Transforming Engagement: the Podcast

Christ & Cascadia with Rev. Ron Werner | Podcast Season 06, Episode 05


Rev. Ron Werner, Jr. joins Dr. Kate Rae Davis to share his take on ministry in Cascadia and how the musical and cultural influences of the Pacific Northwest have shaped his identity and approach to leadership.

Rooted in Oregon since 2005, Ron is the founding Director of Together Lab, where he weaves together people of faith and fierce love to cultivate leader-full movements and ministries. 

The conversation highlights the shift from traditional church-centered approaches to community engagement to a more decentralized and collaborative model. Ron emphasizes the importance of embracing the margins and engaging with diverse communities beyond institutional boundaries. He shares insights from his experience working in grassroots movements and community organizing, emphasizing the need for authenticity, vulnerability, and relational engagement.

Join us as we consider:

Wherever you’re listening from, we hope these conversations inspire reflections on how you’re serving in your own context. 

About our guest:

Ron Werner, Jr (he/him) is the founding Director of Together Lab, where he weaves together people of faith and fierce love to cultivate leader-full movements and ministries. Rooted in Oregon since 2005, he loves the way curiosity can activate collaboration and has helped launch multiple initiatives including the Oregon Fellowship, Spiritual & Theological Mutual Accompaniment, Ecumenical Youth Collectives, and Sacred Organizing cohorts throughout the state. Ron is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and leans on a lineage of community organizing as Together Lab accompanies teams of everyday people to build resilient communities of justice, healing, friendship, and joy in Oregon. Alongside family and friends, he loves to cook, dance, and travel. During the pandemic, Ron rediscovered a love for drumming while giving his daughters drum lessons and is now in a 90’s sing-along cover band. Stay connected on IG @ronwernerjr and at togetherlab.org.

Episode Transcript

Kate: Welcome to Transforming Engagement: The Podcast, where we have conversations about ministries that serve the common good and a higher good. I’m Kate Rae Davis, and today I’m joined by Ron Werner. Welcome, Ron.

Ron: Hey, Kate. Great to see you.

Kate: Good to see you. I’m going to open with asking you to introduce yourself and a bit of how you came to Cascadia and the work you do here.

Ron: Yeah. My name is Ron Warner. I use he/him pronouns, and I grew up, born and raised in Long Island, New York, and then spent my teenage years in Phoenix, Arizona before moving to Southern California for college. I took my first gig out of college in Bend, Oregon, where I spent my twenties doing ministry in youth ministry, and then had to spent the last decade in my thirties here in Portland where I’m calling in from now in Northeast Portland in my basement.

Kate: This is very Specific locatedness… in my basement.

Ron: Yeah, in my basement. Yep. Pardon the, echo.

Kate: And what’s your work now? What are you up to in Portland?

Ron: Yeah. I’m the director of Together Lab, which activates companies and organizes teams of everyday people from congregations, movements, nonprofits, and denominations to build resilient communities of healing, justice, friendship, and joy. My colleague Julia Nielsen, who leads the Leaven Community Land and Housing Coalition, one of our key partners that builds affordable housing on church land, she describes our work as like, we bring the structure and fun. So that’s a little bit of who we are and what I do.

Kate: I love the structure and fun. A lot of people wouldn’t put those two things together as a shared skillset, but I think it’s fun.

Ron: Yeah, we’re working on it.

Kate: Okay. Obviously a lot of the work that you’re doing of building resilient communities and a lot of the values that as an organization you speak into, they could exist anywhere. What does it mean to you that they’re rooted in this area or how has being in the Portland area, Oregon area, how has that shaped you as a leader and as an organization?

