Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Transformation of Elk River, MN

Did you know that a small city in Minnesota is seen by thousands of people across the world as a model for how the spiritual transformation of a city can happen?

I recently met with Stephanie Klinzing, the Mayor of Elk River, MN. The city is 35 miles NW of Minneapolis, and has a population of about 23,000. Since 1996, pastors, business leaders, and government leaders have met weekly to pray for Elk River. Many things have grown out of the prayer and relationships. For example, a local bank was started that offered prayer as a free banking service. In 2004, the New York Times wrote a 10 page article about that bank and Elk River, as an example of the faith at work movement. Many churches in Elk River began seeing their congregation as not just their members, but everyone in the city. Churches collaboratively worked together to reach and care for everyone in the city. In 2000, a network called Love Elk River started to provide "individuals and families with spiritual and physical needs by offering them a relationship-based network of support." Earlier this year, they had a contest to see how many random acts of kindness people in Elk River could do in one month.

Those involved talk about how Elk River used to lead the nation in its per-capita teen suicide rate. After the prayer network had been active for a few years, there was a stretch of years where there were no teen suicides. The Mayor also talks in detail about the economic and safety benefits of this movement. But the primary indicator that the group is aiming for is "the elimination of systemic poverty."

I don't agree with everything about the approach that informs the Elk River movement. My approach would be more interfaith. At the same time, I know that I have a lot to learn from it. I'm especially drawn to prayer, relationship-building, and cultural change that works for the elimination of systemic poverty. Most spirituality in the U.S. is so individualistic and focused on the benefit to individuals. I'm excited about this approach, which also focuses its spirituality for the benefit of cities and nations. I'm very interested in helping connect folks in Elk River with researchers interested in tracking indicators in the city and helping evaluate the influence that this movement is having in the city. If you are interested, please let me know.

What do you think about the spiritual transformation of cities? Are you scared? Ready to call the ACLU? Curious? Inspired? Ready to sign up?


Anonymous said...

I love this article. Would you be willing to set aside a short amount of time and conference call with me and another person about this?

Brian G. said...

This post certainly captures my imagination, Michael; thanks for posting! My wife and have been pondering our next move after grad school, and have dreamed of some community peacebuilding work with a rich faith dimension, and this model certainly is something to pick apart and study.

Mary Ellen said...

Fascinating! A small community has different opportunities than might a large metropolitan community - it would be worth discussion, though, about what faith-based initiatives could do in our Twin Cities community.

Michael Bischoff said...

Thanks for the comments. I'm happy to talk more about what research in Elk River might look like, and also what similar faith-based initiatives in the Twin Cities we might be called to. You can reach me at michael@clarityfacilitation.com.

Elk River is a relatively cultural and religiously homogeneous place, but the International Transformation Network that they are a part of has inspired similar movements in places that are much larger and more diverse. The movement started in cities in Argentina, and has been active in Hawaii, San Jose, Indonesia, and many other places.

I'm going to a conference that the International Transformation Network is having in Elk River this July.

Kathleen Remund said...

Hey, Michael. As you're studying this process in Elk River, I'd like to suggest two pastors for you to talk with. One is Trish Greeves, the former pastor of Union UCC in Elk River. She is now a Doctor of Ministry student at United Theological Seminary and one of our adjunct faculty members.

The second is Dana Mann, the current pastor of Union UCC.