In this podcast, Ginny Dinsmore, Suzanne Willian and Kay Lark – all intimately involved in the Joining God in Shaping Our Future process – quickly review some of the experiments and excitement that came out of the report-outs in June. They also describe what to expect next, including the three gatherings this September - Listening Tables - to which all members of the diocese are invited.
Listen to the podcast here. Time: 13:05.
Greetings to all and sundry from 31 Mulberry Street in beautiful downtown Newark, New Jersey, the headquarters of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. Thank you for joining us on our first ever podcast…
…as we all seek to Join God in Shaping our Future. You heard that I am not alone. I am joined by the Rev. Ginny Dinsmore, who is the Coordinator for Missional Church Strategy for the diocese, and Suzanne Willian, who is the Project Coordinator for Joining God in Shaping our Future. I am Kay Lark, Assistant Project Coordinator and your host for this podcast.
More and more people in the diocese are taking part in the journey we are calling Joining God in Shaping our Future. What do we need to know? Let’s do some quick basics. Ginny, it all started with Going Local. Can you please describe the Going Local process for us?
Sure! It started about two years ago we started with TMN – The Missional Network – who came and really wanted to help address the questions of how do our churches, how do our congregations, get out into their neighborhoods. So we started on a journey with them, together with some congregations, and what they’re doing is discerning what God is up to in their neighborhoods.
And if you think about it, they go along two tracks. The clergy are on one track working on leadership issues, and congregations are on a second track and they’re working on simple experiments in their neighborhoods. On June 11 we had a report out on experiments. And you know, my favorite part of that day was when I heard one of the team members say, “You know, we have not been good neighbors and we really want to be. And I thought that was a really important thing for people to name that reality. And then also, just how simple things can have such a profound effect in people’s lives.
I totally agree with Ginny, and wanted to tell my favorite part of that report out was witnessing several people relay that their lives had been changed in very real ways, simply by their participation in the Going Local process. And also, I loved that the groups fed on each other and supported each other. So great to see them all, you know, working as one, even though they had different tasks.
So, the next leg of the journey involves groups known as Action Learning Teams. Now I must point out that this is an actual, real world process used by business and other non-profit groups, it’s not something we dreamed up out of our heads. Suzanne, can you please describe the Action Learning Team process.
I will do my best! The Going Local process – early phases of the Going Local process – raised questions for which there are no easy, immediate answers. One of those questions was how do we intentionally connect with God as the source of our hope. Another of the questions was what leadership skills are needed to discern what God is up to in our communities.
To address those questions, we pulled together four teams of clergy and lay together and asked them to come up with experiments to look at ways of addressing those questions, thereby setting the stage for the diocese to find new ways of doing Jesus’ work in a rapidly changing world. June 4th was the report out on these recommended experiments, and my favorite part of the day was observing and really loving the deep bonds that were formed within the teams, one of the coaches mentioned that the opportunity to talk about church and faith in a small group was really powerful.
My favorite part of that report out was when one team actually got us to participate in the experiment that they were proposing, and just being able to participate in that and really kind of start to share faith stories with people you don’t necessarily know that well, I thought that was really important. We don’t have the opportunity to do that very often, and so I really like that part.
And you know seeing just really in front of my eyes how people were transformed by participating in the Action Learning Teams, it was just more than what we actually ever hoped for, I think, and also they came up with some very interesting experiments. I can’t wait to see what happens!
And so there’s a very important component of both of these legs of the journey into the neighborhood, and it’s kind of like a Bible study, but not exactly like what you would expect. It’s known as Dwelling in the Word, and I’m going to ask Ginny, because she’s worked it so long, she’s kind of like the “Queen of Dwelling in the Word” – and so I’m going to ask her to please just give us a brief description.
Sure. So just briefly, it’s really a way of listening to scripture, to a story, and we listen to the same passage over a period of time and what really happens is we start to live into the story as the story starts to live into us. It’s really important for today because, one, it’s really accessible to everyone. We don’t need an expert to do this bible study. But more importantly, it helps us stop, in a time of the world when we don’t stop very often, but to stop and listen for where the spirit of God is coming into our lives, interacting with us in our lives, and on a theological level it helps us rediscover a biblical imagination.