Ron: Yeah, I feel like the seeds of Cascadia were planted in me and in each of the other places that I’ve lived prior to this, and I’ve been here now 19 years, which is the longest I’ve lived anywhere. So I guess I am a Cascadian Pacific Northwesterner. When I was in the third grade in New York, my dad was a drummer and he took me to go buy my first album, which was Nirvana’s Nevermind. I grew up on the sounds of Cascadia, not the rustling of the trees or the babbling of the incredible rivers or the ocean from the Washington or Oregon coast, but Kurt Cobain. When I was in Phoenix in the eighth grade, my parents took me to my first concert and it was Soundgarden. Getting to hear the kind of moody, authentic, trying to put words and music to feelings I think that folks were exposed to. When I was in Southern California I can remember skateboarding to class with my Discman at the time, show my age, trying to keep it level, listening to “We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes” by Death Cab for Cutie. So somehow when I interviewed for my first job out of college and it happened to be in Oregon, I’d never been up here before. It was like I, in some ways was coming home to a sound that I already already had in my heart. Yeah. 

So that’s a little bit of, I think those important memories that I carry with me into some of this work, into this space. I mean, as you know in your work, we we’re the land where no one goes to church, and that was true when I first got here, it was in 2005, and maybe we were 5, 6, 7 years into all of the rage, was talking about the none zone, the infamous, oh, everyone checks “none” on the religious affiliation box here, and what does that mean for here and what does it mean for other cities across the country coming to a city near you soon, or at least a sociologist board. And I remember those days, it was like every church book study or denominational gathering, I’m ordained with the Lutherans. The speakers were brought in to help us figure out how to get back to be the center of society. It was like whoever had the hottest book at the time, this is the speaker we’re going to pay to bring in. We’re going to study their book, we’re going to pay them the money, and they’re going to help us figure out how to not just navigate these waters, but really how to get back to this time where church meant something in society. And I think what I’ve learned and certainly learned at that time was the church actually does better work when it’s on the edges. We find different partners here.

Kate: Which should be unsurprising.

Ron: Yeah. It’s kind of our thing.

Kate: Our founder was kind of into the margins and of the margins. Jesus wasn’t a very vine for the center of power kind of systems guy.

Ron: Not so much.

Kate: Yeah. That’s the shift from center to edge. It took me a few years of living here before I really caught that feel. But then the immediate feeling following it was the grossness of, because we’re so often like, “oh, this is the place we wouldn’t go to church denominations treat us like a mission field. So Seattle and Portland are both super high on the number of church plants per capita, and it’s a lot of people who come from middle America who are going to come to this region to save us and fix us, and they’re going to save us by making us look more like the Midwest”, which is on an already colonized land. It’s like a further cultural colonization. That is not how we saw Jesus live his ministry.

Ron: Totally. And in my experience, people see through it pretty quick, the bigger, better, faster, stronger, cooler artsier, fill in the blank with better music version of church. And church plant just has a real shelf life here. Folks, and the folks who oftentimes end up joining join for a little while and then join the next new cool cooler, bigger, better artsier, whatever version of church. I would see that all the time. My first 10 years in Bend, which is where everyone loves to go, vacation, tourism the number one industry in Bend. Every six months there was a new church plant that kind of took members from the previous church plant. That was all the rage at the moment. And I was always surprised when folks from other parts of the country felt a call by God to move to Bend. I’m like, “yeah, you and everybody else who wants to live in this beautiful place.”

Kate: I guess I’ll make the sacrifice and move to Oregon.

Ron: Yeah, that would be tough, skiing and snowboarding.

Kate: Yeah. What was the thing…

Ron: For you, Kate, what helped you after your first few years of unveil that or see the grossness in that or kind of notice that

Kate: I won’t say names to this story, like, oh, I’m remembering a particular moment, not that this was the first moment. This was the moment where it crystallized, was I was talking to someone who had moved here to be an associate at a church plant. And in talking to him before that, I had known him before I knew that information about him, and I was like, “oh, you just feel so Midwest” sitting in the Midwest where I’ve also been. And I knew that of him culturally. So when he said that he moved here to be this church plant associate pastor, and I was like, “oh, how is that working?” And the funding comes from a place back in the Midwest. And I’m like, “yeah, all of that makes sense.” And I also knew a couple people who attended that church plant who were also newly from the Midwest.

