As a ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Abundant Life Together provides young adults with a year apart in intentional community to explore vocation through theological, practical, and shared learning that transforms communities as participants grow together through personal reflection, rich relationships, leadership, and service.
Abundant Life Together Core Values
- Young Adults: we value the strengths, energy, and questions young adults (age 18-25) bring to God’s ongoing activity in the world.
- Cultivating Faith: we are inspired by the joys and challenges of a relationship with Jesus that leads us into an adventure of faith given through the gift of the gospel.
- Courageous Experimentation: we promote creativity, curiosity, critical reflection, and proactive initiative as a way of living out discipleship at the intersection of church and culture.
- Abundant Community: we value the wisdom and gifts discovered through relationships and collaboration between the host communities, ALT participants, and local congregations, bringing people together of different generations, cultures, and life-experiences.
- Vital Partnerships: we value the community and mutuality that forms when trust and respect permeate our relationships with each other and with the local and larger church, allowing for growth, learning, and transformation.
Guide to Inviting Young Adults to ALT YearDo you know any young adults who could thrive in a community guided by these values? Will you share this opportunity with them?Reading this document will help prepare you to share ALT Year with young adults you know! Guide to Inviting Young Adults to ALT Year (PDF) Guide for Inviting Young Adults to Join ALT Year (Word)
Components of ALT Year
ALT Participants will engage and learn a practical skill for life, chosen by local leaders at the host site based on the unique strengths and resources in the area. Examples of Focus Areas are Media Production, Culture and Language Immersion, Home Renovation, Elder Care, Culinary Arts, etc.
As new ALT Communities are formed, young adults will have more choices about what skill or interest they are most attracted to. In addition to a shared faith, and shared interest in an ALT Year Experience, participants at a site will also share a common interest, whether it is part of a vocational path or it is an interest and practice that will be a part of their life wherever they go next and whatever they do.
The participants with this shared focus will be able to support each other in this practice and interest and go deeper into it together.
The Focus Area is based on the concept of a “Line” in Scandinavian Folkehøgskoler. The Toledo Site chose Faithful Citizenship as its Focus Area. There, participants explore the many ways faith inspires people to engage the public life in our communities. As new sites are developed, each site will have its own Focus Area.
FOLK SCHOOL SESSIONS
Reflection Sessions: ALT Participants will 'engage the present and shape the future' by reading texts, watching films, and engaging media resources as ways of bringing up questions, issues, and challenging ideas for community conversations twice a week. The material is intended to inspire participants and introduce the group to important voices from the past they may not have heard before and to key conversations and leaders that are shaping the present and future.
LIFE AND LEADERSHIP SESSIONS: ALT Participants will have forums twice a week on important issues, cultural trends, and wisdom for holistic living. These sessions will most often be led by leaders in the community, but sometimes by guest speakers, the facilitator, or fellow participants. Through discussion and exploration, participants gain richer appreciation and share-able knowledge of topics like self-awareness, personality types, rhetoric, critical thinking, justice, environment, and social issues.
OPEN DOOR SESSIONS: Open Door Sessions are ways of linking Culture Breaks, Response Weeks, and Leap Weeks. Young adults are regularly invited to lead or invite others from the community to lead Open Door Sessions to explore additional topics and themes. These Open Door Sessions will be a chance for a participant to share something they are passionate about or intrigued by: a person, place, organization, invention, or movement. This format allows the material introduced throughout ALT Year to stay current, and for young adults to fill in the blanks they may see in the other content. This concept is a tribute to the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, which, through an open curriculum connected to the current issues and needs in the culture, became a center for the Union Movement and the Civil Rights Movement.
Independent Projects & MentorshipsALT Participants will have time and support to learn something they’ve always wanted to learn but haven’t had the time to explore. It’s a great way to discover gifts, passions, and develop skills that could lead to a career or a lifelong hobby or practice. These experiences can cover the whole 9-months or be seasonal. They can be independent or connected with a mentor. An ALT Participant can choose a mentor who is knowledgeable in the field or skill, or a mentor could be someone that is willing to learn something new alongside a participant. Another option is to combine mentorship with a service leadership experience to create an internship.
Even though we encourage ALT Year participants to experience an academic year away from grades and traditional education, if a participant chooses, they can also use this time to take an academic course at a nearby institution.
ALT also has a partnership with Open Yale Courses for participants who may want to try out some Ivy League coursework.
Life Together Faith PracticesALT Participants will be gathering together in a unique intentional community with shared discipleship practices like Bible Study, Prayer, Spiritual Practices, and Devotions every morning. Participants will be encouraged to process and reflect on the experience through Journaling and other practices. Communal Worship is a central part of the experience. Participants will worship with local congregations and also help lead their own ALT Worship, which is often opened up to members of the host community, especially area young adults.
