There are many learnings that I carry with me from the time of the recent Stay-At-Home order. One of those is a new focus in my ministry. Today, I want to share that focus with you.
Those who know me well, know that I have been active in the field of diversity work for nearly 30 years. When the stay-at-home order first started, I began birthing a program that incorporated many of my learnings over the years. The program is called Bridge Builders.
The program grows out of my desire to stop simply preaching to the choir and start actually reaching those who had never participated in diversity efforts before. My hope if to bring together people of different beliefs and backgrounds in order to increase our ability to form relationships with those who are different than ourselves.
How could I best do that?
My lifetime experiences have taught me that I could best do that by first gathering people to simply share their autobiographies (or stories) with one another. In the process of sharing our stories, I believe we gain insight into what experiences shaped our core values and beliefs. Once we do that, we can grow in our ability to understand (and even appreciate!) that the different opinions another might hold reflects their different life experience. Once we understand this, we can stay engaged in conversations with others (through the process of sharing our stories and unpacking our experiences) that we would have never stayed in before.
My goal in Bridge Builders is no longer simply getting the other person to think or believe exactly as I do; the twin goals of the program are to gain understanding of “the other” in order to build an authentic relationship with someone we might have otherwise have dismissed or judged.
Each Bridge Building group is intimate: it consists of just five participants and one facilitator. Each group meets for eight one-hour weekly sessions on Zoom. The first six sessions consist of each participant taking an hour to share their story with others using a specific format.
Once the first six sessions conclude, the seventh session is an exercise that helps participants tie the formation of their personal ethics and values to their life experiences (i.e., “My beliefs about abortion were shaped primarily by the time I was raped when I was 23”). The eighth and final session engages a particular social issue (each of the first three groups used race) to identify those experiences have been particularly formative in their beliefs – and what additional experiences might be necessary in order for their beliefs to evolve.
Each month, alumni from the groups gather for a one-hour “reunion”. The reunions take place on the second Thursday of the month from 6:30-7:30 PM Pacific Daylight Time. The purpose of the reunions is to allow participants to (1) brush up on their bridge building skills; (2) share experiences of applying the bridge building skills in their everyday lives; and (3) stay connected with other Bridge Builders. The conversation each month highlights a particular piece of the process of sharing our story. This month, for instance, we’ll be using Ash Beckham’s Tedx Talk titled “We’re All Hiding Something. Let’s Find the Courage to Open Up”.
I’m currently in the process of pulling together two Bridge Builder groups for the fall. Each session will be held entirely on Zoom with participants from a number of geographical locations. If you would like to learn more about the program to see if you’d like to join one of the fall groups, I will invite you to attend this Thursday’s reunion (which will double as an Open House). The reunion will occur on Thursday, August 12 from 6:30-7:30 PDT. If you’d like to attend, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send you the Zoom link.