by Clare Andreasson, Senior Warden
“What you need,” said my father, in a voice weighted with authority and experience, “is a canoe.”
My husband and I and our two children were in the midst of a long season of changes for our young family which left us feeling fragmented, fearful, and disconnected from one another. I was frantically looking for someone to tell us what to do to make things better. My father was happy to oblige.
“Buy a canoe,” he said. “It will be the perfect way for you to go out as a family and experience the beauty of the waters of northern Michigan together.”
And so we did. We bought a canoe. We installed a hitch, borrowed a trailer, and spent hours creating an elaborately engineered hanging system for the canoe in our garage which even our smallest child could manage. We talked a lot about canoeing.
The canoe has been stored elegantly in our garage for the past eleven years. We have never used it.
When we bought the canoe, we hadn’t really done the work of figuring out who we were as a family. The authors of the book The Practice of Adaptive Leadership would say that in response to the challenges we were facing, we chose a “technical fix” over an “adaptive response”. The technical fix failed.
Our adaptive response took longer to develop.
It began with planning for a family vacation. My husband called us all together. “Every voice at this table matters,” he said. “I want to know what is important to each one of you.” Our responses, of course, were wildly different. They often presented mutually exclusive options. There was a sense of competition: if your voice is heard then mine won’t be. There were times when I wondered if our children deliberately set out to veto one another.
My husband, however, does not give up easily. We persevered. We made lists. We listened. Slowly, and somewhat to our surprise, we began to discover what we shared. Clear themes emerged: we found that being together on the water is not a way that we connect as a family; that we all love to be outdoors, but in different ways; that we like to explore new places together and then have time alone. The themes led us to choices which none of us would have found on our own and which were somehow just right for all of us together.
We were learning a way of discernment in decision-making that included each one of us. It took time, it was often messy, and, unlike the canoe, it transformed our life together.
As a parish we also find ourselves in the midst of a season of changes not only in the church but also in the larger world. Rather than standing in places of fragmentation, anxiety, and disconnection,
Kathryn+ has invited us to parish conversations. Every voice in our parish matters. What is important to each one of us may differ wildly and may appear mutually exclusive. Our conversations may not be easy. However, I have come to trust deeply in the work of the Holy Spirit among us as we listen to one another. Through a process of deep listening and discernment, clear themes will emerge. This is an opportunity for us to renew a clear sense of our own unique identity as a parish family, and a clear sense of the ways we are uniquely called to live out that identity in love for God, for one another, and for our neighbors. Vitality flows from the inside out.
We don’t need to buy a canoe!