Throughout the year, participants will learn key theological or philosophical principles of the Lutheran lens.
Service LeadershipALT Participants will spend at least 25 hours a month working in non-profits, congregations, or special projects that help neighbors and neighborhoods and address issues in the local community. Participants will be matched with a service leadership experience that they feel called to, whether it be because it fits their personality or challenges them in a new way.
Staff & Leadership
Josh Graber, ALT Developerhas been developing a plan to create communities like this since his senior year of high school. In the past few years, as an ELCA pastor, the plan has moved into a reality.
Josh was born near the Holden Village Retreat Center in Washington State where his parents led a similar program for young adults called Christian Lifestyle Enrichment. He was raised in a small village in Wisconsin along the Mississippi River, but grew up around alumni of his parents’ program at Holden. Seeing how much the participants of his parents' program valued that experience influenced his desire to be shaped by a similar environment, as well as to create similar experiences for others. As a young adult, he participated and visited many similar programs and ministries in the United States, Europe, and Africa. The combination of Josh’s personal background and his travel to other intentional community environments all have influenced the ALT Year model.
Josh graduated from Trinity Lutheran College in Seattle in 2001 and graduated from Luther Seminary in 2008. His pastoral internship was at The Lutheran Church of Honolulu, where he began a cooperative youth ministry for ELCA Youth on the island of Oahu. His first call was to Trinity Lutheran in Moorhead, Minnesota, serving as an associate pastor as part of the Fund for Theological Education’s Transition into Ministry Program, funded by the Lilly Endowment. His primary focus was young adult ministry and global mission.
Toward the end of his first call he created a formal proposal for ALT Year, using the working title Living-Learning Communities, and received enough positive feedback and initial interest to inspire him to save up his remaining salary and travel around the country to explore the potential of a new ministry. In October of 2011, this exploration led to a call as a mission developer to create ALT Year and work with potential ALT sites. Josh currently serves ALT as Mission Developer and Toledo Site Director, with his call coming from the Northwestern Synod of Ohio.
National TeamThe ALT Year Leadership Team meets quarterly to share reports and gather input and advice for the ministry. The Leadership Team also functions as smaller teams that address specific work areas and issues of the ministry.
ALT Year Leadership Team Members:
- Dick Bruesehoff, ELCA Pastor and Outreach Coordinator at Portico Benefit Services - St. Paul, Minnesota
Mark Burkhardt, Director of Congregational and Synodical Mission - ELCA, Chicago
Michelle Collins, ELCA Deaconess, Advent Lutheran - Melbourne, Florida
Ruben Duran: Director for Development of New Congregations (ELCA)
David Ellingson, Professor of Children, Youth and Family at Trinity Lutheran College - Everett, Washington (Former Director of Evergreen Youth Television)
Mary Frances, Assistant Director for Development of New Congregations - ELCA, Chicago
Joshua Graber, ALT Year Mission Developer & Director for ALT Year Toledo
Doug Haugen, Director of Lutheran Men in Mission
Don Johnson, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (Former Director of Camp Calumet and Project Connect)
Salim Kaderbhai, ELCA Pastor - Minnesota
Alisha Nelson, ALT Year Alumni
Joshua Rinas, ELCA Pastor - New Haven, Connecticut
Bill Russell, Pastor and Professor - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Dave Scherer, Known throughout the ELCA as "Agape," a hip-hop musician and minister
Jane Shields, Director of Evangelical Mission - New England Synod of the ELCA
Gordon Straw, Director of Lay Schools for Ministry, ELCA
Former Leadership Team Members and Other Supporters:
Susan Engh, Director, Synodical Partners in Mission and Congregation Based Community Organizing (ELCA)
Heidi Torgerson-Martinez, Director of Young Adults in Global Mission for the ELCA
Rozella White, Program Director of Young Adult Ministry for the ELCA
Kathryn Lohre, Executive for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations (Former General Secretary and President of the National Council of Churches)
ORGANIZATIONS AND MINISTRIES THAT ARE LIKE EXTENDED FAMILY TO ALT YEAR
Check out these LIFE in Service Partners (LIFE stands for “Lutheran Immersion and Formation Events”)
Lutheran Volunteer Corps
Urban Servant Corps
Border Servant Corps
Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM)
Holden Village Retreat Center
Trinity Lutheran College (LBI)
The Oregon Extension
L’Abri Fellowship International
Frequently Asked Questions
HOW DOES ALT YEAR WORK?While other “gap year” experiences take you deeper into a specific experience (often one specific full-time service), or are very loose about what the experience is (such as travel gap-year), the ALT Year Experience combines a wide variety of experiences that encourage personal formation, faith exploration, and vocational discernment.
