Nearly 100 diocesan clergy and lay leaders gathered on Saturday, January 12 for the Annual Leadership Summit, hosted by the Diocese of El Camino Real at St. Paul’s Salinas.
Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves introduced the day’s featured speaker, the Rev. Kai Ryan, Canon to the Ordinary and Chief Operating Officer for the Diocese of Texas. The day’s theme was “Expanding Our Impact Through Relational Courage,” oriented around the cycles of noticing, connecting, befriending, and partnering.
Key themes of the day included seeing ordinary things in a new context, overcoming subconscious bias, bringing in new kinds of people to worship, noticing the needs in our communities, venturing out to build relationships, and discovering the gifts in each other.
“What will a future church, called into being by God, with the willing partnership of God’s people… what will that church look and act like?” Ryan asked. “More and more we should look like the communities in which we live.”
She explained that she grew up in New Mexico and attended a diverse church, and set out for looking for that kind of church elsewhere and not always finding it. Since then her mission has been to join with others “to figure out how to get to that future that I believe God is calling us to.”
“We have a preference for the way things area, for the ways we have become to feel safe,” she added. “To invite church leaders and members to start looking with new eyes brings up a lot of that fear and anxiety and we can become reactive. It’s important we acknowledge those feelings, the subconscious bias … as we try to build new relationships.”
Thinking of congregations who wonder where new people are on Sundays, she urged them to make use of members who already have key relationships in communities, who can help connect with those who aren’t yet represented in the congregation. “For instance, if there are no high school age people in your church, you could talk to someone who has a relationship with a local school and find out what’s happening, the needs of the school and its families. Are there any opportunities to meet the principal?”
“A church is like a cell,” one of Ryan’s graphics read. “To bring those outside our fellowship in, we need to send those out who can help us connect.” She urged attendees to invite parish leaders to identify their relationships in the community, and make introductions with the priest or others. While many churches partner with each other, she challenged leaders to think beyond that and work with community groups such as veterans’ support groups, scouts, the local Chamber of Commerce, police departments, senior centers, and other groups that need support. “We also need to appreciate how hard it is for others to cross the threshold and enter a new church,” Ryan added.
Also speaking at the summit was Kelsey Davis, Curator for Emerging Communities, who spoke about the need for congregations to overcome subconscious bias against newcomers, or under-represented cultural groups.
“Everything in our culture tells us that we should hide ourselves away when we experience our own prejudices … that could not be further from the truth,” Davis explained. “We all harbor bias and it’s something to be worked out in community. The hard work of dismantling the prejudices and biases that we hold comes through education, through narrative and stories, and most of all through relationship with one another.”
Pictured: attendees joined in an exercise that asked them to notice and discern community and spiritual needs displayed in photographs.