God's divine economy of abundance

How would your life be different if you focused on all God has already given you, rather than the things you lack?

Katelin Hansen serves the United Methodist Church for All People in Columbus, Ohio as their Minister of Music & Strategic Initiatives Director. Her ministry has given her the opportunity to see what God can do with what we are willing to offer, like the young boy's lunch that Jesus turns into enough to feed more than five-thousand people (see John 6:1-13). 

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Get Your Spirit in Shape features conversations to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. Logo by Sara Schork, United Methodist Communications.

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Katelin Hansen, PhD

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This episode posted on January 17, 2020.

Transcript

Prologue

Joe Iovino, host: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.

Happy 2020! I’m excited for a new year of conversations to help us in our spiritual journeys. But as you may already be aware 2020 started with the United Methodist Church in the news. There were rumors of some restructuring that’s being discussed. It was reported by some to be a split. So before we get started today I want to offer you several resources to help you keep up with all that’s happening.

The first is United Methodist News, our official news source at UMNews.org. There you’ll find the most accurate information about the conversations that are happening within our global denomination. Next is our website for leaders, ResourceUMC.org. There you’ll find more information about the process of General Conference. Or, you can jump right to the General Conference 2020 site by going to GC2020.umc.org. Finally, as always you can go to UMC.org, the denominational website of the United Methodist Church. We have some helpful information on the home page and our Ask the UMC section. Is a wonderful resource where you can find answers to many of your questions. Okay, now, on with the episode… (music)

Today I’m talking with Katelin Hansen, Minister of Music and Strategic Initiatives Director for the United Methodist Church for All People in Columbus, Ohio. I first met Katelin about a year ago. We were discussing some of the unique ministries of the Church for All People, when she used a phrase that captured my imagination. She talked about God’s divine economy of abundance. It made me wonder how our lives might be different if we were to focus on all that God provides for us rather than the things we lack.

It reminded me of a sermon I heard years ago about how when Moses was telling God all the gifts and abilities that he didn’t have to do what God was calling him to do. God simply asked Moses, What’s that in your hand? It was a shepherd’s staff which God would use to display God’s will to the pharaoh, that Moses would lift to part the Red Sea, and would later tap on a rock to provide water for the people.

As you listen to this conversation think about what you already have in hand that might be used to glorify God.

The conversation

Joe: Katelin, welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape.

Katelin Hansen: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Joe: You serve as the Minister of Music and Strategic Initiatives for the United Methodist Church and Community Development for All People in Columbus, Ohio. Tell me a little bit about your ministry.

Katelin: Sure. Yeah. United Methodist Church for All People is, as you have said, in Columbus, Ohio. Our congregation is on some level fairly unique. We’re about half white and half black, which reflects the racial demographics of the surrounding neighborhood. We’re also about 60% at or below the poverty line with the other 40% being middle and upper class folks. So we’re a pretty diverse across class race and class, which is sometimes a rarity in the Methodist churches and really all churches across the United States. But a church has its expression of ministry largely through a sister nonprofit community development for All People, the church owns the nonprofit. And through the nonprofit we’re able to do a wide range of ministries.

For example, we have a robust youth development program that is an after-school program in the winter and a in the summer it turns into a Freedom School that serves about 80 kids, and takes in reading engagement and helping kids be transformation agents in their own community. We have a healthy eating and living initiative that offers cooking classes, exercise classes, and out of a drive-through beer store delivers 1.5 million pounds of produce into the community each year.

Joe: Wow.

Katelin: We have housing that helps folks have 60s affordable housing. And in the 15 or so years we’ve been at work we’ve done about 80 million dollars in housing. But first, it all started through the Free Store. The Free Store gives away about 2 million dollars in clothing and household items. It’s where we build relationships across cultural divides. We are a community. And that’s really where the church forms.

So the Free Store came first and then the church grew out of that. They’re really interlinked with one another. Folks that have a deep understanding of who we are really get the church wouldn’t exist without the nonprofit. And the nonprofit wouldn’t exist without the church. For us community development is congregational development. So we invite folks through our doors.

