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Created to be… Authentic

We are each uniquely created in the image of God. Take a moment and hold up a mirror, or turn your cellphone on selfie mode and look at yourself.

You, in all your glorious beauty, are made in our Creator’s image, perfectly imperfect and uniquely you. We are each created to bring our whole authentic selves to the table. But what does that look like? 

We had the chance to ask a few young people what it means to know that as beloved children of God they are Created To Be Authentic. We also wanted to know when they feel empowered to be their most authentic selves and if they have a community or church that not only supports them in this but also encourages them to live out their God-created identities?

Here are some of their responses—

David from Washington shares:
To me, the word authentic means being myself no matter what others say or think, authenticity is being as real and true to yourself as you can. Being created to be my authentic self means that I am perfectly imperfect and created in the image of God to be exactly who I am, not bending or changing my core values or morals to match others I don’t agree with. It also means that I can choose when to listen to what others have to say about me. At the end of the day, I’m the one making those decisions on what I believe would be most authentic and true to myself and my beliefs. I believe that a community that supports my authenticity is one that doesn’t have harsh rules, standards, or codes and understands everyone is unique in their own way and brings their own personal experiences and knowledge to the table at every conversation and in every action they make. I feel most empowered to be my most authentic self whenever I’m around my friends hanging out, being around the people who make me laugh and smile every day really lets me be my true self and shed away any fake personality I put on around others and be my real most comfortable self.

This is a photo where I felt most myself. I was hanging out with a friend and I had make-up on, and I really liked the outfit I had on. I felt like I was expressing my true self in that moment.

Ryan from Nevada shares:

What does the word “authentic” mean to you?
To be original. Represents faithfully.

What does it mean for you to be created to be your authentic self?
I don’t really know. Maybe just be myself. 

What does it look like for you to have a community or church that supports you in your authenticity?
Sr High group, I feel comfortable with them. 

When and where do you feel empowered or comfortable being your most authentic self?
Cooler classrooms and at church and being on stage leading worship.

Photo Explanation: I felt happy of graduating from high school. I was a senior in 12th grade through the school year of 2022-23, and I graduated at Thomas & Mack Center at U.N.L.V.

Jordyn from Nevada shares:

 I, myself—Jordyn, feel most empowered at anytime, anyplace, and anywhere. I won’t and will not let anything stop me from showing myself to the world. The empowerment that I feel is in making my own decisions. Feeling that I can do anything and not have much doubt in myself is a true gift. Being an African American woman, it is a blessing and honor to see how far I will go to achieve my goals in life. To me, having a community that empowers me to be my true authentic self, means always having back support and moral support. Having people to cheer you on along the sidelines through the thick and thin. Always giving compliments, or even starting a conversation and just giving input without feeling hated. I’ve experienced this kind of support in my school and church.

Oliver from Missouri shares:

The word authentic has taken many different forms throughout my life—from a basic textbook definition to what it is today, my view on the word “authentic” is constantly changing. For me now it means being genuine, even when it hurts. Being authentic starts with being brutally honest with yourself and coming to terms that not everything in your life is going to be fair. Accepting there will be struggles and pain is all a part of being human. God created me to be changed in many ways. God always has a plan and even if we as humans can’t understand it, living out your story and sharing it is all a part of the mission God has sent us all on. Having a community that supports me in my authenticity is something I’m still trying to find. While I’ve grown up in the same church since I was born, all the actions people try to pass as okay due to religion has made it hard to trust. As a transgender individual, I have had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone will love and accept me for who God made me to be. I have realized that church camps are where I have found “family.” Even though we don’t live near each other and can only worship together a few weeks a year, the family we have built with God beside us is what truly matters. I feel my most authentic self at these camps like Leadership Lab. Being able to connect with other youth holding on to their faith through torment and pain makes me not feel alone. These are the places I hope to spread all over the world and create the environment all the time. To me, being authentic is about being truthful to yourself first and a lot of us need others to support us while making all these large realizations. 

This picture was taken in a dorm at Confirmation Camp. I was there as what is called a Mentor Camper; it’s a small group of high schoolers who work with the adults at camp to run small groups and engage the kids. I instantly felt at home. I was loud and energetic and non-apologetic. Normally I am reserved and scared but during this and almost every other week that I have spent at youth camps, I have felt free to be me!

