Small Groups of People: Care Networks

The logo of the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County.

[Image description: Upon a blue background, there are three large, block lowercase letters — i r t. They are white letters, and inside the letters, in purple, there are a number of symbols from a variety of religious traditions. Below the block of letters, there is text, also in white, that reads “Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County.”]

Next week, I’ll join my colleague and friend Dwight Wilson in a meaningful, new endeavor. We’ll become the new Co-Directors of the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County.

The Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County is an interspiritual dialogue community, inviting friendship and mutual understanding among local neighbors. Through conversation and reflection across religious and spiritual traditions, we come together to address the deep questions and concerns that impact our county and our larger world.

The Interfaith Round Table is also a care network. As I ponder doing this work, this aspect energizes me especially. When relationships, friendships, and partnerships are formed through dialogue, people naturally create social networks that can become a web of care, impacting those well beyond the circle of participation. What has been made possible through the witness and practices of the Interfaith Round Table? What is possible now and in the years to come?

This community was founded by George Lambrides nearly 25 years ago, and for the last 15 years, he and Susan King have served faithfully as a Co-Directors. In reflection, conversation, and spiritual practice, board members, participants, volunteers, donors, and conversation partners across a number of local congregations have joined together in friendship and dialogue to address both global and local social needs.

I am aware of this: As people come to Interfaith Round Table events, they’ll be enriched by their experience. For some, it will even be life-changing. But there are also some who will never attend a single event — some who may never even know about us — whose lives will be impacted by our work because in friendship, we created a care network.

Care networks are powerful forces for change. When there is a need or a crisis, responses of care can move and mobilize quickly. The same is true with new ideas, possibilities, and innovation. The same is true with joy, delight, and social connection. These contagions of movement impact our bodies, our wellbeing, and our sense of connection to one another in larger communities.

All week long, I’ve been pondering the power of small groups of people. I’m reminding myself that I already know a lot of small groups of people that are having great impacts as they care for others and build larger movements of change. Be encouraged! We should never underestimate what can a small group of people can do.

Renee Roederer

This post is part of a series. Feel free to read the other pieces too:

I Need Pentecost
Small Groups of People: World-Changing
Small Groups of People: Being Who We Are

Small Groups of People: Being Who We Are

Northside

Northside Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor.

[Image Description: An image is taken from the top of a hill. In the foreground, there are green, leafy plants with orange and white flowers. In the distance and in the main part of the image, there is a yellow building with windows at the bottom and a brown roof on top. This is the building that Northside Presbyterian Church and St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church share together. On the left side of the image, there is a road, and along the road, there are colorful flags with rainbow colors. There is also a sign that reads “Wildlife Refuge.” Down the hill and closer to the building, there is a playground on the right side of the image. There is also a pathway that leads from the road to the building.]

In the wake of great need and a sense of urgency, we often ask ourselves, “What should we do?”

We need to ask this question and move in its direction, certainly. But sometimes, we may forget that being — simply being a community with a set of deep commitments — is itself a radical act. When small groups know their community-identity and act from there, it can be life changing.

I spent Sunday afternoon with the community of Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor. Together, as a small group of people, we had a mission retreat, pondering questions like,
What should we do?
What would we like to do together?
What needs do we feel called to address?
What are we already doing, and how might we build upon that?

We gathered with this framework and these kinds of questions on our mind, but within the first hour, the community began to talk about who they are and how that has transformed lives. For more than 40 years, Northside Presbyterian Church has been a community that affirms, includes, loves, serves, and celebrates LGBTQ people — honoring lives and relationships, and advocating to affirm the rights, dignity, and sacred worth of LGBTQ neighbors. And they have done this from the foundation of their faith.

Sadly, and at times so dangerously, people have come to believe that these faith commitments and these actions cannot go together. But of course, they can and they do. This witness is desperately needed, and Northside Presbyterian Church wants to continue to live in this way.

And so, in lifting this up with deep commitment, we began to raise possibilities for action from this place of community-identity.

Northside Presbyterian Church is a small group of people that has welcomed people in ways that have saved lives. Small groups of people can indeed change the world.

