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Courtney Stange-Tregear reflects on Fall Gathering

By Courtney Stange-Tregear

Two weeks ago the PNC gathered in a new way. Nearly 100 people from around the region came to “Weaving Together: Fall Gathering 2019” at Shalom UCC in Richland. This gathering was unique in its mission, vision and structure. Leveraging the conference priority of deepening relationships, we practiced a process of moving from sharing personal struggles to beginning to take specific, measurable action, to change the world.

Courtney Stange-Tregear speaks at the Fall Gathering at Shalom UCC in Richland.


Instead of educational intensives, a keynote speaker, worship or a business meeting, the agenda was set, but loose enough to be revised as the event went on. More than 20 individuals had leadership roles.

Every participant joined in a time of small group testimony sharing. Through that sharing, about 50 personal, societal and systemic issues were named, and six action teams were formed—or expanded as in the case of the Climate Change and Racial Justice teams, which already existed as sub-committees of Justice and Witness Committee.

Event planners hoped one or two action teams would form so we could better focus conference resources.

As Bishop Dwayne Royster, political director of the PICO National Network of progressive faith-based community organizations, said at our 2018 Annual Meeting, we want to change the world in concrete, measurable ways. By focusing narrowly we increase the likelihood we can achieve success.

Dee Eisenhauer shares a group report.

At the gathering, the idea of focusing on just one or two actions created a sense of fear and competition. While the hope was to form an action campaign that could win, there was danger some would leave the event feeling they and their concerns lost. Because there was an abundance of energy for working in these issues, six action teams presented their plans after considerable listening, research and collaboration, and the gathering affirmed the six teams.

Addressing the deportation crisis, an action team formed to target one of the main airlines carrying out deportations from Seattle and the Tri-Cities.

Kelle Brown offered reflections.

Frustrated with different, but personally significant medical issues, one group formed as a coalition to approach the Washington State Insurance Commissioner for improved health care access through specific, concrete demands.

Housing was a popular concern that broke into two action teams: one addressing the low-income housing crisis by targeting urban housing developers, while another group is working through a legislative strategy.

The Climate Change Action Group is also working on legislative action.

The largest action team is focused on racial

Hillary Coleman, vice moderator, talks on another issue.

justice and is pursuing a conference-wide approach to reparations.

This event was an experiment and not without risk.

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats were named at the end of the event during an in-person evaluation period. In-person evaluation was another new and different thing for us to experience as a conference.

Some felt anxious that there wasn’t a clearer or set agenda. Some expressed frustration that there wasn’t enough clarity as to how this event’s work relates to our existing structures and committees. Some felt like the time was simply too short to

John Edgerton facilitated the sessions.

accomplish all that we wanted to accomplish. Still others wished for cookies and more silence.

Significant strengths and opportunities were also named. Some expressed appreciation for the new action oriented tools they had learned and practiced. Some reflected on the willingness of the group to lean into trying a new thing. Many named the opportunities to forge new partnerships, learn from existing committees, discover allies, make a difference and change the world.

Personally, I felt it was a success before we even started because so many were willing to travel and attend this new and different type of conference

Sharon Fa'anamole suggested having Annual Meetings when Samoan churches can come.

event, and there was a large and diverse group involved in the planning and leadership.

Like the 2016 Annual Meeting theme, this event was not only an “out on a limb” experience but also felt like we were out there, where we are supposed to

Mike Denton, conference minister, put it this way, “I’ve been trying to say, in a few words, what our Fall Gathering felt like and the story that keeps coming to mind is Pentecost. The disciples were locked in the room, afraid and unsure of what was next when the Spirit blew in. After the initial confusion, I don’t imagine uncertainty ebbed but I do imagine that they felt strengthened by the promise that something new was breaking forth.

That’s how I’ve felt in the days following our conference gathering in Richland. Something important happened there. It felt as though the locked room was opened and now we’re standing at the threshold saying, “Hello

Steve Clagett called for collaboration with the Justice Witness Committee efforts.

world! We have something to share.”

Others have reflected, “The Fall Gathering helped us discover a new way of approaching the societal issues that we all lament. We learned to define a problem that we care about in a deeply personal way, then identify action steps that can lead to specific positive outcome. It is a map for addressing overwhelming issues in a way that targets specific problems at the human level. Done right, the approach generates energy in people and enables them to make a tangible difference in the world.”

People were energized. People were inspired. People saw hope and a new way forward.

At the end of the Fall Gathering, I felt real work is going to happen. It may be small at first, but the possibilities are endless.

In the coming weeks and months there will be continued learning and reflection, as well as continued progress with the action teams. As always, feel free to get in touch with me if you would like to hear more about the event, join an action team, or give further feedback.

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Copyright © Winter 2019-2020 Pacific NW United Church News


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