And it was just this coming together of all that knowledge to be like, oh, none of you are even living here. You are still surrounding yourselves with people from, it’d be like an expat community pretending they live in Mumbai, but they only ever interact with other people from the same home country as them and still wearing the clothes of their home country. And it was just like a very like, oh, you are just trying to import something here. But it flies a little bit under the radar because enough of our cultural cues are the same. I just felt so disillusioned with, because I think I hope for church plants to be of an area trying to do a new expression of faith. And I was like, oh, that’s not what a lot of our church plants are.

Ron: Yeah. That resonates. And I think people sniff it out here. I don’t know what the success rate looks like in other parts of the country for those, but where it feels like they’re not as successful here. I mean, I’d go back to, this is where I’m going to get nerdy back to Nirvana. When Nirvana came out with this new sound that captured the imaginations of places, it also simultaneously ended the careers of all of the glam hair bands of the eighties that were talking about nothing. And I think for so many folks here, there is this longing for authenticity and there’s some shadow side to that of everyone also is an individual that can be challenging at times. But yeah, it’s an interesting thing.

Kate: I’m struck by… So this is the last of our podcast conversations and in talking to other people about their journey to the Pacific Northwest, often somewhere from here, but what we talk about is nature, how beautiful it is, the mountains, the water. One person talked about the sense of self-discovery, that there’s an openness where you can define your own identity here. I’m not remembering anyone who talked about a cultural, like a pop culture export. And I think that’s interesting because I think when we talk the region, we do go to our very environmentally centered thinking first, but we also are a distinct cultural… we’re making a unique culture and that’s available through the cultural artifacts in a way that I think often gets overlooked for the almost more obvious mountains and the water.

Ron: Yeah, yeah, totally. I think so. And I think there’s some hidden, I like that you call it artifacts. Like there’s hidden story. There’s hidden memory that seeps in, remember the first line, “Come as you are”, which feels also very Pacific Northwest. But the next line is, “as I want you to be.” And so there’s this paradox or multitude I think that we hold too, where we are skeptical of institutions, where we are, can be also very, even as you replace church as religion, we could be very religious about other things. I see that a lot of my work takes me into social movement spaces and justice and the level of burnout because of a purity culture that sometimes exists there of like, “come as you are, but no, only as we want you to be.” It hurts people and does further harm in some of the long run. It doesn’t always help us build even more powerful movement spaces to affect change. So I think that’s also some in the DNA here, and I’ve seen that in rural Oregon. I’ve also seen it in urban Oregon too.

Kate: Yeah. There’s something in that the moody critical, cynical vibe, which Nirvana encapsulated perfectly, that also tears us apart. We are less formed for the enthusiastic, optimistic, hopeful, partnering on something. That’s interesting. I had thought about that through a musical lens before. The other Seattle band that I listened to a lot of before moving out here, shortly before moving out here, they weren’t around that long, was Fleet Foxes. So late 2000s, early 2010s maybe. And it has also a vibe of it’s more acoustic. It’s getting back to a collective memory nostalgia of a simpler time and just there’s something to the sound of the place that you’re bringing up. I appreciate…

Ron: Yeah, that’s right. And it makes me wonder if we could, how to embrace the multitude and the paradox that some of that invite us into feels like a clue into also how we build rhythms of life and community together instead of pretending we’re not critical or not moody or we want everyone to come as they are. We can also simultaneously acknowledge some of the shadow side of that too and honor the complexity of humanity and each person.

Kate: Yeah. Do you know of faith communities that, how do I phrase this, maybe in their worship or arts are intentional about embracing that sound and feel of Northwest culture. I’m thinking about my typical churches are the same hymnal that is in the pews in New York and Virginia and wherever else. Do you know of any that are rooted in Northwest culture that way? Not to put you on the spot.

