A – This is Unbelievable!

“This is unbelievable!”
How remarkable!
How impossible!

What is it that has become believable, while being unbelievable?

Real moments experienced.
A new landscape mapped.

It is a simple concept – the design of an infrastructure which engages every clergy person in a region.

The first region was the Peninsula, just south of San Francisco.  The concept was articulated by the regional community foundation.  As the Foundation’s newly envisioned Religion Sector Specialist (RSS), it was my responsibility to take the concept to design and implementation.   As a clergy person whose experiences supported the innovation of such a position, I began engaging the clergy in the region in conversation on their thoughts on the concept.  We were cognizant of the fact that this was an effort that had eluded 20th century leaders in the religion sector, as well as the government sector.  In time, this process resulted in the formulation of guidelines for such an entity and a working model.

We worked with the conviction that such a structure was essential, more in the 21st century than at any previous time.  We also worked with the conviction that it was more feasible in the 21st century.  Almost all of us had participated in the Peninsula Community Foundation’s initial Dialogue, which had successfully confirmed (a) the structural capacity to identify and engage all clergy in a region and (b) the clergy affirmation of the value of professional regional engagement.

Historically in the United States, clergy collaboratives engaged representative Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy.  Later, Buddhist and Muslim clergy were included, as well as clergy, or their denominational equivalent, of a growing list of acknowledged faiths in the United States.  These collaboratives reflect faith diversity, but of a limited representation and gathered in delineated self selecting subsets, differentiated theologically, ideologically, demographically and geographically.

The Regional Clergy Engagement (RCE) model was structured to engage all clergy.  For the initial Dialogue, the two month invitation and recruitment process included my systematic personal connection with all clergy to share what this Dialogue would be, and would not be. The initial gathering format was clergy sitting at round tables of seven, assigned by their diversity of denomination, demographic and geography.  There were no presenters, only personal exchange on “Clergy Leadership: in the Congregation and in the Community.”  After the first hour of Dialogue, a city manager and a superintendent of schools, which I had engaged on behalf of the Foundation, joined each Dialogue table.

The subsequent structure of Regional Clergy Engagement (RCE), which supplemented other modes of clergy engagement, was quickly seen and endorsed by clergy as uniquely “for clergy, regional, and free of particular advocacy or project outcomes.”   The framers of Regional Clergy Engagement fully acknowledged the value of clergy engagement directed at advocacy on behalf of specific community needs.  Clergy self selected subsets on the one hand served these goals, and on the other hand, they were, by definition, unable to provide the benefits to be achieved by the gathering of all clergy, which would be our function.

Regional Clergy Engagement, in fact, also serves to enhance the capacity of the subsets as well as provide exchanges of perspective among clergy who also maintained subset affiliation.  Furthermore, the subset entities, beyond the city level, were, except for denominational entities, not clergy based.  They did not provide clergy
with the professional interaction so valuable to every professional segment.  Even in cities, clergy who gathered did so in differentiated subsets.

The inclusive clergy community:  Why all clergy, especially in the 21st century?  This inclusive, professional entity is necessary to respond to size and diversity of today’s community and the wide-ranging scope of community issues.  Furthermore, it is a necessary for clergy facing the current level of professional challenges.  Regional Clergy Engagement is an asset for a variety of applications, all of which benefit the clergy scope of task and calling.  Essential, because the congregation of today are not on a town square.

In the 19th Century, Martin Buber wrote of society re-emerging from the tissue of community life, from the village community, from a union of such communities.  Once more, “natural bonds” are to grow up among people, in contrast to the “orderly separateness” of present day society.

“Orderly separation” is more technically advanced in the 21st Century.  Clergy can be the cornerstone to advancing systemic civic engagement and transformation.  Without systemic Regional Clergy Engagement, the mutual access to clergy colleagues is lost, as is their collective engagement with the leadership of the other sectors: government, education, social service and business. The personal face of the clergy person in every community, not the institutional face of the denominations, are “religion” for the vast numbers of community constituents.  These clergy personally provide daily service and influence, much of which combines to give personal and collective resilience and link individuals to vast community resources.

There is an obvious and acknowledged role of congregations in serving personal religious needs and community institutional support.  The 20th century has seen the diminishing capacity of congregations, individually or collectively, to galvanize their efforts to engage in serving people and community.  The civic sectors have been equally diminished in their capacity to engage congregations to share in serving vast community needs.

At the outset, there were three primary challenges to frame an entity that engaged all clergy.  First, reframing the “orderly separateness” of society.  Clergy and congregations, like every other institution, were scattered, fragmented, and overwhelmed.  Second, countering the pervasive and persistent perception that diverse faiths were historically not reconcilable.  Third, responding to the dominant view that the civic sectors of society were prohibited from relating to religion.  This extended to consideration of partnerships with congregations for increasing community resources or the consideration of any religious dynamics related to providing client services.

It was in this context that the Peninsula Community Foundation hypothesized that, in fact, religion was part of the fabric of our society, with historic benefit and current impact.  Their proposed first step was re-establishing a framework in which all clergy attained mutual collegial relationships.  Their second step was a structure to support re-framing the collaborative leadership cadres serving throughout the community, so that they insured the inclusion of clergy.

The resulting design for Regional Clergy Engagement was matched by the clergy affirmation of the value of such engagement in fulfilling their professional role and as a benefit for society.  Thus they reclaimed, with greater impact, the benefit of the relationships fostered by a historic, and now shared presence on the town square.

Every time I hear, “This is unbelievable, it is followed by…
“Hasn’t this always existed?”
“This should be everywhere.”
“This is what religion should be!”

Rabbi Jay Miller   RELIGION SECTOR 3.0
1.0  On the Town Square         2.0  Walls of Separation
3.0  Alignment: Among Congregations – Within Society

jaymiller@blueconnect.org      650.740.4411