We see almost 200 people walk through the doors of our church every single day to come shop in the Free Store. And it’s those same folks we invite back to be volunteers, maybe giving away some of the produce. And as we build relationships with the folks that are volunteering and serving and then receiving the services, it’s those same folks that we invite to join us on Sunday morning for worship. It’s the folks sitting next to us in church on Sunday morning that we are inviting into deeper relationship and to get involved. Maybe their kids come participate in the afterschool program, or maybe they’re interested in getting some job training through our Work Force Development Program. So for us the two are very interlinked. We build relationships with the community so that we can build the church, build the body of Christ, and then together we go forward to build the front porch of the Kingdom of God.

Joe: Can you say more about that? When we talked last time I wrote that down: Building the front porch of the Kingdom of God. What are you referencing when you talk about that?

Katelin: We believe that we are together the hands and feet of Jesus to the world. We are the face of Christ. And we are about the work of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. We work out of that. Folks identify us as just that church that’s doing what a church is supposed to do. Folks will look at a house that’s been repaired and given new life and they’ll say, Oh, yeah. That’s one of the church’s houses. Even though technically it might be owned by the nonprofit or one of our partners, they see it as the work of the church. To be a part of building back that loving community, that peacable kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

Joe: Everything that you do in helping out the neighbors around you with …. You mentioned the youth program and the Free Store, all of that is part of building the kingdom. Is that right?

Katelin: Absolutely. It’s our expression of ministry as a church. We’re not a large church and we’re certainly not a rich church. Most people in our congregation make less than $20,000/year. And we believe that it is out of those same folks that we’ve been able to do a whole range of ministry. It’s the pennies, the nickels, the dimes, the widow’s mite that ultimately becomes the 80 million dollars in affordable housing.

Joe: Yeah. That’s hard for us…any one of us to wrap our minds around—80 million dollars in affordable housing—to be able to do that is really remarkable seeing what you guys are doing in Columbus.

Katelin: It does. And it’s made possible by sort of the undergirding belief in something we’ve come to call the divine economy of abundance. We worship the God of abundance, not a god of scarcity. We see in Genesis there’s abundance. We see in Revelation there’s abundance. And in the middle there’s human fear and greed and perception of scarcity because there’s all sorts of problems throughout the Bible. But we’re convinced if we’re generous with one another we trigger a return to the abundance that was originally intended.

You know, we take Scripture very seriously and particularly when you look at stories like loaves and fishes. We take that Scripture literally because we’ve seen it happen too many times not to believe it. We see not enough soup to feed too many people. So we’re just committed to this idea that in God’s hands everything we have is an asset, never a deficit. And if we’ll offer God what we have, even if it’s meager, just like that little boy’s lunch, God will multiply it and do good things with it.

Joe: That story of the loaves and the fishes that many of us know so very well is one of the few that appears in all … if not the only…that appears in all four of the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Katelin: It’s such a key passage in Scripture. You’re right. It appears in all four gospels. But I have to say it’s the version in John that we sort of like the most because we see ourselves in it so much. So in John 6 this is where the Apostle Andrew has his moment to shine. He’s the one in John 6 that takes a little boy’s lunch and offers it to Jesus.

Jesus has charged the disciples with…they are to feed everybody. And Andrew offers this little boy’s lunch. And if he had stopped there he would have been the hero of the story. We would have thought Andrew, the abundant, Andrew the multiplier. He immediately does what we so often do, and denigrates the gift. He says, “Here’s the little boy’s lunch, but what is it for all these people?” And that’s where Jesus says, “Sit down.” And he takes the lunch and multiplies it, and he feeds everybody. That just charges us to think what if we take whatever we have, even if it seems meager and small to us, and just offer it forward to God and let God do…do the hard work of multiplication, if we’ll just be faithful with it.

What that means for us is everything we have is an asset. We refuse to buy into the idea that our neighborhood is broken or…. Too often folks will tell us what’s wrong with us or what’s missing. And we just…we refuse to play that game. And it’s not that we ignore the problems. We insist that the problems themselves are an asset, are an opportunity in God’s hands. So we know that there’s joblessness and unemployment. We know that there’s homelessness. But what if in God’s hands those things themselves are assets, not deficits. Then the vacant house is an opportunity for someone to live in it. The unemployment is a ready workforce that we can put to work fixing up the house. And then if you’re gonna put the time and money into the house, the homelessness is absolutely an asset because you need somebody to live in the house. So on the one level it’s rhetoric. But we believe it’s scriptural and because it’s scriptural it’s incredibly practical.

