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A unique conference experience

This blog was originally published here.

I arrived in Montreal with trepidation. I had never been to an open space conference. What would it be like? How would it work? What were we going to talk about? Would anyone else be interested in the conversations I was interested in? As someone who likes details and concrete plans, this was a big step outside of my comfort zone. So what was it that drew me to Montreal? Collegiality, the hope of building relationships with colleagues my age, with those who are and will be leaders in the Anglican Church of Canada in the years to come. The opportunity to foster new relationships outweighed my anxieties.

My fears about open space disappeared quickly as I discovered that this format allowed for and fostered conversations about topics or issues we were interested in, or involved in, with others who were similarly interested. Conversations ranged from family life situations and how they intersect with ministry life, to deeper theological issues of meaning, to practical implications like faith formation and project ideas. Some conversations involved a few people and others larger numbers of participants. Every conversation I was involved with was respectful, regardless if we were coming at the issue from very different perspectives or not. Not one conversation I was part of was monopolizing or dominating by one or two people. I also like that we were free to walk away at anytime if we felt we weren’t adding to or receiving value from the conversation.

Probably for the first time in my church life I was not among the youngest in a room. In fact I was one of the oldest participants if not the oldest, having celebrated my 40th birthday between when the conference was announced and arriving in Montreal. Age though did not factor into most of the conversations I had, rather it was sharing experiences, joys, frustrations, hopes and laughter, lots of laughter. At times it was amazing for me to realize how closely someone else’s experience matched my own. It was incredibly heartening to know I am not the only one.

If there is one word that summarizes the experience for me it would be “relationships.” Strengthening existing ones, building new ones and thinking about the relationships i want to foster with colleagues. This was really brought to the forefront for me in a conversation around generation gap, particularly with other clergy. Coming out of that conversation for me was the importance of building relationships between colleagues of all ages, relationships of mutual support and learning. The key to me is the mutual support that we as clergy are able to offer to one another. Many of us will find ourselves in solo ministries, which can be isolating. For our health and the health of the Church we need one another, to encourage, to resource share, and to challenge each other. I believe the more we can seek to build these types of relationships rather than competitive ones, the stronger, more creative and more fruitful our ministry will be, and in turn the Church as a whole will be strengthened.

This conference reinforced the importance of relationships with peers who are similar in age to me. As someone whose church life has been shaped by an aging congregation, followed by older classmates in seminary and whose ministry has in aging congregations, I sometimes forget how nice it is to talk to someone who has been shaped by similar cultural influences, even if we didn’t listen to the same type of music or watch the same TV programs. There is a moment of realization that you don’t need to explain all the cultural references. I treasure the relationships I made in Montreal as my Facebook Friends list exploded, and in the days since as I read their updates. As we move forward together in leadership in the Anglican Church of Canada these mutually supportive relationships will be essential.

As I listened to stories that were shared I became aware of how blessed I have been by some older clergy who, while treating as an equal also offered me mentoring, supportive relationships. These were older clergy who did not let their wealth of experience become something to lord over others, who bragged about battle scars, but who offered sage advice based on their experience and were also ready to learn from those younger and less experienced. Recognizing the blessing I have received from them I want to continue to seek out and grow from my relationships with older clergy. I also come away from this conversation with a new resolve to be intentional about building and offering these types of relationships to those who come after me.

acconvo14 groupReflecting on the value of relationships in the days since I have returned home, I have realized that relationships and helping to build collegial relationships has been and is an important part of my ministry already, whether in deanery clericus or my Wednesday morning pastor’s prayer with community colleagues, or as a Fresh Start facilitator. I hope that one of the gifts I can offer to the wider church is to create and foster opportunities for clergy of all ages to have mutually supportive relationships.

As I return home and back to my regularly scheduled life and ministry after a wonderful time with colleagues from across the country, I am thankful for each of them, for their presence at this unique gathering, for the laughter and the tears we shared, for their stories that encourage and challenge me. I look forward to continuing to build mutually supportive and encouraging relationships with them in the future and with those who will come after me.

Dana Dickson

About Dana Dickson

I am a priest currently serving the people of St. Paul’s, Uxbridge in Southern Ontario. Growing up in a small town and as part of multi-point parish, gave me a heart for small multi-generational congregations, and the importance of relationship in them. I am fanatical about curling, playing in a multi-faith league with other clergy, lay leaders and Jewish leaders, as well as being a spectator at national and international events. I am also passionate about cooking, anything to do with history and spending time on the water.
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