What We Learned...

Working Vision Statement created at the August Consultation (Crossposted from the WordsMatter.Episcopal blog:

Our vision is for many conversations that take diverse contexts seriously in exploring the power of language (words, symbols or images) and how it can be used in life-giving ways that extend the hospitality of the church’s mission within the church and community.

This vision is grounded in the Gospel mandate to affirm life and carry forth the healing love of God found within the gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of the death-dealing effects of sin in our world.

Keeping this vision in mind, as the working vision for Train the trainer sessions, and the overall goal of the project, each group that uses the conversation guide may create their own vision for their context. It is hoped that groups will continue to use the original prompt question (see below for prompt question)for writing the narrative, but it is understood that the question may change for some contexts.


This gathering approached language issues using a descriptive rather than a proscriptive method. We expanded the language conversation, grounding it in relationship and listening to each others’ stories of experiencing the power of language and the hope for breaking through of God’s action.

Each person at the gathering responded to the question: “Share with us an experience when you noticed the power and/or importance of language (words, symbols, or images) and the impact of that language on your life, your faith community, or your relationship with God. This experience may have helped you embrace the Divine more fully or it may have been destructive, harmful, or painful to you in your personal and/or faith journey.”

After listening to one another’s stories and noting our own responses in individual journals and on newsprint sheets that were posted around the space, we spent time as a whole group talking about what stood out for us in what we had heard. Later we met in small groups to discuss what we had learned from the stories. Specifically we looked at how it felt to share our stories, how safe or vulnerable did we feel, and what kind of visions are we forming for our specific contexts in which we will host the conversation.

What we learned

The stories we heard called us to expansion—expanding the way we think and talk about ourselves, others, and our God. Instead of restricting language, the stories called for adding more diverse language.

The stories called us to expand contextual cultural attentiveness—understanding that language speaks differently in different contexts.

The stories called us to expand our understanding of how language is tied to systems of power and has been and can be harmful, oppressive, and painful.

The stories showed us that in an environment created through respectful intentional listening, compliance to rules about specific words was not as helpful as commitment to understanding the impact of the power of language. This kind of commitment can lead to meaningful analysis of systems of power that oppose the Gospel; extending a life-affirming hospitality within the church and community.

The stories called us to spread this conversation to as many different places as possible.

Where do we go from here?

Each of those who attended the Seattle session in December agreed to host, within the next year, a conversation for a group of people in their context and to offer an informational workshop at their diocesan convention. Feedback will be submitted so we can continue to learn about the usefulness of the conversation guide, what works and what might be more useful.

What the original consultation in August 2010 learned at their gathering was shared with the NCC Justice for Women Working Group to discern the next steps to spread these conversations as broadly as possible. Participants were invited to be an ongoing part of the process.

In the Episcopal Church that led to this gathering in Seattle in December 2010. We shared our learnings with the NCC Justice for Women Working Group and Episcopal Church Center staff working in multicultural and mission. In January a report will be submitted to Ruth Meyers, chair of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to be presented at the March SCLM meeting. The SCLM has endorsed this project.


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