Magic In The Community & Stone Soup

Yesterday I met for the first time with a core team beginning to plan a three day gathering in September 2017. There were seven of us. We have plenty of time to plan the actual gathering — the times, the teachings, the methods used, etc. — that was not the focus for yesterday. What I liked in yesterday’s meeting is that we began to say hello to each other in this context. Lead by a friend, the committee chair, it was well-hosted with a simple starting question — What is it that excites you about being part of this team?

I find that a team gets formed when we start sharing desires. There is the making a list of who will be involved part and some key roles. That’s good and needed. But it really gets juicy when we give ourselves permission to wander a bit together about what is going on, what is exciting, what is challenging, and get a glimpse of connection between what individual people care about and how that relates to what we can do collectively (at this meeting there will be 150 or so participating). Each person spoke a bit about excitement. One person spoke about enjoying the 2016 gathering so much and wanting to know what was the “special sauce.” His intuition told him it was about people in deliberate forms of turning to one another.

I have found this insight about community to be true, with of course a bit of nuancing that is about turning to one another in stories, and questions, and sadnesses, and play. The community itself, in the act of getting curious together, is the special sauce.

Another friend and colleague traveling in Mumbai recently sent me an invitation to a community gathering there, along with this version of Stone Soup.

Stone Soup: A popular folktale tells of a visitor to a village who notices that the villagers seldom do anything together. On his travels he has picked up an unusual looking small pebble. He points to this “magic”stone and invites everyone to share in a magical meal prepared with the power of this stone: “stonesoup“’. But, each one would need to bring something to add to the soup. So all the villagers arrive with carrots, tomatoes, beans and so forth, and soon there is a delicious soup which they all enjoy together. They are delighted at coming back together and sharing and realize the magic of community is not in the stone.
The special sauce is the community. The magic is the community. Animating and grounding each other. And this is true at the core team level, just starting a journey together. And for the imagining of 150 people together when the time comes.

Unity Project

I love this short video shared by a person on the Core Hosting Team for the annual meeting of the UCC Central Pacific Conference. Today was a first meeting, mostly about beginning to say hello to each other in this context of preparing together for a meeting in September. There will be about ten of us to journey together to create connection, theme, invitation, learning, reflection, the meeting itself, and post-meeting noticing together.

I love the parts of creating connection with words and beyond words. Makes me want to do this!

A Center


The center of a meeting space is a physical space. Yes. A point to which people have equal access. Or perhaps, unimpeded access. Or, shared access. It could be the center of a circle of chairs, a point on the floor with a book. Or flowers. Or cloths and bowls like in this above photo for a group of 120. It could also be the center of a table, marked by even a pen. A center is different than a front of the room. Yes, a front of the room is called for at times. Good. As always, don’t forget that there are choices. Physically, what I tell people that are just starting to learn participative leadership, is to get used to moving chairs. So that there is a center.

The center of a meeting space is also an energetic space. Yes. An area that can act as holding place for people’s intentions, questions, worries, imaginations, aspirations. It’s an area to place a thought, daring to let it rest with thoughts that others are also contributing. It’s an area to let energetically simmer what is arising from people interacting. I often think of the center as a giant pot for cooking soup. The ingredients for that soup are all that people add to the figurative middle of important work and discovery that we human beings need to cook together.

I love the photos scattered around this center. They were used as physical images in an exercise to invite people to come to the middle, in silence, and to select an image that represents some of how they feel about the business that we would be up to together on this day.

A call to come to the center of the work. A call to go to the center in themselves. They both matter. Physically. Energetically. Repeatedly.

Bigger Group; More Reliance on Spirit


I like a lot of the things about this photo, taken last week at the start of the United Church of Christ, Central Pacific Conference (CPC) Annual Meeting that I got to cohost. I like its cleanness — ready for people that would soon start arriving. I like its center, arranged by colleague and friend Kelly Ryan — multi-layered with cloth, bowls, and candles. I like the rim that is a double circle — this one was arranged for 140 people. Yes, it impacted people. When you arrive used to a podium, round dinner tables for eight, and a stack of papers, a clean circle like this makes you rethink what is about to happen.

One of the dynamics that I like to challenge in participative leadership is how to work with large groups. Some hold a few premises underneath — that you can’t do meaningful participative leadership with large groups. The group is too big. It’s too complicated to have so many small tables. You can’t harvest with such a large group. There are too many voices to hear. These are all good, honest concerns. However, I find myself unwilling to accept the premises. I’m too stubborn probably. I’d like to think stubbornly imaginative, enough to explore other ways. And my direct experience in working with large groups (up to 1,500 — but more commonly with 150-200) points to the opposite.

What I’ve learned, and felt reconfirmed last week with CPC, is that in large groups there is more dependence on spirit — feeling what is happening, rather than literal observation of everything. There is more dependence on sensing (even welcoming) the invisible among people than on the capturing of every word. Here’s the kicker by the way — this is true in all groups; it’s just more obvious in larger groups.

The larger the group means more reliance on feeling the room. With a faith community, it can be easier to do this. They are typically quite accustomed to welcoming the invisible in and among us. But the point, in and out of faith communities, is that, as leaders, we are restoring an ability to see and feel the whole of what is happening in the group. Engaging together. Improving our skill so notice what is emerging. It means that when you have a good partner conversation, though you don’t know what is said in all the other partner conversations, you can imagine that they had a similar quality to what you just had with your partner.

Possible to work with big groups, intimately, and participatively? Absolutely — and because of people like those at the CPC Annual Meeting last week in Pendleton, OR, I don’t even need to say it stubbornly.