If you are a part of the ALT Year Experience you will spend half of your time in structured community life and half of your time will be free for your own exploration, exercise, and rest. You’ll be amazed what we can do together and how much you will grow as a person, through this mix of community structure and personal freedom!
WHAT DOES EACH MONTH LOOK LIKE?In general, the schedule will run on the following 4 week cycle. This is not a rigid calendar but a guide for the life of the community. We want to remain as flexible as possible, adjusting to the annual calendar and holidays and making some adjustments in our pilot year.
COMMON CONTENT WEEKS: The content for sessions in the first two weeks of the month will be determined by ALT Leadership. Each week’s content, which could include things like films, texts, session topics and speakers, is intended to inspire conversations and questions that are useful and interesting for Christian young adults. Put together, the content is shaped around a key theme or question to help form and inform the community life and each participant’s personal growth and experience. Themes include Freedom, Imagination, Community, Vocation, Media, Self-Reflection, Witness, New Movements in the Church, Discipleship.
RESPONSE WEEKS: During the third week of the month, the young adults create the content. The group collaborates on what will be read, watched, and discussed. They decide what speakers to invite and which experiences to include in the week. This gives an opportunity for participants to fill in topics that have not been included in the chosen content, that are connected with current events, that are of particular interest to the participants, or that create useful dialogue with the chosen content.
LEAP WEEKS: Usually at the end of the month, participants will have a number of days off the scheduled grid to do something completely different than normal. This could be participating in a group project like planting a garden, having time for individual projects and mentorships, or being immersed in a specific training, experience, or culture. Often a Leap Week will include travel to other communities or cities to explore what life and ministry is like in a different context.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY OR WEEK LOOK LIKE?Each day will look a little different. As a pilot site, there will be some flexibility and adjustments to the schedule and calendar, but for the most part, the pattern is established. For an example of a sample week, click here. As more sites are developed, each one may adjust the calendar according to their context.
Weekends will have 24-hour periods and sometimes full days (usually Wednesdays and Saturdays) that are unscheduled for those who wish to practice Sabbath during their ALT Year.
Each month, the schedule for Response Weeks and Leap Weeks will be different than the schedule during the first two weeks.
Every week the ALT community will host an open forum for both participants and others in the host community. These forums will be space to reflect on, discuss, and share what is being learned. They will also be shared through social media, so that friends, families, congregations, other interested young adults, and supporters around the country/world can be included in the discussion and learning.
[Schedules of a typical month and week are available by request]
Further breakdown of each day:
MORNINGS: Breakfast will be on own or a simple meal with the community.
Weekdays will start with a Bible Study, Devotion, or Faith Practice time.
Most weekday mornings will have a Folk School Session.
Many weekday mornings will have a coffee break/culture break where we might discuss a piece of art, a current event, listen to a podcast, or watch a TED Talk.
LUNCHES: Participants will share a simple meal for lunch or make a lunch on their own.
A few lunches a week will be connected to some structured activity, such as a reflection on the Focus Area, or a brown bag lunch forum to share some of the Focus Area learning and reflection with the community. Some lunches may have a Culture Break connected to them.
AFTERNOONS AND WEEKENDS: Most afternoons and weekends will be free to read, schedule time for Service Leadership or mentorships, do some physical exercise, pursue your own interests, and take some Sabbath time.
One afternoon a week will have a Focus Area Session.
Twice a month the ALT participants will learn about another religion or denomination.
Once a month Leadership may schedule an event on a Saturday that we think everyone should do together.
Every ALT Participant will go to a worship service in a local congregation three times a month.
EVENINGS: On Sunday Evenings we will gather for an introduction to the material and a key philosophical or theological concept that connects with something the ALT Community will be doing or learning that week, and hear the schedule for the week.
We will have ALT NIGHT EVENTS 3-4 times a week. ALT Nights could be an ALT community-led worship service, going to an event in the host community (like an art opening or a documentary film screening), a social justice gathering, a sporting or entertainment event, a variety show or open mic night.
3-4 nights a week, food will be prepared for ALT participants through Food Fellowship volunteers from local congregations. Whenever possible, the ALT participants and Food Fellowship volunteers will prepare and share a meal together.
On other nights, the ALT participants will have dinner on their own or prepare simple meals together. But on occasion the whole group will go out to eat together in the community.
Vegetarian options are available for all meals, but all participants are encouraged to be respectful of the meal options and decisions of the whole community. Restrictions based on allergies and medical conditions will be honored to the best of our ability. Openness and gratitude for the meals that are prepared is important for all participants. Complaints and picky eating habits could create issues for the whole community.
Every 1st and 3rd Friday, ALT will host a worship service that is followed by dinner and a fun activity in the community. ALT participants are invited to help with planning and leading these worship services and activities. They are great opportunities to invite other young adults to connect with the ALT experience.
