More than 35 people were instrumental in planning and carrying out our celebration. As the point person for all these people I quickly realized I needed to use the arts and practices of community organizing I learned from my friend and colleague Pastor Jim Honig and the leaders of DuPage United. I thought of myself as the lead organizer in this anniversary endeavor. Calling myself that helped me define my role.
I began listening over the summer to Faith members of how they hoped we would celebrate the 70 years. I brought people together so they could listen to each other. We listened and brainstormed over a few meetings. Then I asked each person, “where do you want to share your talents and time?"
As each person decided for themselves, some ideas fell away and some gained energy and excitement. People found partners and teams to share the work. My role was to listen, check-in, sometimes give a reality check, and most importantly support their vision of the celebration.
It all was a lot of work but a joy to do - for everyone!
The arts and practices of community organizing have helped me to:
· Listen differently (both to what people are saying and the hopes underneath)
· Help people hear each other
· Let ideas emerge from the group, don't force an agenda
· Empower people to do the work they want to do
· Don't minimize my role of listener, encourager and many times, assistant in their work.
At the end of our event we sang the hymn Joy to the World. Isaac Watts, the hymn writer, did not first intend this hymn for the seasons of Advent or Christmas. For him it connected with Romans 8: there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God through Jesus - even as one embarks on something new. It is a hymn that recognizes we are always on the cusp of "something new". Watts reminds us the response to God making things new is that "heaven and nature sing"!
Our anniversary was filled with joy. It was the work of the community. I am grateful I could both lead and get out of the way!
FYI- A great book for church is leaders is Organizing Church: Grassroots Practices for Embodying Change in Your Congregation, Your Community and Our World by Tim Conder and Dan Rhodes