There are phrases you may never hear in church: Smartphone Corpse. Tattoo Romance. Dance Graveyard. Glitter Ice. Yet, on Dec. 12, fifteen clergy gathered at the First Congregational Church of Essex to play with these words and explore how they might relate to church life.
The unlikely conversation was part of a Blue Sky Conversation, a new program of the Connecticut Conference developed by the Rev. Susan Townsley, Associate for Innovation, Leadership and Change for the Conference. These conversations inspire innovative thinking in church leaders by creating space for play and risk taking.
"The rules of the space is 'This is play'," said Townsley preparing the group for the first game of the day. "It’s not what you’ve done, or what hasn’t worked. Absolutely every idea has some merit."
Those rather non-church-sounding words came from a game Townsley called "Snake Oil." Participants chose a word from a list, found a partner, and began discussing how their combined words could become something new. After a short presentation of how the paired words could be some new product in the world, the exercise changed to a discussion of how one of the new phrases might relate to a church. Dance Graveyard, a phrase that might convey a macabre horror scene, inspired conversations about celebrating the lives of those who have died, community outreach mission through cemeteries, and intergenerational, physically active, outdoor worship services in cemeteries that gave a nod to the early Christian church celebrating the Agape meal in catacombs.
Even the organization of the Blue Sky Conversation was innovative. Attendees were not part of a small group break-out session at some larger event. The event was not broadly advertised with regular email blasts and online registration deadlines. This small group of settled, associate and interim pastors were personally invited by Townsley and the Rev. Ken Peterkin, pastor of First Congregational Church of Essex and host of the event, because Townsley or Peterkin thought they might find it interesting. They came because they wanted to try something new. Many present were in or about to be in some kind of transition. Others stated that their churches were bustling with activities and stated honestly that they could not see adding "something new." Still others were looking for ideas that could help churches find a new path forward. All agreed that the playful approach to creative thinking was a useful time spent together.
“In most of our work, we don’t have space held for innovation," Townsley told the group. "People expect us to solve problems. If you look at corporations that value innovation, they create innovation spaces.”
Conference Minister the Rev. Kent Siladi encourages this type of creative thinking in an effort to avoid complacency in a changing world.
"We must adapt to the times in which we live and we must find new ways to share the Good News of the Gospel. As people of faith we believe that our call is to align ourselves with God’s mission in the world. This is not a static presence. God’s hovering Spirit is at work all around us and we must try new things, we must learn from one another and we must be bold and creative in the times in which we live. Our moment in time calls for a sense of urgency to the mission to which we are called, “united in Christ’s love, a just world for all.”
If you have an interest in hosting a Blue Sky Conversation, email Rev. Susan Townsley at firstname.lastname@example.org