WHAT ABOUT HOLIDAYS AND TIME OFF?In general, we will start the second week of September and run through the third week of May. So there is an extra week at each end of the schedule compared to most academic calendars. Participants will have a Thanksgiving Break and a long Christmas Break. At Easter, the group will choose whether to stay on-site, take a trip, or take that time off. This will depend on the timing of Easter in relationship to the end of the ALT year.
Particularly because this is an open and non-graded experience, a commitment to participate in the scheduled events by each ALT young adult is necessary in order for everyone to get the most out of the experience. That commitment is part of a community covenant each participant must sign in order to participate.
Each participant will have up to ten days for illness and vacation.
If there is a particular event or experience that has been a part of your plans for the year, that could help you in your personal vocational discernment or that would enhance your leadership skills, we will try to work with you to make it happen.
We ask that all requests for time-off be made to the Director a month ahead of time, so that plans can be made with the group and service leadership sites.
WHAT IS THE COST OF AN ALT YEAR?There is currently no tuition cost for an ALT Year. We are seeking to make this experience as inexpensive as possible so every young adult can have the opportunity to participate. The generosity of the ELCA, partner synods, partner congregations, and generous donors provide for the cost of administration, the director’s salary, and the national and local budgets.
Participants are asked to pay for Living Expenses for the 9 month experience, which includes Room, Food, Supplies, Travel Costs, and a Monthly Stipend. We are trying to keep that cost to around $5000.
A portion of that cost is expected to come from a participant’s own summer earnings or savings. The remainder of the cost can be contributed through the support of parents, friends, relatives, and a home congregation or supportive faith community. We will ask young adults to send out a donation letter to raise funds for their experience and for the scholarship fund for others. The total cost for the year does not need to be available at the beginning of the year, but can be raised through ongoing contributions or pledges. Please don’t let cost be the reason you don’t apply. ALT leadership will work with you to find a financial plan that works with your specific needs and situation.
ALT Year Participant Fees & Deadlines
Here is a further breakdown of the expenses and the schedule of when they are due:
Summer Payment: $500, due by August 1st
$80 Background Check Payment, due when you submit your background check (by August 15th)
Early Fall Living Fee: $2500, due by September 1st
Late Fall Living Fee: $1,000, due by October 15th
Spring Living Fee: $1,000, due by February 1st
Total Participant Costs: $5,080
Checks should be made out to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church with “ALT Year Toledo” in the memo line.
Participants receive a monthly stipend of $100 for personal spending money. The whole group is provided a food stipend each month and work together to decide how that money is used.
We recognize that in some cases young adults will not have this type of financial support network, so we are creating a network of sponsoring congregations, families, and individuals to support ALT Participants.
If an individual, a congregation or an organization is willing to sponsor a young adult, they can contact Josh [firstname.lastname@example.org] or make a donation directly to our scholarship fund.
ALT participants can stay connected to friends, family and other supporters by sharing their experiences through blogs, emails, newsletters, or letters.
HOW IS AN ALT YEAR EXPERIENCE SUPPORTED AND ADMINISTERED?ALT communities are a partnership between the synod, local congregations, institutions, and ministries. These partners are all actively involved in the programs, and also work together in providing financial support.
The Mission Developer and National Team watch over the content, development, publicity, and recruitment for ALT. The National Team decides which potential host sites should be explored and developed.
A Local Team, made up of local leaders and one Chairperson who serves as the coordinator and primary contact for the ministry, then does the work of exploring and developing an ALT site. Once the site is operational, the Local Team supports and oversees the ALT Community program.
The Local Team hires an ALT Director who watches over the rhythm of the community life, coordinates events and sessions, and helps facilitate the conversation and activities for the participants. Several local leaders also help with aspects of leadership for different elements of the experience. For instance local pastors and lay leaders help lead Bible Studies and share faith practices with participants. Relationship with local spiritual directors and fitness facilities are formed to provide both spiritual and physical wellness for the participants.
One local leader has monthly one-to-one conversations with participants to stay up to date on their participation and the value of service leadership, mentorships, and other independent elements in the experience.
A Local Hospitality Team welcomes the young adults and makes sure they have what they need for the experience.
A local host or host family checks in with the participants once or twice a month for dinner or a local event.
Sound interesting? Apply to be an ALT participant
CONTACT FORM For more information about ALT Year – publicity material, how to support, how to participate, what’s happening – please contact JOSH GRABER, MISSION DEVELOPER JOSH@ALTYEAR.ORG (203) 772-8917 MICHELLE COLLINS INFO@ALTYEAR.ORG (321) 576-3746 Interested in getting involved at one of the existing pilot sites? Click here for ALT Year Toledo’s site or ALT Year Twin Cities site!