New York Indaba
On September 28th The Episcopal Diocese of New York took a bold step when clergy and laity from 54 parishes gathered to launch their diocesan Indaba. Welcoming the representatives – four from each parish – Bishop Andrew Deitsche called on them to enter into a spiritual as well as physical journey to develop a shared understanding of their common life as a Diocese.
Over 200 participants gathered in the Cathedral of St John the Divine from 54 parishes representing nearly a third of the congregations of New York Diocese. They sat at round tables in parish teams of four with two other teams making groups of 12 that will journey together over the next six months. Anxiety levels were high at first as people introduced themselves, saying how long it had taken them to get to the Cathedral that morning. Some had come from nearby parishes in Manhattan, while others had travelled up to three hours by car from the rural areas north of the city. For those from Staten Island it had meant a ferry journey.
The opening worship was simple – a psalm and a New Testament reading were followed by prayers and the invocation of the Holy Spirit in song. Christ was placed at the centre of the process. Silence fell as the Bishop stood up to set out why the Indaba was vital for a Diocese seeking to reach out in mission to a world that in his words needs ‘the Church to be the Church.’ He left them in no doubt that his desire is to see a diverse church with a shared understanding of a common life. He explained, that in order for that to happen, they had to break out of their enclosed parishes, step out of their comfort zones and cross boundaries of rich and poor, Anglo and Latino, urban and rural in order to discover more of their own mission as part of an Episcopal Diocese.
The Diocese had sent a team to partner with teams from the dioceses of Mumbai (Church of North India) and Derby (Church of England) as one of the pilot conversations in the Continuing Indaba programme pioneered by the Anglican Communion Office. Two of the participants – John Madden and Johanna Schafer – were interviewed and they were asked about their motivation and the riches they had experienced from the journey. Both spoke eloquently about how what they had learnt on the journey had equipped then to be effective Christians in their diocese.
This gave the gathered participants an opportunity to reflect on their motivations. They each spoke around their tables, with facilitators drifting between them, picking up common phrases and seeking to discover what was energising the people. When they reported back to John and Johanna, what they heard was electric. Some had come because they felt pressured by a bishop who might leave them out of budget decisions if they did not participate, but now that they understood the process they were excited. There were fears: the participants were asked to give up four weekends over the coming months and to stay in one another’s homes. Such things are entirely counter-cultural and logistically challenging, but the organising committee stood firm to commitment to process and the groups began to appreciate the value.
These themes were picked up by Phil Groves, Director of Continuing Indaba, and Glenda McQueen, a member of the Continuing Indaba facilitation team, who set out the theological roots of such process and the significance of facilitated conversation within the journey. The New York culture is to identify a problem and fix it as quickly and efficiently as possible; but Indaba culture requires the development of relationships in Christ and a process of journey, both spiritual and physical, for a deeper and wider vision to emerge.
It is vital in Indaba that any feedback from the participants is heard so John and Johanna relayed to the assembly the key words had phrases that facilitators had picked up from the tables and the bishop heard them and included them in his summary. This was followed by prayers, setting the agenda for a journey of prayer and the common reading of Scripture on the way.
The buzz around the tables over lunch was extraordinary. The participants were asked to sort out all the practical arrangements, sharing phone numbers and email address, deciding on who would visit whom first and were they were going to meet. It was a time of diaries and smart phones and the realisation that they were about to step into one another’s worlds: worlds so far removed from their own even though it was all just one Diocese.
Where the opening prayers were marked by unfamiliarity, the closing prayers brought the voices together in a remarkable harmony as the Zulu song ‘Thuma Mina’ was picked up in Spanish ‘Enviadme’ and the English ‘Send Me.’ The 200 were sent out on a journey of conversation to strengthen relationships for mission.