There is an energy and a momentum in an asset-based approach that’s simply not there from a needs and deficit-based approach. And we’ve become convinced that seeing the world in this way, that leaning into this theology, really is closer to God’s heart simply because we’ve watched it happen. We’ve seen God multiply anything that we’ve offered for, or even if it seemed meager to us at first.

Joe: We’ve been talking about this on an institutional level, the level of the local church. But I imagine it also is a new way of thinking on a personal level because many of us have those times when we want to say there’s not enough. Right? There’s not enough money. There’s not enough time. I don’t have enough education, whatever that might be. Have you seen people’s individual lives transformed by thinking in this new way?

Katelin: Oh, absolutely. We’re surrounded by a world that focses about what’s missing and how this product can fix it for us. So it takes practice to breathe in the fresh air of what God would have for us and knowing that we ourselves are enough. We are more than enough. And it affects how we view our bodies. It affects how we view our wallets. It affects how we view our time to get out of a certain scarcity mentality and really be generous with one another and generous with ourselves. So it’s absolutely transformative and really kind of countercultural to begin to think about the world as a world of abundance and our own selves as enough or more than enough.

Joe: So let’s talk a little bit about that scarcity mentality. Like, when you mention that, what kind of things come to mind?

Katelin: So often, particularly in a hard-up neighborhood like ours, folks from the outside looking in will talk about the problems that we experience. So they might say, there’s crime or there is truancy or there’s not…. One of the big ones around here is the issue of infant mortality. Ohio has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the country. Our county, Franklin County, is one of the highest in the state. And then our little pocket of Columbus has one of the highest rates of anywhere. Higher than some third-world countries and the reality is infant mortality is heavily affected by the social issues of health, which means it’s influenced by racism and classism.

So it’s one of the most dangerous places to be born black in this country, and try to survive to your first birthday. And so the statistics are objectively terrible. And what we’ve found is… it was very difficult to gain traction on the issues of infant mortality when we were focusing on what was broken and what was missing. So for us we decided just to take an initial first step out of what we already had to focus on the goal—not what we were missing, but what we were trying to achieve. And the definition of infant mortality is a baby being born, taking that first breath, but not surviving to day 366, not making it to their first birthday.

So the goal becomes obvious. We want babies to survive to their first birthday and beyond. And so we just began celebrating that. We hosted a birthday party and invited the one year olds as the guests of honor. We let them invite their parents and siblings. And we invited grandparents and parents with the infants. And we threw a birthday party and had everything a birthday party was supposed to have: cakes, balloons, decorations, music, gifts. And it was kind of scrappy. We did it ourselves. But it also had resources and information for parents. So, information on safe sleep for babies. Information on smoking secession or high access nurse care providers and how to find an OB-GYN. And the point is this: we packed this church building out with 2-300 people in a way that would never happen if we had sort of the community meeting on infant mortality. You’d get 5 people to show up. None of them would be parents and that would be that. But when we took an asset-based approach there’s energy and momentum that’s captivating to the community.

It’s also captivating to our partners. So we invited in Nationwide Children’s Hospital to participate. And they saw the energy and the people in the room that wanted to be there and help their children thrive. And so it’s taken off. In the years since we started it’s led to new ventures and expanded outreach, full-time staff that can follow up our first birthday parties and make sure children are getting their well-child checkups and their vaccines, the proper post-natal care is happening. We launched a pilot project to combine our work in first birthdays with our affordable housing work because we know if you don’t have safety and affordable housing it’s incredibly difficult to have a sort of stability in life to make sure that you are getting to the doctor’s appointments, make sure you’re getting to your job, making sure your child is sleeping in a safe manner.