From this history, from this being, and from this present identity-commitment, I wonder what is possible next…

Renee Roederer

This post is a part of a series. Feel free to read the other pieces as well:
I Need Pentecost
Small Groups of People: World-Changing

Small Groups of People: World-Changing

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This is the “Kindness Wall” at the office of the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan, including letters and cards of encouragement and gratitude.

[Image Description: A number of cards and letters are displayed, taped to a white dry-erase board. There is writing on them, though they are not legible in the image. In the center, there is a a message in cursive, black writing that reads, “throw kindness confetti,” and it’s framed with a black frame. Diagonally and below to the right, there is another cursive message in black writing which reads “Hooray.” It’s underlined and also framed with a black frame.]

Yesterday, I said, “I need to believe that small groups of people can change the world.”

Then a few hours after writing that, I drove to Southfield, Michigan and had my first full day working at the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan. I had a training day on Friday, but most of the staff was out of the office due to big events that would happen over the weekend. This was my first day present with the majority of the staff.

“When the first person is hungry, they just declare it and go down the row of offices and say, ‘We’re having lunch!’ and everyone comes out, and we eat together,” I was told. And a few hours later, that’s exactly what happened.

During lunch, I sat down with staff members who have such longevity working in this place. They are deeply passionate about the vision, dedicated to the community they serve, and supportive with care toward one another too. 34 years… 22 years… 20 years… 18 years… 14 years… 11 years. That’s how long some of the staff members have worked here, along with some very instrumental people who are in their single digits. And here I am, having lunch on Day 1, eating with a small group of people who are welcoming, inclusive, and not at all clique-y despite their many years together.

And you know what? They are participating in changing the world.

108,000 people in Michigan have epilepsy. In this work, we get to meet these community members, affirm their dignity and worth, and receive from their gifts and talents. We help people find transformative medical care, provide connection and emotional support, raise money for resources and research, promote public policy, create camp experiences for children and teenagers, hold community events, educate the broader public, and provide advocacy (both individualized and community-wide) in education, employment, and a number of other important settings.

In this work, we address stigma and discrimination, coming alongside people who experience these unjustly. We interface with larger, systemic challenges and injustices and work to move the needle there as well. Our work brings us into contact with needs for accessible and affordable healthcare; effective public transportation; just employment laws; dignity, care, and safety in public institutions; and accommodations, access, and full inclusion for people with disabilities.

This small group of people is working in all these directions, and they are doing this while creating one of the most supportive and sustainable workplace cultures I have ever encountered.

So here’s to this small group of people!

And here’s to the Board, the Professional Advisory Committee, the Clinical Ambassadors, the donors, the supporters, and the friends, and more.

And most of all, here’s to 108,000 people in Michigan living with epilepsy, all that they bring, offer, and provide with their talents and contributions. And here’s to their families, and their friends, and wider communities.

This is world-changing!

Renee Roederer

 

 

I Need Pentecost

IMG_2081

[Image Description: An image from the Pentecost service at First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor. The photo is taken from the back of a sanctuary. People are sitting in pews. A minister is standing in front of the congregation, wearing red, and two large pieces of red cloth are hanging from the ceiling. They cross each other at the front of the sanctuary, like an x, and stretch toward the back of the sanctuary. Stained glass windows are on both sides of the image along the walls. Behind the minister, people are sitting in a chancel, and behind them, there is a cross on the wall in the center with blue cloth behind it.]

I need Pentecost this year.

I need to believe that surprises are possible.

I need to believe that empowerment — even sudden, unexpected empowerment — is possible.

I need to believe that we can understand one another across differences, and that differences and particularity provide gifts of understanding.

I need to believe that we can share our experiences of love, and that we can be emboldened to testify to what we’ve received.

I need to believe that small groups of people can change the world. Like, really change the world.

I need the season of Pentecost this year. How about you?

–Renee Roederer

And… Another Announcement!

epilepsy foundation

[Image Description: The purple and red logo of the Epilepsy Foundation is on the left. Then, to the right, the text reads, “Epilepsy Foundation Michigan.”]

I am so thrilled to share this.

