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by Sam

Cultivating Abundant Community from the Ground Up

April 23, 2018 in Featured Posts

Coming to the end of our first ‘season’ of Neighbour Nights, this blog post launches a series reflecting on Neighbour Nights as an experiment in “cultivating abundant community from the ground up.” (Part 1 of 4) By Sam Ewell

 

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Our parish of Summerfield is known for its great diversity. Here, variety and difference run rampant – for good, but sometimes unfortunately for division and lack of conversation.

After relocating to Summerfield parish in 2016 (along with another family, the Ahos), we wanted to have genuine conversations with local people about the neighbourhood. So, with the support of Rabiyah Latif at Near Neighbours[1] and in partnership with the local parish church (Christ Church Summerfield) and Summerfield Residents Association, we hatched a plan called “Neighbour Nights.”

The concept of Neighbours Nights is simple and two-fold: connect people around 1) food and 2) how their passions connect with the local community.  On the first Wednesday of every month, we invite neighbours to share what they bring – both 1) food that they are willing to bring and share, and also 2) anything they can offer that will contribute to the well-being of the local community.

In this way, instead of taking on issue-based approach to community organizing which starts with a litany of problems, we take an asset-based approach.  By bringing together and actively involving the diversity of the neighbourhood, the primary function of Neighbour Nights is to ‘detect and connect’ what we have together.

Why? Because when you try to create common ground by focusing on common problems, it is easy to get stuck asking questions about what’s wrong with your neighbourhood …

Why are the queues at the local GP surgery taking so long? When is the council ever going to sort rubbish collection and the chronic litter problem?

 

While we recognize that these questions do require solutions, our experience also tells us that at the grassroots / neighbourhood level, it is more transformational to begin by asking other questions, such as:

What are you passionate about?

What would you like to see happen in this place?

What are you willing to contribute to the well-being of this local community?

 

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In other words, we want to start with what is strong instead of what’s wrong. Or even better: we want to come together to respond to what’s wrong by starting with what’s strong – which is asset-based community development in a nutshell.[2]

We just had Neighbour Nights #6, and six months in, we are just beginning an ongoing journey of “cultivating abundant community from the ground up.” What is so encouraging is that already we are beginning to sense what John McKnight and Peter Block call the “invisible structure of an abundant community.”[3] To understand what they mean, consider their description of how jazz musicians come together to make music:

Think of an after-hours jazz club, where musicians gather because they want to play their music together…they start playing something. It sounds wonderful, and even though they may not have ever seen each other before and have spoken only a few words, wonderful music emerges. To an outsider it is magical.

What is operating is a clear structure, but if you are not part of the jazz culture, the rule and customs that make the music possible are invisible. Similarly, properties of gifts, associations, and hospitality are the hidden structure of [abundant] community life…

…The jazz way is the community way of playing. The invisible structure of gifts, associations, and hospitality creates the possibility and are the rule of a competent community. They are always available and essential.”[4]

Like the jazz jam session, Neighbour Nights is becoming a social space for neighbours to share their gifts, associate for a common purpose, and to extend hospitality.

In upcoming blogs in this series, we will develop how these three components– gifts,association, and hospitality – have begun to come together to enable a sense of abundance.

 

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It is our hope that Neighbour Nights will continue to be a space that is about sharing food and sharing more than food.  A space which:
  • unites neighbours across ethnic, religious and generational lines;
  • gives people a sense of rootedness in the area (in terms of friendship and also in terms of the physical space of the neighbourhood);
  • strengthens existing friendships, enables new one, and even inspires new ways to come together.

For now, we simply want to pause and celebrate the good news that we are already beginning to experience together:  that is, how things and people we most need to flourish as a local community are already and abundantly ‘at hand.’

 

This story was originally published by Companions For Hope

Follow along with this Intentional Christian Collective rooted in Summerfield, Birmingham, UK

[1] For more information about Near Neighbours, see http://www2.cuf.org.uk/how-we-help/near-neighbours.

[2] For more on asset-based community development, or ABCD, I would recommend starting with two websites:  1)http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/(UK/Europe); 2) http://www.abundantcommunity.com/ (USA)

[3] John McKnight and Peter Block, The Abundant CommunityAwakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2010), 81.

[4] McKnight and Block, The Abundant Community, 82.

by pcadmin

Facilitating in Communities that You Don’t Live In

April 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

Creating Safe Space
A couple weeks ago I sat at a dinner table with some lovely people who were involved in various aspects of refugee ministry across North America. We had recently emerged from a co-learning space where I had facilitated and taught on the topic of developing healthy and authentic cross-cultural relationships. The ability to break bread together (or in this case chicken burgers) allowed the opportunity for us to deepen our learning experience. It was in this space that I heard something that made me excited. One of the White attendees commented that she had been observant of how I “held the room” for my 90 minutes as a facilitator, which in turn provided her with tips on how to do the same when she sought to share the information with her staff and volunteers. Her astuteness and attentiveness to my facilitation practices, i.e., when I stood and when I sat, brought much joy to me because I believe that 25% of biblical reconciliation work in a co-learning space is information dissemination, while the other 75% is the actual space that is created for people to be able to feel safe enough to begin examining and challenging their perspectives, beliefs and actions, as well as those of the social and structural systems around them.

Although my co-learners do not typically name the facilitation techniques that I use, it is actually common for me to hear that they felt safe, honored and/or respected during our time together. I am honored and overjoyed every time I hear some version of this feedback because it means that one of my main goals of training has been fulfilled. Let’s be clear, when I share space with co-learners, regardless of what title is affixed to the workshop, it is almost undoubted that we will (in one way or another) touch on themes of biblical reconciliation, privilege, power, oppression, the history of racism, and analyze the social and societal structures that support racism. The subject matter can be challenging and create much discomfort and dissonance, a fact which I forewarn people of at the onset of our time together. I owe my ability to create a safe co-learning space for co-learners to an intentional application of ABCD principles. In specific the principle of listening.

The Practice of Listening
In ABCD we rely heavily on the practice of listening for the sake of understanding the gifts and talents that are already present in a community. This ongoing posture of listening helps to ensure that community members are being heard and are active contributors to the agenda building and problem-solving processes. In like manner, I employ listening techniques pre-, during and post-facilitation to ensure that the learning community that’s created is aware of the knowledge and gifts that’s inherently present in the room. Jeanette Romkema of Global Learning Partners (GLP) has pointed me towards excellent Dialogue Education tools and resources (i.e., Learning Needs and Resource Assessment), which help with creating learning spaces that honor co-learners. I highly recommend checking out their website which is chock-filled with ways to build listening into the design, implementation and evaluation of your workshop. Technology of Participation’s (TOP) Focused Conversation facilitation method also offers an excellent framework for creating questions that allow co-learners to engage in conversations that move from surface understanding of concepts to deeper meanings and contemplation of current and/or future actions.

Other ways that I employ listening is through providing co-learners with the opportunity to share the ways that they’ve already used the principles discussed in our workshops and by offering them a space to problem-solve collectively when contextual questions arise before inserting my own input. In these ways I try to empower them by revealing their God-given abilities to walk justly and act mercifully toward others. I also invariably try to provide some opportunity, usually through an activity, for co-learners to be able to examine and share their own narratives. This allows people to determine their social location, provides opportunity for them to identify how they fit into the social continuum (including their access to privilege), and provide opportunity for them to share how they’ve experienced oppression or marginalization (no matter the degree) due to some aspect of their social identity. It has been my experience that these listening practices assists in disarming co-learners and in building learning environments that they feel safe to explore in.

Anyone who has engaged in the work of racial reconciliation or had a discussion about race related issues can tell you that describing it as hard can at times be a gross understatement. I have found that employing listening strategies that are central to the practice of ABCD has by God’s grace provided opportunity for sacred spaces to be created that by their nature oppose the dehumanization of others. It is my hope that by assuming a listening posture that dignity is offered each co-learner and Grace and Truth finds their place to transform each heart including my own.

What tools, resources or practices do you use to create safe spaces in co-learning environments?

(Camp Shout Staff Training; Photo Courtesy of Bernadette Arthur)

– Originally posted here.

Five Hopeful Signs that Dare Us to Be the Church

April 6, 2018 in Featured Posts, Parish Stories

If you take five minutes to scan through your facebook feed or even the headlines of the news, it sure does seem like there are good reasons to start freaking out.

Easter day bombings in Pakistan, ISIS terrorist attacks in Brussels, Global Climate Change. Mass Migration. Growing Inequality. Nations constantly at war. Societies perpetually distressed.

Oh, and, Um…Donald Trump.

And if Trump doesn’t make you leery, or if perhaps you lean to the other side of the political aisle, it might make you uneasy that a Socialist just had a rally in a baseball stadium.

But, regardless of whether you are Republican, Democrat, or something in between, if you care about the future of the church you probably also find yourself shaking your head in bewilderment these days.

As some churches battle with each other on political issues, the tsunami of both the “nones” (the quickly growing demographic of folks opting out of Christianity) and the “dones” (those who, because of their faith, are opting out of institutional church) continues to swell. If you are paying attention, you’ll notice plenty of hand wringing in both the pews and denominational boardrooms all across North America. People fear things are getting out of control. And maybe they are.

So where do we find hope?

In recent years there has been a diligent hunt for signs of life within Christendom. But if we are honest, our search has left us wanting and confused (or do you need to check Facebook again?).

We find ourselves asking: Are there any signs of life beyond the forms and structures of church that have dominated the mainstream Christian imagination?

