I was at the POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild) Leaders’ Assembly on Tuesday. It is the first time that I had been to one in a very long time. Not intentionally, actually. It just sort of happened.
And before I explain why, let me say how good it was to see old friends. People that were there when we founded POWER. People that served with me on the Education Team. People that I traveled with to Harrisburg. People I have gotten arrested with. Sure, Facebook makes it feel like it hasn’t been so long, but nothing is better than being together in person!
As I said, I didn’t mean to step away from POWER or not see people for a couple of years, but it happened. I was out of the city Summer 2017 on sabbatical, and then catching up, well, I just never got back into the swing of doing all the POWER meetings. Also, I had joined CCORD (Center City Organized for Responsible Development), an ancillary group, as a founding member with Barry and Clark, where we are focusing on how the building boom might translate into more affordable housing and more living wage jobs. And well, there’s just so much you can do, and I’d really like to be finding more non-work time in my weeks anyway.
But this fall, I was persuaded to get involved again. POWER has grown amazingly, with an annual budget now well over a million dollars. I suppose that’s a sign of success. Right now, POWER is feeling pretty good about itself and the part it played in getting passed the $15 an hour minimum wage in the City of Philadelphia.
The staff has grown as quickly as the budget. Also grown are the areas that POWER is organizing in, both the issues and the geography. Now it seems like every organization in town is knocking on POWER’s door to co-sponsor and help organize events. The institution, still fairly young, has struggled to keep up with all this rapid growth. So, people thought that I might be of some help on the Board.
I was a bit wary of walking into some disaster I couldn’t foresee, but it’s not been that. It’s just growing pains as the world of POWER changes so quickly. Communication in a disparate organizing group can be difficult, not to mention figuring out the best way to become what we have not yet been — that’s mostly about the desire to begin organizing way out in Lancaster and York.
What have I brought to the POWER Board? Well, there are not many of us clergy people present, and we represent a certain kind of leadership from our faith communities. And, it’s teaching me to become an advocate of working on building up trust. Sometimes, I think it easily becomes a casualty in quickly changing organizations, especially where communication is a challenge. Misunderstandings can grow fast too, and become mistrust that stays.
POWER is an organization of organizations. As such, it’s sort of like an octopus — arms everywhere. But as a whole, the body is not very often in the same place, physically much less metaphorically, to talk with one another, share perceptions, make decisions together. We have similar issues in the local church, but at least most of us gather once a week!
My other great contribution is related. The Board comes up with a steady stream of good ideas, responses to the ever-changing situations facing the organization. But sometimes, we talk and talk… even listen too, and come to some hard-won decisions. What happens next? We all leave the meeting, and as soon as we walk out the door, the decisions and any tasks and responsibilities needed to implement them, they disappeared with us. And from us.
This is not an uncommon organizational difficulty of course. But I think it is worse for a group like POWER, where we leave a meeting and go back to our own, different communities and don’t really see each other again until the next POWER meeting. At least at church, most of us see each other once a week, and that reminds us and holds us a little accountable.
So, my great contribution at the end of the POWER Board Meetings is to ask us to go over everything we decided and turn them into action items, then make assignments — who is going to do what by when — so that our decisions turn into actions. It’s a simple thing. But the other board members think that I’m some sort of organizational genius! I don’t know why it never occurred to me that church meetings need this same sort of discipline?
So as we go into a New Year, may I offer to Old First two learnings that I bring from POWER: trust and follow-through.
We are a fairly trusting community these days, and for good reason. It kind of amazes me really. But as we get into the conversations that our Annual Meeting will be bringing up, namely, what do we want our ministries to look like in 5 or 10 years, I think we might bump into some disagreements. As Pastor, my counsel is going to be, if and when we encounter disagreements, rather than jumping to this or that conclusion, we trusted enough to ask after the other’s intentions, hopes, ends? That might help with communications, too. Slow us down some. Help us to listen more. Look for common ground.
And then, follow-through. I already told Jon A. that I wanted to try and do the same at the end of EVERY Elders Meeting. What did we decide? What do we need to do then? Who is going to do it? When will it get done? I recommend this discipline, a spiritual discipline, to all of our groups, activities and endeavors at church.
Trust and follow-through. Let’s carry on.
See you in church,