Inhabit Conference 2019 Continuing Education Report – Rev. Rich Jones

Whenever I attend a conference or a continuing education event, I try to give a report to my congregation. Here’s my report/first reflections from the Inhabit Conference this year…

It was great to go back to the Inhabit Conference this year.  Inhabit is a part of the Parish Collective movement.  I have been a part of the Parish Collective for about 5 years.  This is a movement committed to seeing a better story emerge within churches and faith communities through churches becoming locally rooted in a context or place.

Parish Collective offers deep support to local churches, faith-based groups, and any follower of Christ that desires to grow roots in their neighborhood and links across cities for parish renewal.  You can check them out at:  https://parishcollective.org.

The Inhabit Conference brings together a multitude of networks, organizations, churches, and grassroots groups whose unique passions and callings converge in the local parish. Followers of Christ from across North America and around the world bring their stories, challenges, and opportunities together in Seattle for two days of collaborating in some of the most unique and transformative storytelling environments. Parish Collective and The Seattle School have been hosting this conference to Sold-Out crowds for 9 years.  More info can be found at:  https://www.inhabitconference.com

It was a tremendous conference to attend this year.  I have gone in the past, but this year was especially helpful as I continue to look at this work of parish/church  renewal in our context at Fleming Road UCC.  

I spent a lot of time in conversations with different persons, old and new friends.  I sat through several presentations and curated conversation seminars.  

Since I’ve been a Parish Collective organizing team member for a while, I also presented on a couple of subjects.  A session that I co-lead was entitled “Mainline Status Quo to Parish Rooted Renewal”.  With the idea of a conversation on digging deep into the soil of friendship that grows imagination and collaboration across neighborhoods and denominations.  How to move the church towards a new way of being through the practice of listening and presence.

That was a great session.  I co-lead it with my friend, Rev. Daniel Hughes, from Cincinnati.  It was a lively presentation and discussion.  It was a packed room of mainline clergy and leaders trying to figure out where church is heading and how to find purpose in engaging their neighborhoods.  There were lots of successes and failures, lots of questioning, but also so much hope from the shared discussion.  

One of the questions/comments that several folks shared in and around the  is that they sometimes feel like they are doing “hospice” work with their churches.  Yet, they also know that there is hope.  As we shared some of our experiences, we acknowledged that some things are dying within our churches (and, yes, some churches do die as a particular church), but there is so much that is being resurrected!  

Many in the room have been “burned out” and even “burned” by their church experiences.  Yet, they still are in the church, working and hoping towards a better story to emerge.   

I also co-facilitated a “curated lunch” conversation with my friend Matthew Gillette and others.  It was a great discussion around connecting our stories and how to see church and parish renewal happen.  

Inhabit has a very diverse crowd, that is always reflected in its presentations and sessions.   

Since our church is in a multi-cultural neighborhood, and we live in an increasingly diverse country, it is encouraging to be a part of a gathering that reflects that diversity and has a deep sense of unity.  

We also had some great discussions on how to become a multi-cultural church.  It’s difficult unless the church’s leadership is also multi-cultural.  As our church grows, it will become extremely important, an imperative really, for us to have diverse leadership.  

We will also want to explore new voices and new ways of being together and engaging the world around us.  We cannot simply continue to do what we’ve always done and expect different results.  

It is time for us to do new things, to experiment.  We have done some wonderful things in the past, we have much to celebrate.  And, we’ve done some new things like the Neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt, the Tikkun Farm engagement, the Flea Market, and many more things.  If we are to move forward, together, then we all need to listen, stay curious, and not be afraid to fail.  As we have said before, we all have to engage in this work of “re-functioning” of the church.  It cannot be “pastor-driven”, it must be “congregation-driven” and “neighborhood/other collaborative”.  

I am still processing the late night discussions, the early morning coffee conversations, and all that happened in between.  It was a packed few days.

But, I am more committed than ever to working towards the story that God intends for our faith community!  I am listening, asking questions, and, along with this church, following God’s work as we engage the communities around us.  

Gideon Tsang

I am certain that I am not a “hospice” care pastor for this church, nor is this church in hospice!  We are a healthy church.  However, we do need to be more “desperate”, “hopeful”, and “risk-taking” if we are to not only survive the next twenty years or so, but thrive!  

Friends, let’s get on with this!  

PS – This was also a great conference for me to be reminded that I am surrounded by friends around the country, and that I have great friends here at home.  So many times, I feel like I have to “perform” or meet expectations.  I am reminded again and again that “I am enough”.  This past weekend was filled with beauty, grace, questioning, and deep presence.  As our friend, Gideon Tsang, reminded us in the last session, home is always the best place to come back to.  

Much love!  


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