Last week, I spent the better part of two days volunteering my consulting and facilitation time with the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. I didn't suddenly "catch" religion, and the folks at the Virginia Conference certainly weren't calling on me for my deep theological expertise. No, I was part of a small team helping the Virginia Conference UMC "accelerate" seven church-based programs.
I blame Todd Nuckols of Lighthouse Labs RVA for all of this.
Lighthouse has helped to accelerate some 20 start-up companies in Richmond in recent years -- taking groups of entrepreneurs through 12-16 weeks of intensive work to shape and refine their business ideas. I've had the pleasure of being on the periphery of Lighthouse's work. The co-located one of their acceleration rounds in the 1E collaborative workspace we've built with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I've also been in the room with Todd and others in recent years discussing Richmond's own start-up ecosystem.
Late last year, Todd connected me with Chris Bennett, the pastor at St. Matthew's UMC in semi-rural Goochland County, Virginia. The three of us met, and Chris talked about his idea to accelerate a group of church-based ministries, or community programs. Chris had the programs, which received some funding from the Virginia Conference, and a date on the calendar. Todd had connections to mentors who could help them focus on and refine their efforts. I had a few ideas on designing the session and was tasked with facilitating slices of the day, but mostly spent my time trying not to use any bad language.
Fast forward to last week, as 20 UMC parishioners joined together with 15 entrepreneurs to take a business approach to their community-centered ministries. There was a community garden, several food banks and meal programs, a preschool, and a home repair ministry. In no time, the teams were engaged in energetic discussions about the focus of and opportunities for their programs.
By the end of the second day, each UMC team had a six-month plan to take back to their church and implement. Each plan was built around a single idea -- such as, develop a younger volunteer base, build more community partnerships, raise money, increase services. The Virginia Conference plans to bring them back together in August to see how they've done.
It was, admittedly, a fast, imperfect acceleration. We knew going in that the process would tap Todd's acceleration expertise and my consulting skills in finite ways. But for a pilot program, we moved each group in the right direction.
Having opportunities to engage with different communities, groups of people whose life trajectory is uniquely different than my own, is what continues to make my life with Floricane so special. Whether I'm with a group of older Methodists talking about broadly familiar concepts of God, faith and ministry (with my checkered Catholic, Episcopalian and Quaker pedigree), engaged in strategic planning with a group of adoption attorneys, or helping academicians redefine the concept of leadership in higher education, the journey always challenges my perceptions, deepens my learning and is hella fun. (As the kids say, when they're not watching their language.)
We're already talking about ideas for a second acceleration with the Virginia Conference. I've cast my vote for a multi-demoninational approach that would bring together faith communities of all stripes from specific towns or cities to work collectively on an idea -- because that would be challenging and fun both. In the meantime, I'm off in search of another opportunity to engage a new community in some creative exploration. (Oh, hello there, Beautiful RVA. See you in a few weeks.)