shorthand for communal experiences.

Everything old is new again
The ELCA's ALT vision is as old as the tradition of giving oneself to spiritual rather than worldly pursuits, and as recent as the 150-year-old Scandinavian folk high school model of allowing students to learn for life by growing individually, socially and academically in small learning communities.

The community learning model calls on young people to participate in a "Great Books" philosophy of learning through conversation, and to delve into topics such as rhetoric, self-awareness, critical thinking and social justice. The young people will sign an oath of good behavior, including refraining from pursuing sexual relationships with each other.

ALT participants will also volunteer more than 30 hours each month to community service and outreach.

Josh Graber, a mission developer who is spearheading ALT, aims to bring back the kind of communal program that young people experienced when his grandparents and parents served at Holden Village, a retreat center high in the Cascade Mountains of north central Washington, accessible only by boat.

The village, based on the Scandinavian folk high school model known as Folkehogskoler, helped young people focus on seeing beyond the obvious in other people and the world. Holden Village became renowned as a place where people could grow and challenge each other theologically, and produce new ideals of mission and theology.

Graber's grandfather, Carrol Hinderlie, was Holden's first director. His father, John Graber, was a key educator; his grandmother and mother, Mary Hinderlie and Elise Graber, were co-leaders.

Other ministry models include the Highlander Folk School in New Market, Tenn.; discipleship training schools and College of Nations run by Youth With A Mission; and the Tombotsoa School in Antsirabe, Madagascar.

Forming leaders
Such courageous leadership is more important than ever now, said the younger (Josh) Graber, who is called by the New England Synod in partnership with the Northwestern Ohio Synod and ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission.

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