Strategic Convenings

Scarritt Bennett Center / Education / Strategic Convenings

Scarritt Bennett convenes people to identify movement needs, forge connections, deepen relationships, and facilitate gatherings of leaders to envision, reflect, and strategize for faith-based justice work.











Rural Faith & Justice Summit – Oct 20-23, 2016

Organized in partnership with Soulforce, the Center for Community Change, and the Center for Race, Religion and Economic Democracy, this gathering convened 15 Southern and Appalachian clergy, laity, movement builders, and cultural workers (plus some of their families!) who come from, minister among, and/or organize in rural and small town settings. Participants hailed from North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas, and Georgia. A special guest participant, Rev. Dr. Jeanne Hoeft (Academic Dean of St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas), spent the weekend with us and lent her wealth of experience in the study of (and pastoral training for) rural/small town ministry. Representatives from several (mostly Christian) traditions were present, and focus areas included congregational ministry, LGBTQ organizing, Reproductive Justice organizing, and youth organizing.

What happened? Participants were guided through a facilitated process that: (1) explored historical, theological, ecclesial, and pastoral frameworks in rural and small town contexts; (2) rigorously examined the problem of Christian Supremacy and the work of the Religious Right in rural and small town contexts; and then (3) moved toward a collective vision and regional mapping process.

Key Learnings Throughout the convening, participants regularly expressed that this was the first time they were able to talk in real depth to other progressive religious/spiritually-rooted activists who came from similar contexts. People were hungry to reclaim their homes from policies and practices grounded in right-wing moral frameworks. Participants living in cities (but who are from rural/small town contexts) saw this emerging network as a vehicle to support them as they “returned home.” The overwhelming sentiment was that this was a necessary project for the spiritual and material well-being of people’s families and communities.

Our ability to secure child care and offer compensation for lost wages had a profound impact on creating access for working class/poor and group experience as a whole. Typically, gatherings like this do not provide compensation for lost hourly wages. Our choice to do this increased our participation by four participants. Childcare provision led two parents (both participants) to share that it was the first time they were ever able to speak to each other in the same meeting about their deepest wishes for community work. Additionally, the presence of young people at different parts of the gathering grounded the deeper meaning of the convening’s goals: to create communities where our young people will want to stay (as opposed to the broader trend of young people leaving rural/small town contexts).

Lastly, the planning team has held two follow up calls since the gathering, both of which addressed post-election reflections and considerations for next steps. The general consensus is that election of Trump and his rural/small town electoral base signaled (a) the fact that this work is timely (if not late) and (b) that we will considering growing it to include representation from the broader Midwest.

What’s happening next? Although initially conceived of as a larger “summit,” the facilitator team discovered that more than one gathering would be necessary to ensure maximum representation and participation from people throughout the region. Currently, the thinking is that there will two more convenings. Like the first gathering in Nashville, the second convening will be a working meeting at which another group of 10-15 people will go through a process together to identify “the problem(s),” envision a transformative vision of the future, and set strategy. Patterns and strategic proposals uncovered and imagined in the first two gatherings will inform a larger third gathering, the purposes of which will be move this emerging network into bold, long-haul action in collaboration with other movement formations in the region.

Lastly, plans for the second gathering (date TBD) are underway. The team wishes to locate the second gathering in a more western part of the South (i.e., Mississippi, Texas, or Louisiana) to accommodate travel needs of potential participants. The third (and larger) gathering will return to the Scarritt Bennett Center (date TBD).







Movement Chaplaincy Gathering: Fortifying the Movement – Dec 8-10, 2016

Organized in partnership with Faith Matters Network and Standing on the Side of Love, this gathering convened 30 clergy, laity, movement builders, healers, and cultural workers from across the United States. Participants hailed from Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky, California, Iowa, Missouri, Georgia, Washington, DC, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Arizona.  Multiple faith and cultural traditions were represented, and a wide range of intergenerational participation was a feature of the weekend. Representatives included: Auburn Seminary, the National LGBTQ Taskforce, the PICO Network, Black Lives Matter, Seven Generations Consulting, Soulforce, Open Table Nashville, the Highlander Research & Education Center, Solutionary Apothecary, the Liberatory Leadership Project, the Ruach Guild, the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative, and various congregational leaders.

What happened? The planning team hired an outside facilitator, Melinda Weekes-Laidlow, to guide participants through a process that: (1) helped a diverse and complex group of participants build relationships across experience and difference; (2) featured stories of various front-line “chaplain” and “healer” experiences; (3) explore and identify best practices for fortifying front-line struggles (and for fortifying the fortifiers!); and (4) look toward what front-line struggles will need in the coming “movement moment.” Throughout the convening, space was created for individual and collective prayer, healing space, and story-sharing.

Key Learnings The planning team invited a group of powerful people into the room. What was clear was that Trump’s election has created an ever-intensifying strain on those deemed “healers” on the front-line of struggle. The secondary trauma present in the room created a tense environment on the first evening, but as the gathering progressed, participants built trusted each other to engage in a plurality of “ways of knowing,” enabled in part by flexible and adaptive facilitation.

Participants shared that the gathering profoundly expanded their existing network of healers, practitioners, and spiritual leaders. This sentiment was best summed up in one participant’s feedback: “I feel like I’ve finally met the rest of my people—my family” (Joe T., NYC resident by way of Knoxville).

Class dynamics were a large part of the critical feedback, which appeared to have some interplay with several concerns about the “intellectual” emphasis of the gathering. Participants were generally pleased that the facilitator team sought to address this problem immediately. The quick adjustment to more embodied practice (which many described as “decolonized” practice) made for powerful final sessions on Friday evening and Saturday morning.

What’s happening next?

In its debrief, the planning team agreed any future gatherings for “healing practitioners” would need to include more embodied practice from the beginning of the gathering. Similarly, the team realized that multiple entry points for practice-sharing and relational work would be critical for future gatherings with such a plurality of experiences, expectations, and traumas. Additionally, several outputs from the convening are under consideration, including a 24-hour “hotline” for movement practitioners and front-line activists, modeled after suicide hotlines. A second output is the generation of profiles of practitioners, with the goal being to help practitioners articulate their practice and appeal to donors for funding. A third output is an aggregated list of healing methodologies, materials, resources, songs, liturgical practices, and curricula, which one participant in the gathering signed up to organize immediately.