Dec 1 2006
In August I convened a “Roundtable” meeting of all the active local networks in BG:- The 2 local primary schools; residents’ association; the property developer; Cheers; Baptist church (which has just this year decided to focus on BG); Health nurse; community policing; Dinner Club (Celebrate Recovery). We had all been waiting for the developers’ processes to get up to speed with who we all were and what we all did, but the wait became too long for us all. We all knew each other and were becoming increasingly impatient to do some constructive things together. So I just chatted with the leaders of these networks, picked a date, and there we all were. It was great. We do it every month now. We are able to exchange important info, and pass the info through each others’ networks. We could resolve co-operative initiatives in real time around the table.
One of the most strategic outcomes is the Intermission at Carols, on the Oval this Saturday night. We were talking about vandalithen parenting, then connecting resources to people who by definition don’t want to connect. So how can we connect people… The idea was struck upon, that since most people come to the Carols on the Oval, let’s make it a prime connection opportunity. We’ll hold the school item till part 2 of the show, and hold the fireworks as a carrot to stick around. Then during the half-time break, we’ll have each of the dozen or so groups and initiatives in the suburb represented with a bamboo lantern and person with a clipboard. During the break people are encouraged to sign up their interest in those groups for further contact in 2007. We’ll see how it goes, but even if 50 people become ongoing links in 2007, that will be well worthwhile.
2. Co-operation and Control. (And the separation of church & state)
Look at <a href=”http://www.banksiagrove.com.”>www.banksiagrove.com.</a> It’s the BG website that’s been up for 3 years – we run it on the cheap. It’s simple, and content based, and it’s a generic site for anything about BG that needs to be easily accessed. And it’s easy to remember. In the last few months 2 other websites for BG have started, and of course the developers and the residents’ association want to ensure the integrity of their info, so fair enough, we put their website links very prominently on the banksiagrove.com homepage.
However rather than use our site as a portal to theirs, they are ignoring ours and promoting their own site. Besides making it harder for the residents to pick where to go online, it raises community issues of control & co-operation. At Cheers, we don’t want to control but we do want to co-operate with existing groups. (If we can’t do that, then we’re going against our own ethos of interconnection.)
What if other groups won’t join in?
We use the residents association newsletter, rather than do our own. And in that same spirit, we have offered them the use of our website, email list, even insurances if needs be, but they insist on re-inventing all their own wheels and ignoring ours (even though ours already exist & work.) And it makes me feel a bit… something – sad, angry, invalidated? What to do! How do you co-operate when they won’t join in with you? I guess just join their thing? I’ll let you know when I find out… (6/12 – This has now changed – they are now happy to use the .com site as a portal. This happened after the Carols event, perhaps because they saw a mode of co-operation they hadn’t seen before. So now they are playing. But read on with this post, because it’s not about conflict resolution, it’s about when the conflict CAN’T be resolved like this one has.)
Now the shoe is on the other foot: apparently we caused the same frustration to the community development subcontractor (CC) when we started the Roundtable. They felt invalidated by the Roundtable, because they had a process they were using to “bring all the key stakeholders together.” They felt we didn’t play with them. And we chose to jump ahead and meet by ourselves! Weren’t we reinventing their wheel? Couldn’t we have told them? (By the way: “in fact, no.” and, “we thought we did.”) The groups in the Roundtable were already co-operating in an adhoc way before the developers came, and had taken a hiatus in order to wait for them. But CC’s processes were taking too long (all on the Roundtable thought so) and we were needing to collaborate sooner rather than later. CC obviously needed to go about their processes the way they were for a reason. And rather than try to change CC’s processes, The Roundtable just met and got on with our collaboration. (It was left to the developer’s reps on the Roundtable to decide whether they invited CC to attend as well.)
(Ah, the peculiar strains of community life – no wonder churches can tend to retreat away from community involvement and just stick within house. It’s easier to make your own game than try to play with others. But then, there’s no contact.)
So what are the issues of control and co-operation here?
(i) We want to work at co-operating where we can with other local groups. Why? Because Jesus would. He connected with people, he was in life’s markets and streets, and especially with outcasts. Why? He had no desire to control people – he just wanted to know, love, & empower them. But if people wouldn’t play with him, he’d let them not play, and walk on. And if people wanted to control him, he’d just not play their game. (Except once, when he let them take him & kill him, when it suited his plans.) Co-operation is preferred, but does not equal control. We want to co-operate wherever possible. Others can use our stuff, & we will use their stuff for a win-win. But we won’t try to control others, nor be controlled by others. The question is, “can we co-operate,” not, “who is in control?” (If we can’t co-operate, it doesn’t matter who is in control.)
(ii) This co-operation/control issue is where rubber hits road with the “separation of church and state.” It determines when we do and don’t co-operate with the City of Wanneroo, or other powers. The church-state separation is not about “keeping the church out of politics,” or “keeping religion a private thing.” It’s about keeping the church free from control-games.
Christ’s followers should be involved in many community issues that also occupy our politicians. We should have our say, and exert a Christ-like, empowering influence, especially for the weak. Team up, even (when it’s a true win-win!) But we should never control, (never lord-over), never buy into the control games. And we should never be controlled by the state, or other powers. Because we march to the beat of God’s Kingdom, we use different methods that don’t require controlling-power. And those skills in that Way of Jesus are important to maintain, so that we can be free to do what’s needed when it’s needed, regardless of what others are doing, but without disengaging from others either.
That’s empowerment, not control.