The event came together organically. Joy Skjegstad and I first talked about an on-site, face-to-face event based on material she had developed in two previous books and a number of online webinars for Alban. I put together an online event flyer and a PDF file to email to potential supporters of the idea. Joy knew Al Tizon, Director of Word and Deed Network, from her previous work in Philadelphia. Al put us in touch with Ruben Ortiz from Esperanza, who provided scholarship assistance for some of their members who otherwise might not be able to afford to attend. Al also made possible the use of meeting facilities at Palmer Theological Seminary, where he also teaches; put two Sider Center Scholars at our disposal for the entire day; and arranged for overnight housing for the leaders of the workshop.
We didn’t experience a miraculous erasure of differences, many of which really do matter. And the Reign of God did not break in before we broke up and headed home at 4:00 p.m. Yet this fortuitous network of partners provides a compelling model, I believe, for congregational ministries of the future, if they are to have the resources necessary to carry out their various current projects, much less flourish and grow into new areas of faithfulness, responsibility, and vitality.
All these glorious parts of the larger community of the people of God acted like partners for these few precious hours. We yoked ourselves together and pulled in a common direction. And when it was said and done, we were glad not just for what we had learned, but for the fact that we had learned it together, differences and all.
We got a glimpse of what is possible in partnerships; and in the process we met new colleagues and we made new friends. We saw into the future for a few hours what American congregations might look like, gathered rather than scattered, much less internally divided or opposed to one another. It was worth the trip, and worth getting metaphorical sand in my shoes. I hope that my Head Start students, now middle-aged, would have been proud to see in action what I first learned from them.