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Stories From the Field: Oregon Fellowship

By: Christina Repoley
September 24, 2020

When we do praxis along side one another it enables each of us to go a little bit deeper into our discernment.

What does it mean to CARE for young adults discerning their call to ministry? For FTE it is a four step practice:

  • Create hospitable space
  • Ask self awakening questions
  • Reflect theologically
  • Enact next most faithful steps

In this new blog series from FTE’s Community of Practice Cohort, members of the cohort will share examples of how their programs are living into the different aspects of the CARE practice in their context.

In this video, pastors Ron Werner, Jr. (Together Lab) and Melissa Reed (Oregon Synod) give examples and discuss the Oregon Fellowship’s four markers to create hospitable space. The Oregon Fellowship resources and supports young adults who often do not have the opportunity to be identified, invited and invested in by the institutional church and society. Watch, listen or read this conversation below to learn more.


Who are the Oregon Fellows?

Melissa: Hello, FTE lands. We come to you from Portland, Oregon. I’m Pastor Melissa Reed, but I’m the Bishop’s associate for the Oregon Synod, a Lutheran body here in Oregon. And as part of that work, I get to be the co-convener of the Oregon Fellowship.

Ron: And my name is Ron Warner Jr. And I am also a pastor organizer of Together Lab here in Portland, Oregon, and a co-convener of the Oregon fellowship, which is connected to this broader Forum for Theological Exploration Community of Practice. Melissa, I’m wondering as we dive into this, if you might share a little bit about what the Oregon Fellowship, or tell us a little bit about the fellows.

Melissa: As we have been ministering and organizing here in the Pacific Northwest over the years, identifying leaders who are at that intersection of the margins of the church and the world. Their faith, their spirituality matters deeply to them, and yet they’re discerning, is there a call for me or a place for me in this institution? And yet I am certainly called to steward life in the world. And creating room together, making space, not just with them, but among them, so they can walk together, walk with us as we learn. What does it look like to be a leader in these times, faithfully? And to discern how do we steward and attend to life? What are the systems and structures that need to be dismantled and reorganized? What’s the imagination and energy that’s needed in our communities to midwife that life and that future. Anything you might add about our folks, our people?

Ron: Well, just to say that we’ve been asked to talk about what does it mean for us to create hospitable space as part of all of this ministry and movement work. And I’ve been thinking about that a little bit. You said of the intersection of the church and the world. In Portland right now, we’re nearing a hundred days of protest that federal agents here have had heightened national attention, violence from the state and Portland Police Bureau. It’s been incredibly challenging and difficult to be a leader and a pastor and an organizer at this moment.

Relationship at the Center (2:35)

Ron: And one of the things I’ve been so grateful for amongst our fellowship as we think about creating hospitable spaces, really a mark of putting relationship at the center, as opposed to an ideology or a belief system, or a certain confession. I think about our fellow Murph, who is very active in queer activist circles and social movement spaces and came to us a few years ago and was like, “I’m tired. I feel like I’m never going to be enough. Activist enough, queer enough, whatever, fill in the blank enough.” And so I think we found part of creating hospitable space alongside Murph and other fellows includes this putting relationship at the center, which a key component of that seems to be shared vulnerability. And I’m wondering if you might share a little bit about that shared vulnerability as a mark of creating hospitable space for us?

Shared Vulnerability (3:34)

Melissa: I think your example of Murph is excellent, because here Murph comes and it’s not the answers that they have, but the questions, the tensions that they’re living in that bring them to the table and with a deep desire to lead in and a deep knowing of something needs to be different. And so we cultivate space together where we show up with our unknowingness, with our questions. Those places where we do experience tension and vulnerability, between the way the world is and the way we know deep down, somewhere within us, the way the world should be.

And we discover that we get to knit together and trust through that vulnerability, through the threading of our wounds, of our pressure points. Those places in our story that have been pushed away. And when we come to the table in that posture, it invites room for more people and more of people’s full selves to come and to belong and to be knit and to lead. And so, yeah, that’s the place we start always is with vulnerability and then walking alongside and discovery together. And walking and acting is also central. Not just thinking about, but doing and reflecting. Can you share a little bit about how action, reflection takes shape in creating hospitable space in our communion?

Action & Reflection (5:22)

Ron: You talked about the whole person, and I just think about that integration. That our fellows are doing 15 hour a week paid organizing, or pastoral ministry, developing ecumenical youth collectives in a neighborhood and building affordable housing on congregational land and all of these incredible things. But it’s been amazing to have the fellows act and lead out in the world and then back into dialogue with tradition and reflection on their leadership.

We’re not just reflecting out of our reflections, but we’re actually doing and engaging and practicing our way into the world we want to live in, but reflecting and making meaning alongside one another. I love the word you used before about weaving our stories and even our wounds through this shared vulnerability. And it feels like when we do praxis alongside one another, it enables each of us to go a little bit deeper into our discernment and into our whole person. The traditions I think about that you and I were maybe formed in a seminary or even community organizing training. Oftentimes we talk about credentialing. You credential yourself as a leader, “Here’s my job title. Here’s what I’m working on. Here is XYZ, my resume, my CV.” And I think maybe a final mark that we might talk about is how we’re looking at preferencing wisdom that arises from a different place, not necessarily from our resume.

Wisdom from the Margins (7:01)

Melissa: Yeah, from my tradition about the foolishness of the cross. The places and the spaces in our lives that the world would tell us to cover up, to shut up, to remove, to erase, or would silence, actually being the spaces of power and where new life gets started. And I was thinking about this story of my first experience coming into a community and having someone who is a recovering heroin addict tell me their story. And I was just at first overwhelmed and kind of, “Oh my gosh, this is a leader in this community? This is a mess.” And as I got to know that person and listen more deeply into their story, they invited my whole life into the room where I could develop those deep spaces of knowing, again, what was wrong with the world, what was unjust, but then also when that’s the space where the imagination for what actually needs to be grows out of.

And so I think about Yasmeen, one of our fellows, she’s so powerfully a leader in our housing coalition work. Because she knows, she knows the pressure points in her own life and her community. And she has an imagination for how community needs to be woven and what the housing in that community is going to need to be. And it’s not something that an expert could come in and tell her. There is also then the capacity together to get it done. So just the wisdom that moves from those deepest places within us and the way that wisdom comes together with others to create an imagination and future for what is possible. I think those are some of the ways that we are creating hospitable, welcoming, affirming, life-giving and breathing, space in our community and these leaders and in the world around us.

A Culture of Creating Hospitable Space (9:18)

Ron: Which seems to leak into not just creating hospitable space, but really being a part of a culture of hospitable space that we want to see in the world, beyond anyone meeting or gathering or space. So if this was some kind of fancy, explainer video of the Oregon Fellows and how we think of creating hospitable space, we might say, relationship at the center, preferencing wisdom that comes from those edges, from the margins of our own stories and our communities, shared vulnerability and praxis, that action and reflection. So thank you everyone out there in FTE land, whoever is watching for listening to a little bit of our story and how we are actively learning our way into creating hospitable spaces through the Oregon Fellowship.

Tags...: Design Thinking, Thinking Out Loud, Visionary Leadership

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