Well, our happy little Looking Forward Task Force is growing! In addition to the First Lutheran folks, we enjoyed the company and great input from Prince of Peace members Gayla and Vernetta (and Ava, of course, but she has been with us since meeting #2, anyway).
This meeting moved us a little closer to first action steps. Next time we get together, we’re going to do a little bit of learning about One-on-One conversations, then move into a little bit of practice doing those. That may be the focus for our next two meetings. After that, this group will begin scheduling One-on-Ones with folks from both congregations … and possibly some other people from outside our church communities who might be interested in partnering with us in the future.
What’s the purpose of these One-on-One meetings?
- Establishing or deepening relationships and building confidence;
- The listener will want to learn some significant things about the person they’re meeting with: what makes them “tick”, what they
value, who they really are, and what has brought them to this point in life;
- The conversation partners might find commonly held interests, goals or values that can lead them into new opportunities for collaboration and community building inside and outside the congregation;
- There’s an opportunity or a possibility at least that, while a person begins talking about their story, they might actually learn some things about themselves that they didn’t realize were true, leading to new clarity and self-appreciation.
There are a list of questions … well, not really so much a list, but a number of conversations starters to ease folks into conversation, so nobody will have to go deep diving right off the bat. But the goal, really, is to find out what motivates people in life, what gives them joy, what makes them sad or angry, what it is that they really value and are willing to commit to, especially in terms of their faith life. If we want to have vibrant communities (and we do, right? Otherwise, what’s the point of church?), we need to know these kinds of things, so that we can shape and form community to be what we are longing for.
Once we learn some things about folks, the Looking Forward group will do some looking back, specifically to the Scriptures, to find biblical models that share the faith goals that OUR people have identified. This won’t look like a pastor teaching about a biblical model, but rather it will be collaborative and interactive searching of the scriptures for something that we relate with in practical ways. In any case, a biblical grounding will be necessary for informed community-building. As will prayer: both prayer that asks and prayer that listens. Listening to God through scripture and through one another will lay a great foundation for the future.
So, for the moment, that’s the plan.
One of the really neat/interesting things about the timing of all of this is that ACTION (the Tulsa area community action group to which both congregations belong as part of “Lutherans in ACTION”) is doing some training on One-on-One meetings right now, as well. Synchronicity! (Or, more likely, the movement of the Holy Spirit!) And so some of our folks have already started thinking about their own motivations right now.
I just wanted to share a little bit of that with you. Within our group, because this is a multi-racial gathering, we’re experiencing both anger and hope. Anger, because the era of racial tension we all thought we had outlived is still a going concern. Hope, because some of us who are privileged enough not to have to live the racial tension on a daily basis, seem finally to be hearing our siblings of color when they tell us how exhausting that is. The cry, “How long” is something folks will probably have to shout out for a long time to come, but at least there is some hope that times are slowly beginning to change. The church ought to be a group that champions justice for the historically marginalized and oppressed, calling for a leveling of the playing field. (Reading Luke’s Gospel gives us great insight into this.)
What’s starting to coalesce from the task force is that the congregation that comes out the other side of our Looking Forward process will need to be one that exists for the sake of others. (See Bonhoeffer’s answer to the question: Who is Christ for us today?) That means we will need to stand for racial reconciliation in Tulsa. Some other things we’ve identified so far include intentional “charity” work, intentional advocacy work, work to alleviate loneliness in our communities, and undergirding all of this, there lies a need for deepening spirituality. This is an opportunity for church to be more than something we do on Sundays, but really something good and meaningful that we could incorporate into our daily lives. That kind of purpose and that kind of mission is going to make a difference in terms of success and growth.
Emotional health of the congregation(s) is one final area we talked about. There is a program called “Healthy Congregations,” which is really a congregation-based approach to Family Systems Theory, and this can be very helpful in terms of dealing with conflicts that inevitably arise in community, ways to avoid unnecessary conflict and ways of dealing with conflict in ways that can lead to better understanding and deeper growth. It’s a huge field and deep work, but we would definitely benefit from it.
So, the last thing I wanted to mention was that we once again ended the meeting asking each participant to share how they were feeling by the time we finished up. Here’s how we shook out: Good, hopeful, excited, interested, relieved, thoughtful.