Ron: Yeah, I’m trying to think. I mean, there’s no particular places that are, well, I will say there’s a community, my family actually, and I just recently were joining them for Advent and are going called Salt and Light Lutheran Church. And they’re a part of a broader community called the Leaven Community here in Northeast Portland. And one of the things that I appreciate is that they do a lot of writing of their own liturgies. And so I think it is drawing on a multitude of who is our community, and they define their community really as not just Salt and Light Lutheran Church, but this broader Leaven, which includes their nonprofit partners in their building and their neighbors. And they’ve actually figured out how to structure their church constitution to where the wider community has voting power over even some of their mission. And that to me then means that they can reflect who is our community.

So maybe the church plant model would be, oh, the Northwest is moody and has all this great sound. We need to have worship music that sounds like Elliot Smith and Fleet Foxes. But what they’re actually doing is figuring out how do we honor all of who we are and the difference, all of the micro climates that exist even within our community here in Northeast Portland, and find ways to speak into that from a multitude of sources. And I think what I’m finding is when communities do that and we’re trying to figure out how to also bring that into our movement spaces and to our organizing spaces too, when communities do that, they’re also making room for a multitude of lineages, which is really, really powerful.

Kate: Well, and so vulnerable

Ron: Yeah, totally.

Kate: Like I am thinking about a church that I was on staff with, and the neighbors are very torn about their ministries because it’s about feeding people. And so you’re usually feeding food insecure people, and the new people who just moved into their million dollar condo doesn’t want you feeding people who are on the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum from them because they don’t want to see them ever. I’m like, wow, as a polity, what a vulnerable space that really pushes you to have to have the close relationships in an ongoing way. That’s amazing.

Ron: Yeah, absolutely. And can, I think we’re also learning and trying to figure out how do we honor a lot of my training and my colleagues who lean on a lineage of community organizing, both in our training and some of our experiences early on, it was like hyper focus on the ends or winning or the victory or whatever it is. And it’s like you could hold your breath the whole way and even destroy one another, totally burn out en route, or in service to a victory or a policy change or something like that. And I think what we’re trying to figure out here is how do we really collapse our means and our ends so that we can experience healing and justice now en route to removing obstacles that bring forth more life in the future. And that also means figuring out a way to see the sacred in those neighbors too who don’t want the feeding ministry or the neighbors who, for us here, a lot of times it’s not in my backyard and I don’t want affordable housing or a tiny home community on this land, or we don’t want this church to do Land Back with the Indigenous community because what will that mean for…

Kate: My property value? 

Ron: Yeah, property value. And what’s been great over the last year, we’ve been really experimenting with ways of doing more deeper canvassing work. So rather than dismiss them or just trying to out organize them, we’re doing deeper relational engagement with those neighbors. And we’re watching neighborhoods change as a result of that. Not all of them, but folks get on board and move from hesitancy to high fives. And that’s been one of the more exciting things to see. And I think it’s embracing some of the posture of like, oh, these folks don’t want houselessness to exist either, but we’ve got to figure out a way to see one another to build those bridges.

Kate: I was having a conversation recently about how different it is to do community organizing here where people are skeptical of institutions broadly, not just churches, but a skeptical of affiliating is maybe the way or it’s not as networked. I’m wondering about your experience of that and what you found as distinct approaches to community organizing here and maybe what you wish more congregations knew.

Ron: Yeah. Well, I mean, I would start with, there’s something really powerful when a congregation shifts its focus from itself to its wider community in general. There’s a lot of talk now about congregational vitality or on thriving congregations. And when congregations are able to shift from congregational vitality to community vitality and then begin to discern what is our role within bringing forth a thriving community, that’s what we’re starting to see a lot of incredible magic or spirit, however you want to describe it, happen. And yeah, there’s some real challenges related to a lack of strong institutions compared to other major cities that have robust community organizing efforts. We’ve had to figure out, maybe this is why Jules calls us “structuring fun”. We’ve had to figure out other ways of structuring, creating rhythms of life together because we can’t fund our work, for example, with just the dues of member institutions in ways that most community organizing efforts do across the country.

