I have had a week to reflect.
Others have reported on the wonderful enthusiasm and wisdom emerging from diverse Aussie/CALD leaders, mostly in their 20's (with a few in their 30's). I had the privilege of facilitating some of their sessions. We used the Space for Grace process mentioned in other places on this blog. (We were not discussing Marriage, but life, spirituality, context and ministry.) The process involves setting some ground rules and then standing back while they take on co-leading themselves.
The themes emerging from 2nd generation leaders (not in order) were:
1. tradition, culture and faith
2. discovering and inherited faith
3. perserverence of faith
4. discerment and hyphenated identity
5. transition in growing cross cultural communities
6. cultural expectation
7. parenting 3rd generation
Each of these themes warrants further work, but my focus today is on the community and the process and what I observed.
Diversity is a challenge for any gathering. Building a sense of group identity and shared community requires finding commonality within the mosaic (and confusion) of competing stories. Allowing participants the room to be able to share uninterrupted stories on their own terms (rather than being dissected by others) invited people to learn about the rich Humanity within their new community. This is about building a new community (a new foretaste of Heaven) rather than privileging the previous identity groups as constrictive and limiting experiences. The new community is called into being by the breath of the Spirit made known by those who are present and engaged with one another.
One of the participants commented afterward,
After only a morning, we felt as if we had been growing together as a community for a week or more. It was a profound experience of knowing one another in a new way.And,
I really noticed the difference when we left the safety of the S4G and went into another setting.We printed several key questions that people could choose from:
Space 4 Grace
Questions for everyone – sharing of life
Share a story to:
1. Tell us about your life, communities, your ministry context
2. Help us to see and handle differences
a. How do you understand your place in the household / family / workplace?
b. Is your faith inherited or personally discovered?
4. Tell us about your Spiritual Life
a. What kinds of practices nourish your spirit?
b. How do you pray? What is important in praying for you?
c. How do you connect with the Scriptures? Are there special passages for you?
d. Tell us about your spiritual community
After everyone had an opportunity to share stories related to the above questions, small groups explored emerging themes...
Questions for Small Groups
1. What did you notice?
2. Are there any emerging issues?
3. What is Important about identify?
4. What is important regarding spiritual disciplines?
The Community was also built by having generous times for games and meals and plenty of opportunities for informal conversations. It reminded me of an old Youth-work learning: All Youth Ministry involves food and/or music. Certainly, these help to build and nourish community - a bit like Communion really.
Using Space 4 Grace can take a really long time for deep issues, but it can take a couple of hours, as we did in this setting. We divided into two manageable groups once everyone had mastered the skills of RESPECT Guidelines and MUTUAL INVITATION and done a demonstration of how to do these. We called for volunteers to be theme note-takers and invited the first story-sharers for each group. A couple of the older people visited each group to see how they were getting on.
Being in groups of 15 was big enough to get real diversity and small enough to develop a sense of community intimacy. I know other larger groups have experienced the same kind of intimacy, but that takes greater listening discipline to sustain for a longer period of time.
When both groups were done, we gathered together and checked the themes across the groups and then got people to circle those that were most important from the conversations. That is how we got the list (above). Everyone had two goes at refining the themes, so there was built-in validation within the process.
What I observed
I was expecting life-issues to surface and I was expecting community to be built. I was surprised by how quickly the participants entered into very deep sharing. It was a privilege to be present as God graced us all with an experience of holiness. The Spirit was present and it felt amazing. I can logic about this experience, but nothing I write can adequately reflect the profound sense of the presence of God among God's people.
Others talked about the experience, too. The next day, participants shared about their desire to extend the community they had experienced and try out the methods in other contexts.
Asian, European, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern and African followers of Jesus have different traditions and experiences of faith. They read the Bible in different languages and give emphasis to different parts of Scripture and different spiritual practices. They often get segregated and hide behind their own cultural limitations. Yet, in this context, people were able to learn from one another, pushing beyond "fear of the other" into exploring how we might be informed by one another and through relationship.
God was glorified from multiple perspectives!
Where to from here?
I now firmly believe that God is revealed in the multitude that makes up the Body of Christ, not by the individual voice of the dominant culture. Therefore, I will work to enable the members of the multitude to find their voices and develop listening skills. This is why I have served on the various Councils of the Church and why I will continue to encourage people who do not automatically get approached. We need the voices God calls - not just the ones we are comfortable with.