January 2011
Healthy Practices

Let Your Light Shine Through

When our rector asked me to help develop a class on leadership for the community, I was intrigued by the possibilities. His idea is to find ways to support and encourage members of the congregation to live out their baptismal call seven days a week, not just on Sundays. A part of that challenge is figuring out what we are called to do and be.

The parish life at St. Andrew’s is a whirl of activity. We have a bunch of ministries—everything from the usual altar guild and Sunday school teaching to baking bread for communion to a technology committee to bring the work of the church into the current century. Lots of people are involved, and the community is strong and vibrant.

Given all that energy and the challenges of the time we live in, it feels like a good time to expand the opportunities for lay leadership beyond the church walls. Many people take a chance on trying something new when they are in a safe, supporting environment like the church. We seek to encourage people to stretch themselves a little further and to examine how they live out their Christian call in the wider world. Maybe they are feeling a little pull in the back of their minds, or maybe it’s a great big tug, telling them that they want to dig a little deeper and learn more about themselves or try a new way of being in the world.

This class aims to help with that process.

For several months I have had the privilege of working with Barbara Larson—a member of the parish and a diocesan consultant—and members of the St. Andrew’s staff to design a class called “Let Your Light Shine: Naming and Sharing your Gifts.”

This five-week, 1-1/2 hour evening program is built on the theme of developing leadership within the congregation by helping participants name and claim their gifts to use in the community and at their work and home settings. The class begins with a gifts inventory, following which small workgroups are established for support and fellowship to aid with both personal discovery of gifts and validation of each other’s gifts. Each week participants are assigned reflective spiritual exercises designed to help them incorporate what they’re learning in class and about themselves and to find what brings them joy, what their passion is, and how they can use that passion in the world. Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn, SJ (Paulist Press) and Discerning Your Spiritual Gifts by Lloyd Edwards (Cowley) are our current favorite resources for this type of exercise.

We want this to be a joyful and rich experience for those attending and for those teaching. (Someone once said that you teach what you need to learn yourself. I say Amen to that!) Those who sign up are expected to commit to attending all the classes, participating in their groups, and doing their homework.

It will be exciting to see how the work we do in class will translate into the wider world. Some of the small groups that form as part of the class might continue after the class. And if there’s interest, we can work on the next steps to leadership development.

To close, I want to share one of my favorite quotes, from Marianne Williamson, which inspires me to find ways to let my light shine and support others, too:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Dorothy Gibson is senior warden at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Seattle, Washington where she has been a parishioner since 1997. She has served on the Standing Committee for the Diocese of Olympia and co-chaired the Call Committee at St. Andrew's. A native of the Diocese of Virginia and a preacher's kid, Dorothy has been a member of the Episcopal Church for longer than she can remember.

Barbara Larson joined St. Andrews' in 2009 and has been active in the Diocese of Olympia for over 40 years. An experienced consultant, she served as part of the Diocese training group and recently completed the College for Congregational Development. Barbara has facilitated several Vestry retreats and parish call committee processes within the diocese. She recently retired from healthcare administration in the Providence Health Care System.

Resources with reflective spiritual exercises:

Resources for gifts inventory: see document link below.

Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts

This article is part of the January 2011 Vestry Papers issue on Healthy Practices