So what we look to first is how do we move from individual to team? So we’re a city, Portland, a city of activists, and it’s really hard to build collective power or collective decision making or collective discernment because everyone’s an individual, which is amazing, like people are passionate, they show up, and the street heat is always there. But the stick withitness to transform policies and laws, and then even when we do to make sure that they don’t get overturned later, part of our strategy is we’ve got to figure out how to move from the individual or the individual representative of a social justice committee to a team. So who’s your team? Who also cares about this? Who are the people from your congregation who are your neighbors that also care about this, that are looking for a place to plug in? And then we structure bringing teams of cohorts of teams together, of can you make a commitment? It doesn’t have to be now till forever, but could you make a nine month commitment that can give us enough time to actually move through some practices and life together and actually see some real change happen. So we’re able to both look at congregational teams, discerning what is our role in bringing forth a thriving community as it relates to reckoning with Oregon’s racist history or building affordable housing or climate resilience or developing an ecumenical youth collective, but also that these teams can have a systemic impact by all coming together at the same time. And we’re seeing this now with teams that are coming from Christian churches, but also teams that are coming from other faith traditions too, and teams of people who have a shared affinity because they go to the same college or because they all live in the same RV park. And we’re finding ways for them to all be in relationship with each other. So that’s a little of how we’re trying to create some rhythms and structures and also enough collective commitment to move somewhere together.

Kate: Yeah, I’m thinking about at the start a conversation how you had said that the church not as the center of the thing, and you’re still setting the table, but your theory of change isn’t with the church doing a service or doing an action. It’s much more networked, much more of a pulling a string on a web so that the whole web of relationships and organizations around the church help collectively make a different impact. In some ways, that whole framework requires such a release of control and hierarchy, which I think is as far as what the world needs really beautiful, and something that also feels like distinctly possible here in a way that it’s, those are maybe we are being so far from the power centers of politics in DC and of fashion and East Coast and so much out of banking in New York. We’re so far removed from the center of power that I think there’s more openness to that kind of sideways impact here. And I think you’re translating that into what it means to be the church.

Ron: Yeah. We’re also just so far, I mean, when I talk to colleagues from other parts of the country whom I love and whom there’s lots to learn from, it’s not all just an archetype of they are there, we’re here, but I am continually surprised when I do share certain elements of, no, really, here’s what it’s like out here. It’s most of my friends outside of work, none of them, it’s their grandparents who left the church. It’s not even them who “I had a bad experience and I left.” It’s their grandparents and parents who left. So what’s beautiful about that is I actually find so much curiosity from people and embrace of mystery, and when you’re engaged in this way out in the community, that gives you a different kind of credentialing that doesn’t come from a hierarchy. The hardest thing for me in the last from, moving from Bend where I was for 10 years to Portland where I’ve been for nine now, was getting ordained on a Saturday and gaining institutional credibility and moving the very next day to Portland to start this new ministry and losing all of my street level credibility.

Kate: Oh, Sure.

Ron: It’s like how you show up in the world I think matters. And that’s where it’s going to come from versus your job title or the institution you claim to represent or whatever.

Kate: I don’t know if Portland has, Seattle, especially in the shadow of the Mars Hill abuses, power abuses, it’s almost anti credibility. It hurts you to be the reverend so-and-so. A lot of people I know in the area, when we’re out in the world, we don’t say that we are church affiliated. Even pastors don’t say they’re pastors. We have other answers that we give to hairdressers so that we don’t come out as pastors because that’s information you have to share later after you’ve established that credibility.

