by Casey Dunsworth
In our recent “Intro to Advent” conversation, I reflected with our six young adults in the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network about my love for the Christmas carol O Holy Night. I find it deeply moving and instructive. “A thrill of hope / the weary world rejoices / for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” This year, like years before it, our world is weary. As Christians, we take heart in the coming Christ child, whose light shines in our present darkness. As Advent turns into Christmas turns into another year of life in God’s world, it will be up to us to continue to reflect that light.
The carol continues, in a later verse: “truly he taught us to love one another / his law is love and his gospel is peace / chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother / and in his name, all oppression shall cease.” The service of God in our neighbor, engaging in the hard work of the gospel in every season, is what LEVN is all about. A year of service with LEVN invites young adults into the challenge of intentional Christian community, simple living, social justice, and vocational discernment. Serving in non-profit organizations, social service agencies, and congregations, LEVN-eers engage directly with people and programs that are addressing the injustices in our community. Living in intentional community, LEVN-eers develop relationships built on communication, empathy, and mutual vulnerability.
LEVN-eers serve in organizations in the Sacramento area that work to eradicate hunger and homelessness; they increase access to education and technology for low-income families; they minister to children, youth, and other young adults; they create community within their placement sites and in their home, together. They pray, eat, learn, and laugh together. As peers, they build on one another’s wisdom as they make similar decisions about their emerging adulthood. They wonder about graduate school, job applications, letters of recommendation, interviews, and how to make their working lives meaningful to themselves and to the world.
When a new group of LEVN-eers moves into our community, we spend a week in orientation. We get to know one another, we explore the neighborhood, and we anticipate the arc of the year together. During this time, LEVN-eers draft a Rule of Life (modeled after those of monastic communities) setting up their intentions for this year of common life. They schedule weekly dinner and prayer practices, they organize household chores, they set expectations for hospitality, relationships, and conflicts. More than just roommates, LEVN-eers are a community of care—and that takes work. They have come together from all over the country, with different life experience and different worldviews.
LEVN-eers learn to recognize the connections between their Christian faith and the world in which they live. One LEVN alum recently wrote,
“I pursued a degree after LEVN to help me better understand systems of oppression (misogyny, white supremacy, classism, ableism, etc.) and now am pursuing a vocation that focuses on transforming systems of oppression and empowering others to see the value of this work too.”
As a ministry to young adults in the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, LEVN is poised to form faith-informed leaders across industries. LEVN alums go on to become Episcopal priests, Lutheran pastors, non-profit professionals, lay leaders, nurses, teachers, and even LEVN placement site supervisors. The connection to community and to a life of service is nurtured here.
College students are graduating into an uncertain world. There are problems to solve, wounds to heal. A year of service can provide time and space for exploration, without the pressure of deadlines or the fast pace of a corporate environment. Many of the young adults who come through our program arrive unsure what they want to do with their lives. We dedicate time to discernment, introducing them to opportunities they might otherwise never have encountered. We’ve also had the blessing of watching dedicated young adults blossom in their known vocations, taking the next step toward ministry, social work, or other helping professions. Some LEVN-eers have spent a few years in the workforce, but found themselves losing steam, or not feeling passionate about their careers. These folks find refuge in this year dedicated to finding that direction, listening to where God might be calling them—often to places they never expected to go.
One LEVN alum said,
“LEVN provided me with the direction I needed at the time to figure out where my life was going to lead after the completion of the program. The leaders of the program provided support in the forms of their time and energy to help me get to where I am currently, which is working at a large Episcopal church.”
As pastor to LEVN’s, it is my duty and my joy to accompany these young adults through this year in whatever shape that takes. Sometimes we work to heal church burns; sometimes we crack world-views wide open; sometimes we light a candle we didn’t know had gone out.
LEVN is part of a Reconciling in Christ ministry, and as such strives to be a brave space for young adults across the spectrum of identity. We recognize that many young adults have been raised in religious communities that did not see them as whole, beloved members of the Body of Christ. We recognize, too, that our denominations are far from blameless in continued sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination. For many LEVN-eers, this year of living in community is crucial to forming their identity as children of God, just as they are. One alum reflected on their growth in our program, saying “LEVN allowed me to have a genuine relationship with God and it helped me believe that God loves me as me.”
This Advent season, as we start anew, we have the opportunity to be co-creators with God in a more beautiful and just world. Dedicating a year to service of God in our neighbor is one way to continue that calling.
LEVN is part of the Episcopal Service Corps network of programs across the country. Our common application opened on December 1, and applicants are reviewed on a rolling basis. The first round of offers will be made on #FirstOfferFriday, February 1. Applicants can take ESC’s Discernment Quiz as part of their prayerful consideration of which programs might be the best fit.
The Rev. Casey Dunsworth was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2016. A lifelong Californian, she is an alumna of California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley. She serves in ecumenical ministry as pastor of The Belfry, which houses the Lutheran Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis and LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network. She lives with her husband in nearby Woodland, CA.
image from the Belfry Facebook page