Build a diverse and inclusive church using an assortment of shapes and blocks given to you at random times throughout the building process, and do it all without talking.

That was the assignment for a small group during a plenary session at the recent Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Committee on Representation (GACOR) 2013 Synod Training Event held Oct. 24–26. The group of builders gathered around a table in silence for about forty minutes, taking turns adding new elements to the “church” under construction.

Every so often the group would get a new bag of building materials—colorful geometric shapes—dumped on their table by a newcomer to the process. And one time during the activity a facilitator swooped in and knocked over the entire structure in development. The group started over and the building continued.

Onlookers carefully watched group dynamics and reactions, and some eagerly took photos of the collaborative effort. More time passed. More shapes were added to the “church.”

“How did you feel during the task?” Virstan Choy, one of the facilitators and an associate professor of ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary, asked when it was all over. He polled the group, and the onlookers, about a number of questions, stretching them to think about the process and its potential meaning.

What did you learn about welcoming newcomers? In what ways does this simulated experience parallel the building up of your “real life” ministry? What are the implications of your learnings from this exercise for your understanding of outreach to people who are different, for your leadership approach in situations of changed membership, for your approach to inclusive communication?

Responses abounded

  • The structure was symmetric at first, and then after being knocked over it was more random.
  • I said to myself, how can I do something out of the box?
  • It all looked different.
  • It was an image of a mosaic, so I liked that.
  • The builders started with the white blocks as the base and then started adding color.
  • Group members waited on each other as they added new pieces.

Much was said, but much was also left to contemplate. The exercise, also led by Sarah Moore-Nokes, general presbyter for the Presbytery of Winnebago, was just one of the ways Synod Training Event attendees were called on to consider diversity and difference.

The biennial gathering, held this year under the theme “There’s Power in the Patchwork: Unity in Diversity,” is designed to empower and instruct those serving on committees on representation at the synod level of the PC(USA).

Other plenary presentations covered “Non-Healings in the Hebrew Bible,” presented by Jeremy Schipper of Temple University; and “Martin Luther King Jr.: Confronting the Viral Narrative of Race,” presented by Reggie Williams of McCormick Theological Seminary.

A range of workshop topics also were offered, and shared meals allowed for organic conversation and fellowship about representation.

“The knowledge received through exercises like the one to build a diverse and inclusive church is invaluable for those called to lift up representation issues at the synod level,” said Héctor M. Rivera-Vélez, GACOR vice moderator. “The goal is to equip them as thoroughly as possible so they can facilitate change.”