Ron: That resonates for sure. Where it showed up for me most or where it shifted for me was when my kids, part of my other vocation is as a parent, so a 13-year-old and 10-year-old, and I remember when my 13-year-old was starting kindergarten out here, and we meet all these other parents that you’re like, we’re going to be in each other’s lives, and we still are. Now they’re in middle school. We’re all trying to figure out this whole new world of being a teen parent. And I remember saying, I don’t want to hide from them that I’m a pastor, but I also don’t want potential judgment. And so I remember making a conscious decision and say, I’m going to come out with it and tell that I’m a pastor so that it doesn’t feel like bait and switch later. These people are going to be in my lives and I’m just going to deal with it. Try to get more comfortable with that, which sounds probably so funny to other people, but I remember telling folks, and almost to a person, I would get this 45 degree head tilt, and they didn’t even know what it meant. It wasn’t even like they had a reaction to it. So I think maybe that could be a difference from the Mars Hill, Seattle epicenter. Out here, my  experience was much more, “so you’re ordained?”  “Yes.”

Kate: Yeah.

Ron: Yes. Oh, and then you watch ’em like think. And then I had at least three people tell me, “oh, my roommate from college got ordained online to marry my partner.” And I would be like, “oh, yes.” Tell my student loans that kind of like that. Not really. And they’d be like, “so you’re at a church?’  Well… and I wasn’t even at a church. I was doing a different project at the time,

Kate: Which is extra confusing for those of us who are, I’m not ordained, but pastoral, but not, yes, I’m not doing sermons every Sunday to Sunday. Yeah. I’m not doing some of the pastor job description. 

Ron: Totally. Yeah.

Kate: I mean, that’s even confusing for people that when I go back home, people are all like, whatcha doing?

Ron: Yeah, no, totally. But what’s beautiful is over time, not only just showing up for each other as we figure out how to parent, but in the aftermath of Trump getting elected and us organizing around Immigrant rights, those folks, everyone’s so supportive. How do we get involved? How do we plug in when we’re on the streets during the Black Lives Matter uprisings of 2020? We’re out there together and we’re also figuring out ways to make meaning across difference. I love multifaith interfaith work, and in most parts of the country and in most scholarship that I feel like I read, it’s still the model of a representative model where we take a Christian, a pastor, or a rabbi and a mom and representative, a nun, and we all represent our institution, but how do we look at where interfaith work to me is going, and what’s so exciting, it’s we’re trying to find ways not just to represent our beliefs, but when the largest faith group in Oregon is none of the above, but folks are deeply spiritual. We’re finding new ways to make meaning together out of our experience. So it’s like we experience it first and then we back into our faith traditions or our ancestral wisdom traditions to make meaning of it together. And that’s been so powerful. Instead of starting with, here’s a problem, what does your faith say about it?

Kate: There’s something that’s both a distinctive and maybe not. I’ll say what I mean by that. About the meaning making piece. What I experience here is people are a bit averse to being handed meaning. They don’t want meaning providers. They don’t want our religious leaders telling them, “here’s what it means and therefore do this, or Here’s the rule, you follow or vote this way.” They want to be more involved in the process of constructing their own life meaning, and their communities’ meaning. I think what I mean by, I don’t know if it’s a distinctive, is I think we’re just, we don’t do the meaning providing thing anymore. We just won’t to that authenticity piece and to the not needing to affiliate in the same way a piece. So I wonder if that’s actually a much greater desire in other parts of North America, but just not given as much space or voice. But I think meaning make, its where pastorship goes.

Ron: The institutions still work well enough to like,

Kate: Yeah, why would you change,

Ron: …not have to shift? I see that right now in youth ministry, we are just starting a new initiative related to supporting parents and caregivers and youth and developing youth collectives and communities of practice alongside organizers and mental health practitioners. But we did this a quick research project as we were preparing for this and doing some listening together of across five mainline denominations. So Lutherans, UCC, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians in the entire state of Oregon, five denominations. We were totaling up how many paid youth workers are there. What we found is adding up very few full-time, adding up all of the part-time youth workers got us to 10 FTE, full-time equivalent.  

