Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Dwelling in the Word as a church innovation

Church Innovations has a habit of text dwelling, as they describe it. Whenever they meet — whether it be as a staff, a work team, or a training group — they will spend the first 20 to 30 minutes dwelling on a particular scriptural passage.

Most of this time they devote to one particular text, Luke 10:1-12, a mission text in which Jesus sends 70 people out in pairs with basic instructions, and they are dependent on receivers’ hospitality. This practice has been shared with several other congregations, small groups, and organizations.

June 14-16, Church Innovations will host The International Dwelling in the Word Festival, gathering together an ecumenical group of church leaders, both lay and ordained, in a festival dedicated to the practice of spending time with scripture. Local and global faith leaders will spend three days celebrating the transformational power of reflecting together on God’s word.

“It’s quite a practice. People find something different each time,” said Pat Taylor Ellison, managing director of research and development at Church Innovations.

Dwelling in the word comes from the Latin phrase, “lectio divina,” a meditative practice, which translated means “diving reading.” While it is usually done as an individual spiritual discipline, it can be done in groups, which is how Church Innovations has taught it. Ellison describes it as a way of forming Christian community with strangers.

Patrick Keifert

Pat Taylor Ellison describes Lectio Divina as a way of forming Christian community with strangers.

The practice begins with praying for the presence of the Holy Spirit. A text will then be read. Time is then allowed for silence to unfold while those dwelling are asked, “What would you ask a biblical scholar about this text?”

After the time for contemplation, participants are instructed to find a stranger and engage that person in free speech, with each person talking about three to four minutes. Their partner is challenged “to listen the other into speaking.” They then report back on what their partner said, rather than their interpretation of the text. The entire practice usually will last about a half hour.

Deep listening

Patrick Keifert, president and director of research at Church Innovations, describes the process, saying, “What begins to happen is people begin to listen and engage with those they have never listened to in their lives. There is an intensified level of honesty of conversation. It’s in striving to make sense out of the scripture that the conversation becomes possible.”

Ellison said the practice creates group accountability. “People who don’t listen well just report what they said. Everyone knows they broke the rules,” she said, noting the exercise can be particularly difficult for pastors, who often recite, missing the point of listening.

“Finding out who is a listener and who is not can be shaming,” Ellison notes. But, she says, when the hearer feels that their counterpart has captured and repeated accurately what they said, trust is built. “You feel good and they feel honored, ever widening the circle of trust,” Ellison said.

Keifert has found that the practice particularly empowers the laity. “Clergy are always surprised at how the laity are able to take up conversation,” he said. “They participate in ways they never thought could happen. They are often surprised by their ability to interpret and read scripture.”

The Dwelling in the Word Festival will allow clergy and laity to spend a significant amount of time dwelling with ecumenical, global mission partners. Additionally, they will hear and learn from missional church speakers and attend workshops. A full schedule, along with event details, is available on the Church Innovations website, www.churchin novations.org.

Attendees will walk away having created strong new networking connections and feeling empowered to bring the practice into their own settings.

The cost of the event is $249 for those who register by May 31, or $299 after that date. Groups who register five or more people will get a reduced rate of $199 per person. Lodging options and additional details are all available on the Church Innovations website or by calling Caroline Acosta, at Church Innovations, at 651/644-3653 or 888/223-7909.

“It’s going to be a powerful event,” Ellison said, “The Spirit is going to be there.”

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