Transformative Circles

Transformative Circles

by Anne Clarke, Lifelong Christian Faith Formation Coordinator, The Episcopal Diocese of Northern California

One of the most enjoyable parts of my job as the Lifelong Christian Formation Coordinator, thus far, has been seeing all the surprising commonalities that we all share, even as unique congregations spread out across Northern California. One of those beautifully mundane commonalities is the closet, rack or pile of folding chairs present in every church. They’re always the source of a little bit of a hassle for anyone who sticks around long enough- we are endlessly setting them up and tearing them down and reconfiguring them, and maybe wishing we could afford newer, nicer ones.

Seen through a different lens, though, those creaky, stained old chairs host some pretty incredible gatherings. We arrange and rearrange our chairs in circles to stay sober, to study a book of sacred stories handed down for thousands of years, to hear about each others most profound and painful moments, to pray for each other, and to welcome a larger community for meals and care and planning.

It’s a privilege to have a window into those unassuming and holy circles, and to get to arrange them from time to time. In the past few weeks, I gathered with groups on the Friday evenings before our first two Congregational Leadership Conferences to talk about some of the sources of transformation in our congregations. Was asked, "what is life-changing about the fact that we gather in Christian community?" I also had the chance to gather for an overnight retreat with several children and youth ministers from around our diocese, all leaders who are doing incredibly transformative ministry alongside young people and their families. In all of these conversations, we shared hopes, successes, and disappointments, compared notes, worked through ideas and sticking points, and had some rich and difficult conversations about our common purpose as people who follow Jesus.

Transformation is hard work, and this isn’t the place to summarize those conversations (though if you are intrigued by the idea, I can promise that we’ll continue to have them, and I would love to hear more about what kinds of gatherings might be interesting to you). But I can reflect on the fact that even though we didn’t come away with a tidy three-point plan to fix every frustrating thing about our churches, I think many of us came away from these circles a little lighter, knowing that our work together is shared, and knowing that we are connected to people who have gifts that may complement our own, and to whom we have something to offer as well.

I want to share a few opportunities for future gatherings with you. If you’re engaged in youth ministry or in service to others, join me on April 9th at the 2016 CDSP Youth Ministry Symposium. This year’s theme is Service [Projects], Mission [Trips], and Privilege.

Also, there is still room available on our 2016 Pathways Youth Pilgrimage. Think about young people in your midst who might want and a chance to gather in these holy circles, to talk about reconciliation and the One who reconciles us. We are all in charge of continuing to form and reform these circles, creaky chairs and all.


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