And so we house 10 children and their parents through the first birthday of their child as a pilot project to demonstrate every single one of those kids was born full term. Every single one of them made it to their first birthday. Columbus then expanded it from there. We aren’t shepherding it and we don’t need to. It’s cool. They’ve expanded it to a level beyond us. But it’s a proof of principle that when you focus on the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a community rather than the needs and deficits, we do believe God smiles on that, and there is an energy there that simply isn’t there from a deficit-based approach.

Joe: There’s a couple of things there I wanted to lift up. One is, you mentioned it being an asset-based approach as opposed to the deficit-based approach. So as you look at something like the first birthday party, what are you thinking of is focusing on the asset?

Katelin: In the case of our first birthday party we had, you know, hand-made decorations. The way we started at first was just paper and markers and pulled them together with homemade cake and cupcakes. And so the assets are we’ve got artists in our community. We’ve got bakers who like to bake cakes. We’ve got somebody with a guitar that knows how to sing Happy Birthday. We have relationships in our community with families that have babies that are trying to make it to their first birthday. We have a church building with a sanctuary that could welcome folks in. We’ve got parking lots. So now they’re trying to get their strollers and everything through the door that could drive in and park. We’ve got relationships with some nurses in the community and folks that work in healthcare systems that could offer information and resources.

And so it…the process that we have are really the assets that any church has. It’s looking around you, who do you see? What do you see as far as your building and physical structures? What are the businesses around you in your neighborhood? Who are the key people in your neighborhood? It’s the things you’ve got, not the things you don’t have. Because at first when folks are planning new ministries too often they end up in the situation about…moping about what they don’t have and what they wish, you know, were in place. And I’m just here to tell you any successful ministry isn’t working because of the things that are not there; it’s working because of the things that are already there. And so if we will build new initiatives out of that, I guarantee we’ll be more successful.

Joe: And lots of the things I heard you mention are things that we sometimes overlook as assets, or even some things that we… I hate to say this …but some of us take for granted like the building, like the parking lot. And it really is a change to begin to look at the things that we already have and how they can be used. On a personal level I imagine that also applies to gifts and abilities. So often we find ourselves, Oh I wish I could do X, overlooking the things that we are gifted to do.

Katelin: That’s right. And it takes practice because it’s not how the world teaches to think.

Joe: Absolutely.

Katelin: So I often work with churches that they want to try some of these new approaches. And whether it’s in a workshop or in a more sort of long-term consulting relationship, it really is about practicing this approach. And so I will have folks sit down and think about the gifts and graces. We’ll go through an exercise like, what are your gifts of your hands, your head and your heart. Gifts of your hand are things you can do. So I can knit or I can garden, or I’m a carpenter. I can bake. Gifts of your head are things you know. So I’m knowledgeable about the history of my neighborhood. I’m knowledgeable about music or I’m knowledgeable about pedagogy and how to teach. Or I’m knowledgeable about accounting. I can keep track of numbers. And gifts of the heart are those things you’re really eager about, that you would raise your hands to work on and participate in every day of the week. So maybe you’re passionate about children or the environment or clean safe neighborhoods. Maybe you’re passionate about issues of mass incarceration.

Well, it takes practice and really that sort of inventory, what we call asset-mapping, even for our own use and talents and graces because God has filled us with so many rich gifts and talents. But sometimes it takes practice to remind ourselves of that narrative, of the beautiful things that we’ve been given. It can be hard to identify the assets in our community, in our churches. But sometimes when it’s the hardest is even identifying our own gifts that we bring to there.

Joe: And one of the assets I heard you mention as well were partnerships. So people that are in your community like you mentioned at the first birthday party. You have nurses that were already connected and were able to connect you to bigger partners involved in that. And I know you guys are really good at making partnerships with communitr organizations. Can you talk about partnerships are a big piece in this divine economy.

Katelin: Yeah, partnerships really are a key component of everything that we do. We know that it’s not a zero sum game. And so because we live in a world of abundance we’re more than happy to work with partners and get collective wins for all of us. So we are more than willing to offer forward what we have, our known assets, and explore and deliver on what that partner is trying to achieve because we know if we achieved that win for the partner they’re more likely to want to help us out, and deliver for us what we’re trying to do.

