In my second year of seminary, I wrote a paper titled, “The Eucharist’s Super Power.” The main thesis of the paper was that our culture has taken the equalizing power out of the Eucharist. When a central point of the Eucharist is to level the playing field and bring all of God’s people together through Christ. Pastor Ryan Althaus may not have bread and wine at every event, but he is bulldozing the cultural boundaries humanity creates through the power and theology of play. As he said in our interview, “Life is far too important to be taken seriously… We need to embrace the mess-ups and the messiness.” What better way to do so than through play!
"Ducks and chickens waddling to their specific rhythms, while wild bunnies use their ninja skills to grab a quick snack."
Ryan began with The Homeless Garden Project (HGP) as their Development Director, but realized the job was taking him away from interacting with the trainees of the project. After a year working for HGP he quit to volunteer and connect with the homeless individuals getting job training skills. Ryan’s desire to cultivate real, lasting, hopeful relationships with the homeless community lead to his choice to live simply and participate more. By volunteering he can now focus on Yoga Tuesdays and other recreational activities.
Having the chance to participate in the yoga class, I was able to see how activity together cultivates opportunity to connect. Our conversation fluctuated from themes of life and death to everyday choices. The focus was not on how far you can stretch but accepting your limits and listening to what your body is saying. Through an hour of play we were able to encourage each other, laugh, stretch, and organically talk about God’s love. Nothing was forced or contrite. It was natural and easy. We all were able to leave feeling refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the day.
"His wild hair, pierced eyebrow, and well-loved visor does not scream pastor. The warmth and care in his voice towards his friends in the garden community whispered it."
During our interview Ryan quoted Plato saying, “In an hour of play we learn more than in a lifetime of conversation.” Than let’s play! Religious traditions have a good purpose, but when they get in the way of loving the Other, we loose something fundamental to Christ’s call. Ryan seeks to foster dignifying, equal relationship through play; whether through yoga, running, or kayaking.
What I love is that Ryan’s focus is not some mind-blowing-new-crazy idea. It is simple. Back-to-basics. The focus of this ministry is showing those that feel outcast know they are loved. Through play there is no outsider, it is a level playing field. All are experiencing God’s love. Love your neighbor as you love yourself is about more than just being nice to someone; it is about loving others with dignity. Dignity is at the center of Ryan’s heart and action.
"Would I belong or would they assume I'm an imposter? Yet, all this was gone. Simple. Grounding. Peaceful. Yoga."
Ryan is not gripped on how many people will show up to play. The point is building Christ anointed relationships that produce the fruits of the Spirit. Relationships take time and commitment. Some say that time is money but I say time is community.
The hardest part of this ministry is to help those who do not see the validity of this work, start to understand its importance. But how do you quantify an experience? How do you place the old set of standards on something that is so old that it is new? How do you put new wine in old wineskins? This is the task that Ryan takes on as he applies for grants to continue the work that has been placed on his heart.
“How many people feel the same way about church? ‘Will I belong? Am I enough the way I am to be accepted here? What do all those words actually mean? Will I belong?’”
The desire for this ministry is to continue to find creative, dignity-filled actives to do together. Ryan’s hope is to continue the work that is already present and consistently show love to those that would normally feel outcast. Through the power of play Ryan facilitates equalizing, Eucharistic-like-moments that show people Christ’s love. Therefore, spreading the power of the Gospel and bringing more of heaven into this world.