Saturday, 2 August 2008

Hard engineering by Indaba

Today brought two indaba sessions on the Covenant, a subject which I have to admit I have always seen as rather top-shelf. Our group included a senior leader in the covenant process, so it was a real test of whether the indaba method can produce serious work on hard and technical subjects.

Pretty much everyone spoke, and it was noticeable that they were listening carefully to each other and interacting. Nobody could simply switch off the subject. Although there were strong and well established views among some group members, one or two speakers gladly owned up to shifts in their positions induced by listening to other peoples’ contributions. There was no grandstanding, name calling or “point of order” timewasting. The expert input in the group was treated with tremendous respect, but not put on a pedestal. One new creative way forward was generated within the group, to go back into the process. We were well led and enabled, but the leader did not have to exert any heavyweight refereeing skills. I have to say the sessions were tiring, but far more engaged, drawing in a far wider group of people, than I expected.

As to the result we could all see the purpose of having a covenant as a positive basis for communion apart from history or habit. We felt the appendix that has been designed to give it effect seemed far too legalistic for most of us. Some Churches would find it profoundly incompatible with their order. We could see why some felt it was very important to have something hard. We were as yet undecided as to what or how, but there was a clear sense of the theological, social and legal parameters within which the drafting group would thus have to work.

A success? I think everyone felt they had been taken seriously, and once we could see where the real sticking points were, it was remarkable how the group almost instinctively collaborated to develop a solution, rather than cobber others with their individual positions. It was also interesting how people did not tone down their expression to the mediochre, but showed great freedom and clarity around their deepest convictions. I was also impressed by the way in which, when Scriptural inputs happened, people showed great humility and desire to be corrected if there was anything they had misunderstood in the text — a great desire to get beyond soundbites, and use the knowledge of the group. Nothing in the democratic nature of the group compromised respect for our expert contributor, especially because his graciousness and willingness to engage in a non-defensive way were notable. Negatively, I'd have to say this way of working takes more getting used to than I thought it would, to get the best out of its possibilities. I’d be fascinated to see this kind of technique used in other Church contexts, now we have begun to get the hang of how it works.

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