Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

The Art of Community

At a Church and Community Workers gathering, missionaries learned about a style of participatory leadership called the ‘Art of Hosting.’
At a Church and Community Workers gathering, missionaries learned about a style of participatory leadership called the ‘Art of Hosting.’
Kathleen Masters

By Mariellyn Dunlap Grace

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” — John 15:5

March  26, 2013—Throughout its 128-year history, the Church and Community Worker program has maintained its focus on one simple, yet incredibly complex, goal: bridging the chasm between the local church and the wider community.

Accomplished in myriad ways — from parish nursing to after-school programs to affordable housing — the mission and service of the individual worker develops out of the commitment and connectedness of the wider Church and Community Worker community, past and present.

Branches of one sacred vine, working together to bear fruit.

Thirty-three of the 36 Church and Community Workers met for a continuing education event at Lake Junaluska, N.C., from March 2-6, 2013, to learn about the Art of Hosting, a style of participatory leadership. The Art of Hosting is a collection of strategies that invite dialogue and conversation as drivers for development and change in organizations, systems, and other arenas of life.

Many of the practices of Art of Hosting take and refine well-known approaches to communication. Circle, for example, is simply the act of gathering together in conversation around a common center. Leadership is rotated among group members, and each person is given the opportunity to speak. Circle members agree to listen without judgment, keep confidentiality, and keep the well-being of the group in mind.

“Underneath all these methodologies is a way of being,” said Tenneson Woolf, one of the leaders of Art of Hosting.

Another way to start conversations is World Café, a method for creating collaborative dialogue around questions that matter in real-life situations. Constructive in both small- and large-group settings, World Café is particularly useful in gathering the collective wisdom of diverse groups. The Café encourages each person to contribute, allowing shared information and building relationships.

“I like the participatory nature of it because it allowed us to process the information as we became more involved in the conversation,” observed Anita Tracy, West Virginia Conference.

Conversations in World Café are directed by questions asked by the group convener, but in Open Space Technology, the participants are allowed to set the agenda. The goal of Open Space is to create time and space for people to engage deeply and creatively around issues of concern. In Open Space, there is only one rule: If you find yourself in a situation where you are not contributing or learning, move somewhere where you can.

“For the session with Open Space Technology, I thought of Pentecost,” commented Pat Watkins from the Virginia Conference. “We were having lots of conversations and asking lots of questions in lots of places at the same time, but God’s spirit was a part of it all, living and breathing within us and among us.”

In the context of doing ministry with —not to or for — others, truly participatory conversation becomes an essential element of building trust. When the people serving and those being served can engage in meaningful dialogue, then ministry becomes mutual. Over time, the chasm between church and community narrows, until one day the gap ceases to exist at all.

As these 33 Church and Community Workers return to their projects in Alaska, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio, Puerto Rico, and many other places, they take with them the collective wisdom of workers who now — and in the past — seek justice in their communities. With new tools to promote dialogue within their projects, churches, and neighborhoods, they look to continue bearing fruit, remaining in the One Vine who brings life to all.

“Our vine just keeps on growing, as new branches bud and sprout,
Knowing that we’re connected, as in Christ our hearts reach out…
And yet we are but branches of his vine here on this earth,
Bearing fruit of our witness on his vine of sacred worth.”

-Excerpted from ‘We Are But Branches’ by Harry Howe, CCW

Mariellyn Dunlap Grace is a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, assigned as a Church and Community Worker to serve as patient services coordinator of the Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio.