Where The Magic Happens

Thanks United Church of Christ, Central Pacific Conference for the above drawing. It was in a mailing inviting a program of “Radical Welcome, Transformative Faith, and Whole-Hearted Church.” Good, right?

I’m not working on this program, but my contribution is with a team of inspired, thoughtful, and magic-committed people. We are working together for a second year of Annual Meeting (September 2017) held in a participative format. It’s about a good meeting. It’s also easy for me to say it’s about the magic of spirit, of human being turned together in simple ways, of listening deeply for the audible and in the inaudible, of seeing the visible and the more subtle. It’s about encouraging and growing the reality of a culture that expects to engage.

Enough said. Here’s to magic and the willingness to go outside the comfort zone to welcome it to arrive.

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!


In the work I’ve done with faith communities over the last ten years, I have particularly appreciated clergy and lay people who are able to be in the seriousness of the work, and, the playfulness of the work. Ministry, be it formally leading a parish or growing an organic farm, is serious, right. I think of it as the work and life of deepening souls together. That’s individually and collectively. I love it that this deepening can be simple — we are just creating a pattern of asking questions together and being honest together. It is deeply satisfying to me to be with people who give real attention to matters of spirit.

A few years ago, while planning for an event, it was my friend and colleague Erin Gilmore, a pastor within the United Church of Christ tradition, that named, Holy Mischief-Making. She was riffing off of a “strategic mischief-making” reference that I was speaking. It seemed, just for a moment, that the cheekiness and naughtiness of mischief-making was attached to holy. Holy, with the divine. Holy, what matters when we are older and beyond the rush of the days. Holy, that which is real from deep within. I love the way that Erin smiled when she said it, and the way we both laughed out loud — “you just said that, right?”

Last week, I was reading a piece that a friend and colleague wrote, Ivy Thomas. Ivy has been among other things, a Conference Minister for the United Church of Canada. Ivy was rewriting basic agreements for The Circle Way into the context of using Circle at church. What she came up with was the acronym, “HOLY.”

Hold stories in confidence.

Open to the needs of others and yourself.

Listen with compassion and curiosity.

Yield to moments of silence.

Good, right. Simple (which so often is a form of holy to me). Clear. An invitation to practice (not a checklist from which to chastise). Thank you Ivy, for your seriousness and playfulness balled in to these statements. Ivy’s full pamphlet on using The Circle Way in faith communities will soon be available on The Circle Way website.

Emergence is the Game

Recently, in working with a core team preparing for a multi-day, system-wide event in a faith community, there were six of us sharing reflections during a video conference call. This was a call that was less about the details of the event — room setup, supplies needed, and when breaks would occur. This was a call that was more about being in learning together — what are you learning now about yourself, facing the unexpected, holding responsibility for the whole? One of the primary practices that I’ve been sharing with core teams like this one is that we need to do together in our phone calls and meetings as a core team, what we hope the larger community group will do together when meeting for the multi-day event. This particular core team — Sara Rosenau, Kelly Ryan, Gayle Dee, Walter-John Boris, Alison Killeen, Chris Hyde, and Drew Terry, from the Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ, does this super well.

One of the particular topics that we discussed, that is really core to the ongoing invitation process that is now happening — the meeting is in September — was how to respond to people that are expecting the old format of meeting that has been filled with presentations and power point slides. Sara Rosenau, my friend and colleague that is chairing this year’s annual meeting planning team, is really gifted and clear in how she is responding to these queries. She is offering very good colloquial descriptions of the process methodology that is Open Space Technology. She is pointing people to how we will self-organize into working and reflection groups based on passion and interest.

It isn’t surprising that the people asking the questions to Sara are wondering how they should prepare. “You mean we should bring handouts? How many should we bring?” This group, this conference, is evolving not just who they are and what they take on together, but how they are together. They are evolving the annual meeting format to a new practice, if you will, which we were naming together as paying very close attention to emergence.

“Emergence is the game,” I said to them — OK, there’s still a 14 year-old in me that wants to make it a game. Emergence is not the familiar skill that is showing up and willing data or meaning upon one another. It is less about imposing, and selling or winning a perspective. Emergence is a less familiar skill (though I would say it is one that we are remembering, not learning as new) that is listening for the surprise that shows up among people engaging together, because they are interacting in words, and play, and silence. It’s paying exquisite attention to what is showing up in the together part that can’t show up in the not together part. “This is not a 100-level skill, the marker for most entry level college classes. This is a 500-level skill. It is a graduate class.”

I know that there will always be many layers of working together that exist simultaneously. Rooms do need to be set up. Supplies do need to be ordered. Breaks do need to be planned. And, to be clear, there are good keynotes to be delivered. Learning well always matters. But the skill of working with emergence is one of those underlaying approaches that changes everything. Not just meetings, but also the day to day norm of how we are together and how we attend to one another, and how we nuance into the future, the sourcing of “us” rather than “I.”