Which of these systems is not like the other, Part 1

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about systemic change lately. While it may seem counterintuitive, a few experiences I’ve had recently have started me thinking that the church in which I advocate for change is changing faster than the education system in which I do the same. This will probably be the first post of a few, as I work through what I’m learning and feeling.

We call our worship community The Open Circle. Photo credit: Flickr user Thomas Hawk via cc

I have the privilege of being part of a worship community that has managed to create the kind of accepting space that I strive to build in my classroom. Our group includes people who might be marginalized anywhere else. We have adults from community living environments, those living with dementia, the under-housed and under-employed, along with a smattering of retired academics and university students. The liturgy, such as it is, includes reading of scripture and prayer but also a piece of secular writing (poetry, rap, song, essay) (an example: An indiscriminate act of kindness) on the week’s scripture theme. The reflection, or sermon, might be led by a clergy or lay person and always includes the opportunity for discussion and exchange of ideas. One reflection strategy we use which I find particularly meaningful is called lectio divina.
In lectio divina, the Gospel is read, and then each person in the circle (yes, we sit in a circle) who wishes to participate speaks the word or phrase that most stuck out for them in the reading. After everyone has had a chance to speak, the scripture is read again, and anyone who chooses to can share why that particular word or phrase was what spoke to them – or they can decide that the second time through, something else drew their focus.

Lectio divina offers me a variety of lenses on the week’s reading. Photo credit: Flickr user Yuma Abe via cc

What I love about lectio divina is the chance to hear the different perspectives of the astounding collection of people I worship with. A community activist in her 80s may respond quite differently than my 16 year old son, or they might discover that the same thing called to both of them. There are no wrong answers, there is no judgement, everyone’s voice is valid. It is, for me, an experience of overwhelming mutual respect and I am humbled by it. It also always leaves me struggling with why this environment is so hard to build in my classroom.
Why does this unconventional worship space work? Because it is driven by the community it serves. It was created because people were looking for a more interactive worship experience, a Sunday morning experience with a facilitator rather than an instructor, a community of co-learners. A traditional church took a chance on running two services at the same time to allow people the opportunity of choice, and to meet a variety of needs.
I know that one big difference between my worship environment and my classroom environment is that I get to make that choice. There is no “religion act” in Ontario that says I must have my butt in some form of pew for a set number of hours per week. The community I worship with is there because they want to be, and many of my students this year make it abundantly clear that they don’t want to be at school. That breaks my heart, and spurs me to continue my efforts to create a space as safe and engaging as the one that welcomes me on Sunday morning.
Which brings me to some of my first questions. If an institutionalized system like the Anglican Church of Canada can start to read the writing on the wall and know that it must adapt or die, why does it seem so hard for the education system to read the same graffiti? How do we work to build a learning space where it is safe to be yourself, and not worry about being marked as different – where all are valued for what they bring to the community? What’s worked for you, in trying to create that kind of space? Your thoughts and ideas, as always, are welcome.

Let the sparks fly.