The Suburban Frame

The-SuburbsThe DITB research question has two basic parts. First, it asks the spiritual formation/adult education question: How might an increased awareness of the social Trinity impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation? This part of the question has no particular demographic focus to it. It could be asked of anyone, anywhere. I have addressed my approach to this half of the question in the Spiritual Formation frame.

Now we must address the second half of the question: How might this look in suburban ELCA congregations? This phrase begs the question: Why the suburban ELCA? I have argued that knowledge is communally constructed. Further, I will argue in chapter three that a reasonably adequate Christian theology is done in, with, under, against, and for the local congregation. Therefore, in order to address the research question, it was necessary to engage a particular group of people from within particular congregations within a particular geographical setting. I have also stated, in chapter one, that I am a pastor in a suburban ELCA congregation, and have lived my entire life in the suburban context. I chose this context because it is important to me to learn more about the people within my own context so that I might be able to provide better leadership in missional spiritual formation. I acknowledge that the research done in this project was specific to the nineteen members of the RT. However, I will argue again, with Mary Hess, that it is my hope that “the pursuit of universal truths would become the pursuit of highly specific truths that yet have the ability to speak to myriad difference.”[1] Therefore, we must situate the RT within its particular socio-geographical location.

The DITB project is the story of nineteen people from three suburban ELCA congregations in the upper Midwest United States.[2] Each individual member of the RT has his or her own story and self-identity that has been shaped by the stories and experiences that have preceded him or her in time. Each team member’s story and self-identity was situated within a particular congregation at the time of research. Those particular congregations are living organisms that have their own particular self-identity that has been shaped by its preceding stories and is currently being shaped by the communicative action of the constituent members. Each particular congregation represented on the team is similar to the others in that they each share in the larger story of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). While the ELCA affiliation creates similarities among the three congregations, each of them differ from the others in three significant ways. First, each congregation is situated in a particular municipality that also has a self-identity that is shaped by its preceding stories and the current communicative action of its citizens and organizations. Second, each congregation has a very different set of leadership personalities and styles, both currently and historically. Third, each congregation has slightly different responses and perspectives regarding some of the significant cultural shifts experienced in the ELCA.[3]

The emphasis on the uniqueness of each individual member of the RT, the congregations, and the municipalities raises an interesting question: Is it possible to discuss a generalized framework regarding the suburbs? Is there such a thing a being suburban, and if there is, how is it different than being urban or rural? More importantly, do these questions have any relevance to the research question itself?

I must make an important point regarding the suburban context. There is no such thing as “The Suburbs.” The classification of suburb describes a municipality that is adjacent to another municipality that surrounds and is adjacent to a large urban center. No two suburbs are exactly the same. Some are populated by the working poor; others by the extremely wealthy. Some suburbs are densely populated, racially diverse, and comprised of various forms of architecture and zoning. Other suburbs are sparsely populated, racially homogenous, and dominated by single-family residences. Each municipality has its own story and its own public DNA.

Given the particularities of the suburban context, I will not begin this section with generalized theories regarding suburban studies and the history of the ELCA. Instead, I will structure this section with the following progression. First, I will paint a portrait of each congregation represented on the RT by setting it within the context of its particular city. Second, I will address issues that may be considered universally suburban as they pertain to the particular congregations on the RT, and more importantly, to the specific question the team addressed. Finally, I will similarly address issues regarding the ELCA within the suburban context as it pertains to the RT and its endeavors.

The Story of Three Congregations

The Suburbs


A Summary

Use the Prezi to explore the bibliography related to the Suburban Context.

Suburban Studies Bibliography


[1] Hess, “Collaborating with People to Study “the Popular”: Implementing Participatory Action Research Strategies in Religious Education,” 279.

[2] I have a commitment to the RT to maintain anonymity. Therefore, I have used pseudonyms for each team member and for each congregation. However, maintaining anonymity becomes difficult at this point in the narration, because the particular cities and congregations have unique locations and histories. I will attempt to be specific and vague at the same time. I will describe specific historical and geographical markers, but will not name specific people or places. I am fully aware that a moderately skilled investigator could easily discover the specific locations and names of the cities and congregations I am about to describe. However, I do not believe the discovery of the actual names and locations will jeopardize the anonymity of the RT members.

[3] I am referring specifically, but not exclusively, to the decisions on human sexuality in the ELCA. The ELCA decision in 2009 to allow homosexual clergy created a disturbance within the denomination that precipitated the exodus of some large congregations in the vicinity of the three congregations participating in the DITB project. Each congregation had its own experience of internal division. Most recently, the state legislature legalized same-sex marriage, thus placing every ELCA congregation with the choice to address the issue of performing same-sex marriages or not. Each DITB congregation has addressed the topic differently. I raise this issue because it does factor into the story of the DITB RT. This will be explained in chapter five.

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