A Place to be Human Together

Intertwine Northeast: Minneapolis’ Own Post-Church, Church

Drop by the East Side Neighborhood Services building in Minneapolis on any given Sunday and you will find Mike Rusert, along with 30 or so other congregates, gathered in a sunny room with sculptures of national symbols from around the world hung neatly on the walls. Depending on when you show up between 10 and 11:30 a.m., the group may be doing any number of activities, some of which include drum circles, deep breathing exercises, storytelling, and open dialogues about life and its questions. There are no cover fees, no obligations, and few rules, yet Rusert has coined the community known as Intertwine Northeast as something of a “post-church, church.”

Illustrator: Emily Hill

Illustrator: Emily Hill

After seeing a decline in the number of adherents at his local church, where Rusert served prior to founding Intertwine last fall, he knew something had to give. His vision to create a space where people could find meaningful dialogue and real compassion regardless of their background was sympathetic to local artist Laura Lou, a recent graduate of Augsburg College’s music therapy program. Following graduation, Lou was advised to seek a job with a church as a means of sparking her music career. Raised in an Irish Catholic family that was informed more by tradition than actual faith, she was willing yet reluctant to take a job singing Sunday praises at Nativity Lutheran Church. As youth participation continued to plummet, she was asked to take on the role of Contemporary Worship Leader, where she struggled to keep the faith of her adherents as well as herself.

“I always felt comfortable being the lead singer of the band on Sundays, but struggled when I had to fill the role of ‘spiritual leader,’” said Lou. “A lot of that had to do with my not so great relationship to God and not feeling safe with the idea of this Big Man watching everything I do. Would he be mad if I screwed everything up?”

Last fall Rusert reached out to Lou about joining Intertwine. Now she’s back to singing on Sundays, with the help of her band and the inspiration of her own original material. The music is uplifting, acoustic, gentle. Heavenly in a secular sense. Once the band finishes playing, Mike Rusert stands to address the gathering. He is bald headed, wonderfully bearded and casually dressed. His peacefulness is effusive; he is happy that everyone has shown up.

“It’s been a crazy week, a crazy year, a crazy decade…I feel like it’s been crazy since the internet,” began Rusert.

He cracks a joke about the sun blinding us and offers cookies, coffee, water and Crystal Light. It’s something like Donut Sunday at your local church, except there’s no pressure to donate, and you can eat during the service. My kind of church.

Next, Rusert goes over the “Sunday paper,” a newsletter that outlines the day’s agenda and advertises upcoming events–a winter carnival in December, and another event that is beginning to occur more regularly called Meet Me at the River, which is designed to bridge the gap between North and Northeast Minneapolis through music, art, spoken word, storytelling, and dialogue. One of the city’s tools historically used to segregate is becoming a site for community and artistic exchange. Any and all are welcome to join.

While the organization is buttressed by support from Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Rusert makes it clear that the organization favors no particular faith and welcomes people from every background. He begins to describe Jesus, a figure often associated with the supernatural. But Rusert prefers an alternative interpretation of the man as “super natural,” emphasizing his unique ability to care for and connect with those he encountered in a way that was more down to earth than godly. Rusert uses the metaphor of a Q-tip to describe how we communicate oftentimes today.

“The doctor tells me I shouldn’t use Q-tips to get the wax out of my ear, but I still do it,” said Rusert. We turn to voices we know aren’t telling us the whole story. We keep going to the same source, but all we’re doing is compacting our ideas more. We’re not fixing the problem.”

Following a period of deep breathing, and a drum circle exercise that focused on listening and responding to one another to create harmony through sound, the open dialogue began. The vulnerability was palpable, but as time went on and participation increased, so did confidence and comfortableness. Intertwine Northeast is still a work in progress, but the message is clear: everyone’s story is important.

As Laura Lou concluded, “We’re here to try out this concept of storytelling saving us all.”