Thank you for sharing! How are you created to be authentic? Where have you found spaces that allow you to be your full authentic self? 


Written by: Bobbi Cyr (she/her)

Connecting creatively, growing authentically in Seattle


Church of the Apostles (COTA) in Seattle, Wash., does church differently. Embracing the essential Pacific Northwest traits of exploration and self-expression, the church has been drawing in young adults between the ages of 20 and 40 (and now their families) since its beginning as a storefront new start in June 2002. A key part of COTA’s identity is its focus on connecting with ancient church traditions in creative ways to grow authentic relationships with God and each other.

COTA is a mission of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. It became an organized congregation in May 2017. Located in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, the church reflects the broader arts culture of its community. COTA seeks to free people to grow in faith by sharing their artistic gifts, boldly, in worship and in life. “We are not about getting to God, but about finding ways for God to get to us,” said the Rev. Ivar Hillesland, pastor.


Worship service at Church of the Apostles, also known as COTA, Seattle

Church of the Apostles calls the beautiful and historic Fremont Abbey (constructed in 1914) its home. In 2005, the Mission Investment Fund of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America invested in COTA by purchasing it. COTA is currently on track to buy the building from MIF. “Without the support from both the synod and the ELCA we would never have been able to make it to our current thriving state and we are eternally grateful. Because of the support these last 15 years, we have also been able to be the springboard for at least 13 ordained clergy with 3 more currently in the ordination process,” said the Rev. Ivar Hillesland. Photo courtesy of JUMAYDESIGNS.COM and COTA.

Reclaiming the ‘de-churched’

Seattle and the neighborhood of Fremont, in particular, is well-known for large concentrations of unchurched, or “de-churched,” people. “COTA holds a particular mission towards those who are wary of, or direct victims of, the institutional church and the harms that have been caused in its name,” said Hillesland.

Church of the Apostles seeks innovative ways to replace the negatives with affirming alternatives. Church leaders continually reimagine the context and flow of worship services, finding new ways to build on ancient traditions. Hillesland says he is fascinated with figuring out new ways to be and do church. He thinks of the COTA ministry as a sort of church research and development lab. “We have tried to find as many ways as possible to let God speak through our worship and being, and we’ve had many failures along with our ‘successes.’”

In another nod to the past, the church’s home is the Fremont Abbey, a beautiful Lutheran church building constructed in 1914. The Abbey also houses the Fremont Abbey Arts Center, established by the COTA congregation to meet the community’s desire for a place to come together to create and experience the arts. COTA continues to partner with the center, currently under the leadership of an independent director, to integrate the arts into worship and community life.

Priesthood of all believers in action

Taking to heart the theology of the priesthood of all believers, the church strives to have leaders with diverse backgrounds and life experiences. The tasks of planning worship and preaching can be especially meaningful to those who have been unwelcome to use their gifts in the church because of their gender, race or sexual orientation. “Centering the voices of those traditionally marginalized speaks to our intention to expand gender and racial representation and experience, and it gives us a more expanded understanding of the imago dei, or divine image present in all humans,” explained Hillesland.

COTA members and friends come together Sunday evenings for worship—a mix of personal interaction, art, music, a message, and a time of exploration. Opening the pulpit creates space for varying perspectives and authentic reflection. Worship is also a time to experience the divine through creative expression of ancient liturgies. For example, worship music, often written by Music Director Lacey Brown, reflects “themes of ambiguity, expressed spiritual pain or longing, and expanded multigender metaphors for the Divine persons.” Brown also encourages musicians in the COTA community to create songs centered on specific themes or seasons, culminating in projects like the recently released Epiphany Songs.

In an ever-changing world, COTA grounds itself by connecting the past to the present in a way that is authentic to its identity and purpose. According to Hillesland, “As more and more things seem ephemeral, we find ourselves seeking ancient things, things deeply rooted in tradition that can anchor us in the turbulence while at the same time give us more freedom and space to creatively experience God.” It is this connection that inspires the people of COTA to go out into the world as people transformed in Christ.

by Kris A. Mainellis, Program Director for Communication and Events, Congregational Vitality