Most of us know that there is a rapid decline in what is commonly measured as “church growth and success.” That is, decline in membership, shrinking attendance and aging congregants. Church leaders are scrambling to attract more people to their church community, particularly Millenials, in order to increase their cultural impact. Yet these approaches don’t seem to be addressing real problems that God is inviting the church to help alleviate.

Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions and looking in the wrong direction.

While some may grieve the conclusion of church forms of the 21st century, there is, in fact, great hope out ahead of us. The next chapter of God’s story of renewal might be happening so close that it’s difficult to see. Just look more intently and you’ll notice that in our backyards, across our streets and in the very center of our cities, towns, and villages, God is birthing something profoundly beautiful. Beyond our church growth charts and measurement sticks there is a movement bursting up from the ground, a counter narrative to the anxious grip of the past. A movement is growing to reclaim the ancient idea of the parish for the 21st century. When we say the word parish, we mean that people are weaving their lives together in actual places large enough to live much of their live (live, work, and play), but small enough to be known as a character within the story of that place. In neighborhoods, suburbs, villages, and towns followers of Jesus are learning how to be the church in the everyday context of their actual lives.

Here’s what we’re talking about: People everywhere are coming together to follow Jesus and join God’s renewal in every neighborhood, every sector and every culture. We could call it ecclesial kenosis. Communities of faith are taking shape by letting go of the small story of church growth and embracing the big story of joining God right where they are.

The signs are everywhere! Out in the streets, the storefronts, small businesses, parks, porches and playgrounds… life is happening, abundantly. God’s love in Jesus is renewing the world and through it, the church is taking root in some of the most innovative ways we’ve seen. In suburbs, in city centers, rural communities and small towns all over North America and likely all over the world, the people who make up this movement are countering darkness with light, forming deep human connection and contending for God’s shalom in everyday faithful ways. They’re not only reclaiming a sense of place, but partnering with God to alter the paradigm for what it means to be the church.

At a recent retreat gathering of pioneering place-based churches, we rummaged through treasures of stories and statements in an attempt to convey what we’ve experienced as the most common threads of practices, values and distinctives that seem to be evident in this movement of God in neighborhoods all over.

It became apparent that these were indeed signs of life worth celebrating and marking. We’re calling them signs because they’re not meant to prescribe a particular method or propose a formula for doing church differently. Rather, these signs are drawn from stories, pictures and expressions of what God is already doing to love the world.

The Five Signs of the Parish Movement

  1. Centering on Christ: Formed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we seek to share life together as a tangible expression of Christ’s body in our parish. Saying that Christ is at the center is not just a statement of belief but a commitment to a way of life together. As communities we commit to love one another and grow together with Christ within the grime and beauty of our everyday stories.
  2. Inhabiting Our Parish: Rooting our lives in our neighborhood, we seek to join God’s renewal in, with, and for our place. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, we are learning to accept our limitations as a gift from God, live with intentionality, be known by our actual neighbors and tangibly love those around us. We seek to participate in God’s renewal by listening to, serving, and caring for the land and the people where we live, work and play.
  3. Gathering to Remember: Trusting that God is at work, we draw together in worship to remember the larger story of our faith, rehearse the kind of people God desires us to be in the parish, and encourage one another in love and discernment. We have discovered that the more active we are in joining God’s renewal in our neighborhoods, the more crucial it is for us to gather back together to grow in our faith, strengthen one another and remember that we are a part of the massive story of God.
  4. Collaborating for God’s Renewal: Joining God’s renewal within the broken systems of our world, we seek to reconcile fractured relationships and celebrate differences by collaborating across cultural barriers and learning to live in solidarity with those in need. It’s never been more important to foster unity between all the diverse followers of Christ within our local contexts. Just as important, we are learning to collaborate with neighbors from other traditions, faiths and experiences as we journey alongside the suffering and pain of those around us. If ever there was going to be a robust movement of unity in the 21st century church it will likely be lay-led, local, and in the neighborhood. When unity and trust grow between us, it is amazing how we can work together and build peace for the common good.
  5. Linking Across Parishes: Actively connecting with other Christian communities across parishes regionally and globally, we grow in mutual learning, friendship, and life giving partnership. We live in the most interconnected moment this world has ever experienced. We are learning how desperately we need one another if we are going to step into the challenges and opportunities set before us. Not only do we need to trust God but we are committed to learning how to trust one another as well. This is not an easy task, but there is no other way to be faithful, much less effective, if we don’t learn how to link up at an unprecedented scale.

We should say in conclusion that these five signs are not a new gimmick or fad. After all, the Church through the ages has certainly been living into these themes since the beginning. But it does feel like there is something new in the air. And while there may be plenty of confusion and frustration swirling around our broader culture and within the church, we find ourselves brimming with hope. If more and more communities take on this God sized dare to faithful presence in our neighborhoods, then we couldn’t imagine a brighter future.

By Tim Soerens and Christiana Rice