Recently, I sent out an announcement post, sharing that Dwight Wilson and I are becoming the next Co-Directors of the Interfaith Roundtable of Washtenaw County. We are so eager to join this organization and interfaith dialogue community. We begin this part-time position on June 17.

And… I’ve also been sitting on an additional announcement. I have another meaningful piece of good news to share:

Today, I begin work at the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan.

I will be serving in a contract work position as the Helpline Support Consultant. In this role, I’ll receive phone calls from people with epilepsy and their families around the state. People often have questions about their diagnosis and treatment, opportunities for resources and support, and inquiries for public advocacy and education. I will connect people to community members, professionals, and educational resources, and I will provide emotional support. I’ll also facilitate a call-in support group once per week.

I’ll be working in the Epilepsy Foundation office in Southfield on Mondays and will facilitate that support group mid-week. I begin training today and start formally in this role on Monday.

It is very meaningful for me to do this work. I grew up with a childhood form of epilepsy that often goes into remission in adolescence. Though that became true for me years ago, this experience was very formative, shaping how I view community, relationships, and social care. I am grateful to provide from my experience as I come alongside others to hear and honor their own unique experiences.

I am eager to begin this new direction today. I feel joy about it!

And this is very much on my mind as well: I am so fortunate to come alongside an incredible staff team at the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan. I have hardly ever seen a staff with this level of teamwork! This teamwork emerges in the passion and commitment for the organization’s mission — and of course, keeps bolstering that vision — and it leads to support, camaraderie, and celebration for members of the team.

It is a month of newness! To summarize, with gratitude, I’m continuing to work as a Community Chaplain and as the organizer of the Michigan Nones and Dones community. But I am moving that work to half time as I make space for these two new opportunities.

Here we go!

Renee Roederer

 

Mentoring

hearts

[Image Description: Three, thin carvings of wood are shaped like hearts. They each have a hole at the top with wire coming through the hole. They are hanging by wire from a structure (unseen).]

This year, some of the former students I’ve mentored have started mentoring others. And recently, a number of Michigan students and alums were offered opportunities that will invite them to do that soon. They’re just on the verge of it, and as they’ve shared this with me, this has turned into some meaningful conversations about what mentoring is like.

It’s really gratifying to watch this happen.

It’s so lovely to ponder how new people will be impacted meaningfully by the presence of these wonderful people I know. But my favorite part in all of this is considering how much these wonderful people I know are about to be impacted meaningfully by the people they mentor.

I mean, I should know.

Renee Roederer

“What Do You Want?”

img_1732

[Image Description: The Instagram logo — A square with rounded edges that is purple at the top, pink in the middle and lower right, and orange at the bottom and bottom left. Inside that, there is an outline of a white square with rounded edges. Then inside that, there is an outline of a circle and a dot to its upper right. Together, all white outlines look like a camera.]

Last week, I was playing around with Instagram stories (that’s where you can post photos, memes, etc. and they’ll last 24 hours) and I decided to use the Instagram sticker that invites friends to ask questions. My prompt said,

“Please ask me a question, silly or sincere.”

People then asked their questions, and I had the occasion to share those questions along with my answers. These included time-tested inquiries of wisdom, like,

“How many Lowe’s would a Rob Lowe rob if a Rob Lowe could Rob Lowe’s?”

and, “Who is the mean girl of fruits?”

But then hours after I posted this, someone asked me,

“What do you want?”

What a good question, I thought. On one hand, we might spend a lot of time working toward personal gratification in a variety of ways, but what do we want? Like really want? Deep down?

I’m grateful I had the occasion to ponder that. I made a list and shared it. These are some things I want:

-A Big, Chosen family

-Laughter

-Storysharing

-Love/Access/Affirmation/Belonging/Self Determination for All Bodies

-Horizontal Churches (non-hierarchical)

-Providing Resources for Each Other

-Belonging-Structures and Economic Systems built upon the intrinsic worth of people rather than their capacity for productivity

That’s all the space I had to create a list, but those are some of the things I want.

What do you want? Like really want? Deep down?

Oh, and the answer is, Rob Lowe can’t rob any Lowe’s, because every time he tries, he gets distracted by the health store he passes on the way.

Renée Roederer