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Gathering Ground is about doing, story sharing

As an organization that reveres the earth and its seasons, Gathering Ground is offering a Compost and Cultivate event online on March 25 and 26.

Top: 2019 Carrie Newcomer Concert has people dance in aisles.
Middle: Closing circle ends Winter Solstice celebration.
Bottom: Gathering Ground group makes a banner. Photos courtesy of Beth Amsbary

Gathering Ground is a ministry nurtured by the PNW Conference and University Congregational UCC (UCUCC) in Seattle for spiritual-but-not-religious folk, said Beth Amsbary, Gathering Ground convener.

The weekend events are suited for folk who follow earth cycles, Queer Creatives, doubters, seekers and anyone who loves good stories and good music,” she said.

The events feature Carrie Newcomer, a Quaker singer/songwriter, a collaborator with master educator Parker Palmer. She performs from 5 to 7 p.m., Saturday.

Related to the Spring Equinox, three master story spinners are sharing their real-life tales of compost and cultivation.

• What happens inside a compost pile?

• What if life becomes a compost pile?

• What can be grown or cultivated out of that glorious rot?

The story night features the Carrie (she/her) with Queer fantasy author Elijah Merrill (he/him) and creativity catalyst Shirin Subhani (she/her).

Carrie will offer an online workshop for the Equinox weekend retreat from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday.

“As part of our commitment to supporting Queer creatives, five workshop enrollments are reserved for folks of that identity,” said Beth.

Gathering Ground, now in its seventh year, received foundational support and counsel from Acting Conference Minister Courtney Stage-Tregear, who suggested story nights.

University Congregational UCC “planted” Gathering Ground, and the conference provided grants allowing the organization to increase community connections.

They also partner with University Heights Community Center.

The March weekend is underwritten in part by the Adult Education Endowment of University Congregational, which makes it possible for all who wish to attend with a sliding scale admission.

Gathering Ground is people of many ages, incomes and beliefs who meet in a city of wealth disparity, generational ghettos and diverse beliefs,” said Beth.

“We find gathering to creatively share practices, stories, and snacks to be deeply connecting,” she said. “Often playful, sometimes raw, there is something about doing and reflecting together that makes space for authentic questions and deep listening.

“We are on equal footing after doing something side-by-side, rather than being in a relationship of helper-receiver,” Beth continued. “Practicing connection to wisdom, together we are more present for our world’s needs.

Beth said people at gatherings call their yearning for meaning by various names: spirit, higher power, collective unconscious, mystery, Gaia, becoming real.

By gathering, she said people are enriched by each other’s paths.

“We encounter truth by celebrating seasons of the earth, bringing socks to an encampment, writing bad poetry, cultivating strength to grow as a de-colonizer or playing with crafts,” Beth said.

Gathering Ground is a collaboration with activities guided by a convener and circles for writing, crafting and movement.

An administrative associate supports the effort.

Guest presenters lead some programs.

“We follow a model of sociocracy, which allows for horizontal power sharing and consensus-based decision making,” said Beth, an experiential educator and student of spiritual growth, who worked as a theatre artist, science educator and retreat leader.

Growing up in an Episcopal church in Champaign, Ill., she was her family’s fourth generation there. Beth earned a bachelor’s at the University of Illinois there and a master’s at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln.

Her journey in the Christian tradition grew in a four-year course in lay ministry at the University of the South, an Episcopal seminary.

At her Episcopal church in Champaign, she began doing plays in church as a way to encourage people “to cross the moat and enter the church building.”

A third of the people at the performances were from the church, a third from the theatre community and a third from local creative people.

After directing plays there three years, the group she worked with wanted to start a theater company. They decided to move to Seattle as a place with interest in theater but with room for growth. In 1987, they moved and started Seattle Public Theater.

Beth described it as combining liturgy and theater, convening people in meaningful space.

Personally, she was struggling with the “he’s” in the Episcopal liturgy and found University Congregational United Church of Christ, which became her spiritual home.

While attending UCUCC, Beth was working in performing arts, leading solo performing workshops, theologizing questions into performances and finding the “extraordinary in the ordinary.” For 10 years, she also worked part time as development director with the Church Council of Greater Seattle.

Seeking to create sacred space for people with different beliefs, Beth found UCUCC support for her starting a new church plant.

“It was part a discerning group using a listening process to create a space for people who were spiritual but not religious,” Beth said.

Rather than to have people come, sit and listen in a spectator model, her idea was to engage them in experiential education: to communicate based on activities rather than a text.”

The group decided to call itself Gathering Ground.

Its mission is to provide “community for people of many beliefs—on many journeys—to share and forge meaning.”

Beth said, “We do stuff, reflect and connect.”

Rather than gatherings based on a liturgical calendar, “we have a rhythm of organically following the earth’s seasons.

“We have regular practices of crafting, visiting and writing together. It’s a practice of the heart that involves sharing and listening to stories,” she said.

Courtney encouraged her to do story sharing.

“As we do things and share stories, magical things happen,” Beth said, telling of making mobiles and talking about balance and then sharing stories about finding balance.

Many Queer folk are attending Gathering Ground and stepping into leadership positions. Hearing their stories has broadened the perspectives of everyone, Beth said, noting, “Spirit is at work.”

Gathering Ground has an annual Story Night with people sharing stories on a theme related to their hopes, fears and yearnings, somewhat akin to the community organizing model.

“Recently we shared about stepping out and staying in related to COVID,” Beth said.

Gathering Ground has quarterly seasonal intergenerational gatherings for 50 to 100 and monthly gatherings of groups of about 10 for coffee and snacks under a grove of sequoia and redwood trees in the Seattle Arboretum.

A summer solstice event in June 2021 was the largest gathering for a labyrinth event in the state of Washington. There were eight large labyrinths at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.

“Usually we avoid church spaces, because for many, they are not safe,” Beth said.

“Insights from these practices of meaning making help me stay sane, displace empire and recover joy,” said Beth, who finds grounding in bird watching, qigong, music making, living without a car, going to coffee shops with interesting people, and losing at board games.

Beth also works part time at OneWorld Now, which seeks to create the next generation of global leaders in after-school language classes, leader workshops and study abroad. They teach Arabic, Korean, Chinese and Russian, which are languages “of some countries we need to have better relationships with.”

In those cross-racial, cross-cultural relationships she sees the Holy Spirit alive and moving in the world every day.

For information, call 206-880-3641 or email or rsvp at


Copyright © Pacific NW Conference United Church of Christ News March 2023


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