So we have these rich partnerships on multiple levels from very grass roots, the neighbors in our community, the civic associations, to local businesses, to other churches, all the way up to…. Nationwide Children’s Hospital is our local children’s hospital. And they are a large entity. They employ about 13,000 people in central Ohio. And so they’re a large anchor institution. And they’re one of our closest partnerships because we have a trusted relationship where we are willing to share our assets with each other and strengthen each other.

Joe: Working in this way must have a profound effect on…. I know your faith impacts the way that you work. But how has your work and the results of your work impacted your faith?

Katelin: For me personally it’s been tremendously impactful. I have to say when I first heard that idea of the divine economy of abundance preached from the pulpit I thought it was nuts. I didn’t buy into. It was rose colored lenses and pie in the sky.

At this point I’ve simply seen it work. I’ve seen loaves and fishes too many times to deny its validity. And so being in an environment that believes in a divine economy of abundance, as well as being in an environment that values the richness of the full range of our diversity, that values relationships of mutuality and a accompaniment that believes in doing ministry with each other, not at to or upon each other has been profoundly impactful. I mean, just through my own story is testament to that.

I was in graduate school in neuroscience, molecular genetics, brain, memory, Petri dishes, pipetting, lab coats, all the layer types and I starting attending church when I moved to Columbus for that graduate program. And I simply fell in love to the point that when it was time to move away, the intent was to become a professor at some research university. And I did defend my dissertation. But I fell in love, and have now worked fulltime here. I left science because I had to do this. It was… I’ve never felt something so good and so right. It completely captivated me and set me back on my heels. And I loved the science. It was never about running away from something; it was running to something. And so it has completely changed the trajectory of my life to be in a church that is doing what a church is supposed to do.

You know, I’m one of those millennials that everyone is always wringing their hands about, like, we’re the millennials in the church, you know, the nones… We know, you know, faith that… But for me seeing the authenticity of a diverse community just doing church together, being vulnerable, and being the hands and feet of Christ was captivating. And so it’s why I’m here. It’s why I’m Methodist. And it completely changed my life.

Joe: So, if I were to come to you and say, I have this passion for this ministry in my community but it’s too big. I can’t do it. What advice would you give me?

Katelin: So the dream is big. The dream is always audacious and big. But the start is small. So you scale to the outlets that you have. So you begin having conversations. Talk about your idea. Cast the vision of what it could be. And then see whose eyes light up. Pray about it and see if it’s in line with God’s spirit and with the heart of the community because if it doesn’t have two things it’s really not gonna go very far anyway. But then if you start to see people’s eyes light up, gather those folks around the table and start dreaming together. And then see what assets do the folks around the table have that they’re willing to bring to bear on the project.  Who might have a vocation or who might a talent or who might have a resource to do together?

Then you start at whatever scale of assets that you have. You’ll get some early wins. And then you’re able to turn to the next person or the next partner and say, “See what we did even with just this little bit. What if you came alongside us and added what you had and then we could dream even bigger.” And you grow from there.

It’s very much how we do anything around here. We have a bike shop called ‘Bikes for All People.’ And we started talking with the community. Who has a heart for cycling? And in our community we have this big high-end bike race each year where this Spandex racing dudes are on their 6 thousand dollar bike, and then we also have folks competing where their bike is their only means of transportation for getting from point A to point B. We’ve got folks coming out of incarceration that don’t have driver’s license. So it’s a matter of transportation justice. So, we brought those folks around the table and said, “What would it look like to start a bike shop together?”

Maybe one person knows how to ride safely through the neighborhood, knows the safe routes, knows how to get from point A to point B. Maybe someone else has access to bikes that could be donated. Maybe somebody else knows of a vacant storefront that has a cement floor. So maybe it’s not really ideal to turn into a restaurant or something, but it would make a perfect bike shop. Maybe somebody else works for the local children’s hospital and knows that they’re trying to work on issues of childhood obesity and they’re trying to work on use of helmet safety. And so maybe they’re willing to put in some of their funding to help make it go.

