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Action Learning teams present diocesan experiments

Ron Garner of St. George's, Maplewood
Suzanne Willian

Acting on a promise made at Diocesan Convention, four teams of clergy and lay leaders have developed innovative experiments to help the diocese find new ways to do Jesus’ work in a rapidly changing world.

Known as the Action Learning initiative, a total of 21 clergy and lay leaders have spent the past five months wrestling with two key challenges that emerged last year from the work of the congregations engaged in the first cycle of Going Local:

How do we intentionally connect with God as the source of our hope?

How do we discover the leadership skills needed to discern what God is up to in our communities and to join God there?

Two teams focused on each of the two challenges, with each team guided by a coach. The diocesan staff committed in advance to taking action based on the teams' work.

Some of the experiments make use of “Dwelling in the Word,” a spiritual practice of engaging scripture through imagination, in part by reflecting repeatedly, in pairs and in groups, on a single passage of scripture. Bishop Mark Beckwith describes Dwelling in the Word as a means of “kindling my imagination about who God is and how God is working.”

At an all-day meeting on Saturday, June 4 at Episcopal House, the four teams presented their experiments:

Playing Offense for God is an experiment designed to encourage clergy and lay leaders to focus on more than just “the killer Bs” – budgets, boilers, buildings, and blame (for what's not working) – by using portable “Dream Boards” at churches and public places to enable people to post their dreams, hopes and visions for their congregation and their community.

Mash-Up of Social Media and Dwelling is an experimental way for church members to use social media and other means to share the imagination sparked by Dwelling in the Word with fellow congregants and the community.

Meet Up Outside the Gate by the River is designed to reduce the “scariness” of religion by finding time and a safe environment to combine a social activity and a spiritual practice. An example might be a recreational hike combined with Dwelling in the Word.

Connecting with and Talking about God is designed to create and support simple experiences for small groups of people to step back and connect with one another and with God.

Many of the team members said they found the process transformational and expressed gratitude for the opportunity.  The teams engaged in leadership habits, attitudes, and practices necessary in today’s world, including collaboration, self-reflection, and self-learning. They made extensive use of Dwelling in the Word. One of the teams shared, “As a ritual, it level-set us for each meeting. It opened our eyes, our ears and our spirit. It enriched our understanding and our faith.” The teams found that the scripture and practice shaped their collective imagination.

On Wednesday, June 15, coaches from the Action Learning initiative teams will meet with members of diocesan staff, Going Local coaches, and leaders from our governing boards and several diocesan committees to reflect on the teams’ journeys. Their learnings and proposed experiments will help guide diocesan staff and leadership to plan the next steps. Experiments will be launched later this year.

This Action Learning initiative, along with the Going Local initiative launched in 2014 and the gatherings planned for this September, is part of the broader diocesan initiative of “Joining God in shaping our future.”

Action Learning initiative participants

Listed with their town of residence.

Paul Bolles-Beaven, Maplewood (coach)

Geoffrey Brooks, Morristown


Mark Collins, Glen Rock

Ben Fay, Short Hills

Ron Garner, Maplewood

Robert Griner, Newton

Rose Hassan, Ocean Grove

Nancy Harwood, Summit (coach)

Ruth Hook, Franklin Lakes

Peter Jackson, Bloomfield (coach)

Valyrie Laedlein, South Orange (coach)

Tom Mathews, Phillipsburg

Annie Pike, Columbia

Sam Reckford, Short Hills

Diane Riley, Madison

Lisa Sepetjian, Midland Park

Kathryn Shackford, Montclair

Amy Szurly, Harrington Park

Rose Udland, Millburn

Jim Warnke, Teaneck

Vanessa Wigfall, East Orange