Kate: No. 

Ron:… in five denominations in the entire state. So if any resource that I’ve ever seen about youth ministry is assuming there’s still some sort of infrastructure to implement a shift. And so this is where I feel like the last year, all I dream about now is I dream infrastructure. How do we create structures that can hold life together when, and not just replace the initiative of the program, we have to replace the entire structure or experiment our way into a container that can hold where the life is taking us. So yeah, I’m excited about where we’re going to go with this, but it is not just organize the youth workers and do a new program. It’s like, no, there’s nothing. And people are so thirsty and desperate, and our elders and our churches are not just saying out here anymore. It’s shifted from I first started in youth ministry. It shifted from,  “The youth are the future. We want them to be a part of the church, the world, and even save the world.” That pressure of they’ll fix it for us to deep lament and grief around the world that they are leaving and the ways that they were complicit in leaving this world to our youth. And so we’re trying to figure out how do we do multi-generational repair work? How can we be a part of that together out of that grief and that lament and desire to make things right or try given the world that our youth will inherit.

Kate: Very different than the next shiny youth program or model. And such a concrete example, I hear pastors say quite often that they’ll get resources from wherever the denominational headquarters are, usually New England or the American South. And it’s such a concrete, what is sent is so unhelpful because isn’t fundamentally addressed. This is going to be totally volunteer run, and it assumes a full-time person who can implement something that it’s a concrete example of the mismatch between the resources that we need and the resources that we get and the need for creative thinking that’s rooted in Cascadia specifically.

Ron: Yeah. We’re talking, some of what we’re looking at with this youth piece, for example, is it’s how to support mostly parents and caregivers are a big part of it, and some of the folks who are interested in it are mostly interested in faith formation. How does faith formation happen? But it’s assuming that the parents and caregivers have a faith and you’re like, okay, we have lots of parents and caregivers who desperately care about their youth, including about their spiritual development, but they’re not coming from the place you’re assuming they’re coming from.

Kate: Yes. Which takes so much translation. Okay. I’m watching your time, and as much as I want to go down that, I’m going to resist and ask you a ending question so that we can close out. Okay. My ending question is, so the Christ and Cascadia gathering is coming up and we are gathering with no keynote speakers, no list of “10 Things to Change Your Life”, no Ted Talk style, anything. It is very relationship forward. We’re just wanting to put people in conversation around questions. And our question for the gathering is, what is distinctive about ministry and Cascadia? I’m wondering related to that or just in your life and work, what questions do you have that you’re living into or questions that you’re hoping to connect with others about in your work?

Ron: Yeah. I’m living my way into a question, so this may be a little, it may be long, so you can help me edit it or help me get to a second draft of it, Kate. But I think I’m both, I, and my colleagues here, we’re learning and unlearning about our relationship and our congregation’s relationship to land and the memory that land holds. And that has taken us into some places of unveiling hidden histories about our land. When did this land become our church property in the Pacific Northwest in Cascadia, our very clear settler colonial history, what were the policies? Who were the people that made this possible who didn’t get to buy land, live here, Who was removed, whose land was stolen? And what we’re settling into is a shift from being land owners to stewards of land and having more vulnerable narratives about ourselves, which are actually helping us build relationships across difference, including with those who are impacted by those hidden histories and stewarding those relationships towards repair. And so I think my question is how can land and a different relationship to the land that we own or steward, how can that be a part of our discernment as it relates to our role in a wider community?

Kate: That’s a good question and a good complex one that you’ll be living into for a while.

Ron: I think so, yeah.

Kate: Well, thank you for sharing your question and for sharing so much of your experience and reflections on ministry in this region with us. Thank you.

Ron: Thank you, Kate.