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Dispatches from the "Going Local" journey (continued)

Eugene Foley, St. Stephen’s, Millburn
The Rev. Ginny Dinsmore

Being better neighbors was a consistent theme of the stories from the six congregations who came together at Episcopal House on Saturday, June 11 along with their coaches to share what they are learning, and plan next steps in experimenting.

The teams from the congregations in the first and second cycles of Going Local, which are referred to collectively as “Going Local 2.0,” spent the morning and early afternoon sharing what happened, what worked well, and what they are learning about themselves, their team members and fellow parishioners, and their towns.

Going Local is a process that invites clergy and congregations on a journey together. On the journey, relationships are formed and developed with God, with each other, and with neighbors. Through five cyclic practices, we are learning what it means to be God’s people in a complex world – and to join God in our neighborhoods.

Teams from St. Andrew's, Harrington Park, St. David's, Kinnelon and St. Stephen's, Millburn started the first cycle of Going Local in March 2014. A year later, in March 2015, the second cycle launched with teams from St. Peter's, Livingston, All Saints', Millington and Church of the Messiah in Chester.

"Dwelling in the Word," in the passage of Luke 10:1-12, continues to be the foundation for all we do in Going Local. The Luke story – in which Jesus sends 70 followers out into the world – becomes a new lens through which we see our neighborhoods and communities. It is a new lens for living.

Ginger McArthur, St. Peter's, Livingston

Although most of the work of Going Local takes place within the congregation and town, approximately every three months all the teams come together to share learnings.

The team members from St. Andrew’s, Harrington Park have been listening to leaders in the town and have found that people are willing to talk with them. Although some of the town officials thought they were looking for a project to do, the team assured them that they were simply trying to be better neighbors by knowing them better. They are working on widening the circle of neighbors and changing the focus from “interviewing” to “conversations.” Next steps include an intentional focus on involving the entire congregation in interacting around the dwelling text and getting to know their neighbors on a deeper level.

Amy Szurly, St. Andrew's, Harrington Park

The team from St. Stephen’s, Millburn set up a table and experimented with intentional listening at a local street fair. “We are trying to find our community,” says Heather Webster.

They learned that it was good to be sociable in a world that is becoming increasing unsociable. They felt part of the neighborhood as the street filled with people – a river of people. And although they did not have many conversations, the ones they had were priceless.

The team from St. David’s, Kinnelon, along with eleven other parishioners, participated in the town’s Memorial Day event. As a conversation-starter, they wore and distributed buttons that said “Be a Neighbor.” Their next step is to reflect with parishioners on what they heard and how they experienced God’s presence.

The team from St Peter’s, Livingston found that they were putting undue pressure on themselves and making it extremely difficult to complete their original project in a timely way, so they decided to simply have conversations with strangers wherever they found themselves. They remained free to ask the original scripted questions – such as, Where did you grow up? What brought you to Livingston? – but they did not let that constrain them. One team member described herself as very shy when it comes to speaking with strangers but “I feel fulfilled when I am able to – everybody has a story.” In reflection they realized how easily a conversation turns into hearing a story. The experiment is changing how they walk in the world, making them “door openers to something deeper,” says John McLaverty, a consultant with The Missional Network (TMN) who is helping guide the Going Local initiative.

Angie Ratkowitz, St. Peter's, Livingston

The team from All Saints’, Millington discovered in November through a parishioner that there was a house for veterans in transition in their neighborhood. The team now shares meals with these local veterans, describing the events as “like a Sunday dinner at grandma’s.” They are forming relationships and find themselves receiving and offering peace and healing through conversation. They are learning to be ok with the discomfort that comes with difficult conversations. And they are learning to take more time to reflect and evaluate where they are and determine next steps.

The team at Church of the Messiah in Chester partnered with the town recreation department to create art out of recyclables in celebration of Earth Day, and displayed the art at the town gazebo on Main Street. The intention was to actively listen to the community, and the team reports that the conversation seemed to flow. Sharon Sheridan Hausman said the interaction she and her son had with the special needs adult was for her an “encounter with the kingdom.” Their next step is to summarize their experience with the congregation.

It was clear to me in this gathering that the teams are learning from one another and becoming “Luke 10 people” as the story lives in them and they live out the story in their own contexts.

The Going Local 2.0 congregations will check in with one another again in October, to share updates on these experiments, discuss what the teams and clergy cohorts have learned, evaluate, and consider next steps.

(Previous dispatches from the Going Local journey can be found here and here.)