I really appreciate Dwelling in the Word, and one of the reasons I think it’s so important is that accessibility, as you mentioned, Ginny. It allows everyone, clergy, lay, you don’t have to be an expert in religious studies, you listen to a story and you try to stop where your imagination is sparked and then you share those ideas. So it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the history or the chronological series of events it’s just using your imagination, creativity, in really listening for what the spirit is trying to tell you.
We all love Dwelling in the Word as a staff and we have been doing it literally for years and we’re working with people who have been doing it for 20, 25 years. And you always find something to talk about. And honestly, twice in my own life I have experienced a connection between the biblical world and my own little tiny world, it’s showed me things I never would have thought about on my own. I kid you not.
So on June 15th, 2016, we had a big gathering here [at 31 Mulberry Street], and I am going to get Suzanne to tell us what happened at that gathering, the things we were looking at and what we were talking about.
So shortly after the report out on Going Local and Action Learning, a group of 25 clergy and lay leaders from across the diocese, representing Going Local and Action Learning and leadership groups and congregational leadership, and so on and so forth, came together to receive an overview of the reports from Going Local and Action Learning, and began answering a basic, core question: How do we go on a journey together, to discern what God is up to in our neighborhoods, to join God there and become vital, thriving congregations or communities of faith?
So if you listen to that question carefully, there are some verbs that jump out:
The first is GO – how we go on a journey. The June 15 meeting began with a Dwelling in the passage from Joshua where the entire nation of Israel crosses over the Jordan on dry ground while priests hold the Ark of the Covenant on dry ground, in the middle of the river. We as a diocese are standing at the edge of the river to indicate that it’s time to begin dreaming of the future “across the river.” Go – active not passive! The second verb that jumps out is DISCERN. Discern is really church talk for “discover.” In order to discover we must first listen, listen to each other, listen to our neighbors, listen to God. Through listening and discovering current applications of Biblical passages through Dwelling in the Word, we discover or dream or discern of new ways of living together. This leads to JOIN, literally joining God in the neighborhood. In the simple “try it on” experiments designed by the Going Local and Action Learning Teams, parishioners physically go into their neighborhoods and walk with and sit with and talk with and eat with and learn with and celebrate with their neighbors. And the last verb BECOME. After an experiment is accomplished, the congregation evaluates: What happened? What did we learn? What implications does this have going forward? And it is in the going forward that we increasingly BECOME God’s people in a complex world, more at one with each other, our neighbors and with our God - who was, by the way, out there ahead of us the whole time anyway. These implications will suggest further experiments, the congregations will decide on the next experiment and the cycle will begin again, and again, and hopefully never end.
Suzanne, that was so beautiful!! I’m going to quickly list the five core practices that you’ve just described: It’s really at the heart of what we have been doing and what we will continue to be doing. Those practices are: listening, discerning, experimenting, evaluating and deciding.
It seems to me that we do this every day, all day long. It’s not magic, it’s nothing new, but it is about making these practice intentional, about using these practices in how we approach everything.
Well thank you Ginny and Suzanne. I really appreciated that, going through the challenge that we have in front of us, to go through these various steps. Suzanne, I was wondering if you could you tell us a little bit about what we can expect to see rolled out in the near future.
Absolutely! This fall, the Going Local and Action Learning Teams will be performing experiments. For example, one experiment that came out of the Action Learning process is being called “Playing Offense for God.” And this experiment is being designed to encourage positive dreaming and visioning by posting “Dream Boards” at churches and public places.
And many other experiments that will be fleshed out as time goes along. And we do have some meetings coming up, so Suzanne, could you please give us the information on that?
Absolutely! In order to give information and get information from as many people as possible, we are hosting three Listening Tables in September: September 8th, 13th and 17th. All congregations and all individuals – everyone – is invited and encouraged to attend. We are especially hoping that two or more will gather from all of our churches. There is a video invitation, and times and location are on the main page of our diocesan website – get out your pencils – www dot dioceseofnewark dot org. Please watch this video, grab a buddy, and register online to attend one of the listening tables.
All right then, thank you, dear listener, for joining us for our first podcast. If you found it helpful, please tell your friends. We don’t want you or your neighbors to miss out on this exciting journey. Ladies…
God is up to something. Let’s find out together!