And then I’ve gotta tell you sometimes, you know, we cheat because Jesus just shows up. When we were starting this bike shop there was someone at the table that is an ordained minister, worked in children’s services, really fantastic with kids, particularly kids that had been through some trauma. And he is an expert bike rider, builds his own bikes. And he raised his hand and said, you know what, if you’re serious I think I’ll quit my job and run it for you.

Joe: Wow.

Katelin: It’s amazing what happens when we’ll bring what we have, no matter how meager it seems and then let God do the cool things with it.

Joe: And I just heard you again focusing on the partnerships and the passions and just the people rather than the problems. And I … What a wonderful way to approach ministry, approach our lives, approach what we have and what we can do. I’m just in awe of the amazing things that are going on there.

Katelin: It’s not that we don’t know that there are issues. So we also abide with one another through some pretty hard stuff.

One of the distinctives of our worship service one is just the holy chaos that emerges from a community that comes from lots of different worship backgrounds. With my Minister of Music how do I grow? We do worship with hymns. And then we also worship with black gospel and Appalachia bluegrass and multi-lingual….with guitar music. We’ve got it all because folks are coming from so many different background. Beyond that one of the distinctives is our time of sharing of joys and concerns. And that is a high holy moment for us. In fact, sometimes it goes longer than the service. It can freak out my kind of middleclass time-oriented cultured folks, as we pass the mic. But folks that hang in tend to realize that it is a high holy moment of the service because we’re in it together. Somebody can stand up and say, you know, it’s getting hot outside and my nana is living with me and she’s elderly and I don’t know if I have money for the electric bill to keep her safe. I’m not necessarily asking you to fix it for me, but will you pray about that with me. And then to let the very next person stand up and say, you know, our last kid just went off to college. And that’s really exciting for us, but now we’re empty nesters. And that’s really hard for us. And we know you can’t fix it, but will you pray about that with us? And to let those two prayers stand before the eyes and ears of God is a powerful thing. And when we abide with one another through all the ups and downs, there’s a richness there that we believe helps us see God more clearly. And some of… It’s the ups and downs, but we just are so convinced that every single person is the ‘imago dei’ and embodies the grace that God has given each one of us. So every single one of us has assets to bring to the table. And it’s when we bring all of those folks together that…just watch the cool things that God will do with it.

Joe: I think you’ve already answered this, but I ask every guest on Get Your Spirit in Shape what they do to keep their spirit in shape.

Katelin: For me it’s so important to be in relationship with the full range of folks in our community. And even more specifically it’s the heart within folks that are the backbone of who we are as a church, who we are as a nonprofit. And so there are days that get really hard. And so in those moments for me that’s when I walk over to the Free Store and just hang out with folks. I grab a cup of coffee. We’ve got a saying around here: If the doors are open, the coffee pot’s on. And that’s part of that, is being able to just hang out and see what transpires out of those conversations. That is truly grounding and life-giving.

Joe: I love that. I’m so glad you brought that up because one of the things that I find in getting to do this and having these conversations is that I find this a very spiritual exercise in just talking to other people about ideas in this way. But also you’re talking about getting with people who are very different than you and helping you to understand things in a different way. But what a great way to get in touch, er, stay in touch with the Spirit’s work in your life by being with others.

Katelin: Absolutely.

Joe: Katelin, thank you for your time today. It has been just a wonderful conversation and I think we’ve just kind of scratched the surface on this idea. But I think it’s a really important idea about the divine economy of abundance. Thank you for sharing with us today.

Katelin: Sure. Absolutely.

Epilogue

Joe: That was Katelin Hansen, Minister of Music and Strategic Initiatives Director at the United Methodist Church for All People in Columbus, Ohio. To learn more about her and the ministries of her church go to UMC.org/podcasts and look for this episode. We’ve also put links on that page to United Methodist News, ResourceUMC and the General Conference 2020 website, to help you stay informed of all that’s happening in the United Methodist Church. As 2020 begins I hope you’ll tell someone about Get Your Spirit in Shape. Also, I would deeply appreciate anyone who would review us on Apple Podcasts. Good reviews help move us up the search engines which makes it easier for more people to find us and join the conversation.

Well, thanks for listening. I’ll be back soon with another conversation to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.