“I don’t “do” technology. I am aka a “TechnoMuppet”!I don’t “do” Zoom. I am aka a “Zoom-dodging Hermit”!!BUT . . . that session with Ann Morisy today was TOTALLY brilliant!!!It was so stimulating and enriching, and will take a while to process as there were lots of new thoughts, ideas and challenges to take in.” Ann H.
“It was such a fabulous afternoon and I really want to thank everyone involved in making it happen! It’s just what I needed to re-engage my brain ready for my BAP next week!” (Sarah Johnson)
“Special thanks to Ann for such a lively conference.” (Cheryl Belding)
“Ann’s theology has been an influence on me since “Beyond The Good Samaritan” (published c1994, I think). They say never meet your heroes… But it was an inspirational afternoon for me.” (David Bean)
“a really useful and insightful presentation. I was very impressed by Ann, and have some of her books on order now.” (Sue Harris)
On 21 July the DD national focus group organised a Zoom seminar with Ann Morisy. We asked her to speak because she’s a community theologian, understanding the space where most distinctive deacons minister. 71 people attended.
Ann started by analysing the effects that heightened anxiety has on people: we are
- likely to react rather than respond
- likely to scapegoat those who are different from us
- likely to handle conflict by distancing ourselves from those who are unlike us
- likely to ‘herd’ ie take on the hurts of others
- likely to forget how to have fun
All very unattractive! She continued by suggesting ways forward for us to help others who are anxious: it helps if
- we are aware of what pushes our buttons
- if we hold fast to the mental discipline that problems have multiple and interrelated causes
- if we resist picking up other people’s anxieties
- if we use humour and fun and play
- if we practise being a non-anxious presence by logging our own anxiety and ‘parking’ it, to deal with later.
We then split up into discussion groups to talk about
- do we have any examples of Jesus managing anxiety?
- what’s been our experience of managing it, both our own and other people’s?
We then came together again for the second part of her talk, ‘the gift of conversation and repartee’. Ann suggested that
- conversation is the main tool for the chaplain, youth worker, evangelist and Deacon:
- that mission is an aspect of informal education.
image: psychology today
She took us through the story of Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman in Matthew 15, Mark 7 and John 4, suggesting that Jesus was a product of his own culture and, through this incident, understood that he had come as Saviour to both Gentile and Jew.
Ann suggested this led into ‘Woke’ culture, in which we develop a deep awareness of generational engrained power relationships that marginalise and exclude others especially on the basis of ethnicity (the Black Lives Matter movement).
Ann went on to show how conversation is an extraordinary achievement, unique to our species, and that what happens subconsciously in a conversation means we can give our conscious attention to the other. She used the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well to investigate in detail what was going on beneath the surface in micro-actions.
She concluded that (educational, missional) conversation requires:
- mutual commitment to traverse the huge differences between our different worlds
- an exceptional degree of trust
- signs that there’s a commitment to sustain the conversation.
Conversation is vital to mission because the person who is taking part in it with us
- can find it helpful to ‘hear’ him or herself think aloud
- our promptings, interest and framing of issues can extend the internal ponderings of the other
- the subliminal invitation ‘please come with me’ offered by us enables the other’s insights to flow and be examined
We ourselves are going through a similar process as we talk and listen. So conversation is not inaction: often through it we can change the way we view the world.
So what place do distinctive deacons have, and where do we fit in this scenario? Ann suggested three areas:
- Deacons are pathfinders. We have a deep understanding of discrimination and unconscious bias because of our own experience of being challenged, misunderstood and rejected.
- in a world antithetical to people of faith, deacons have deep experience of negotiating the ‘majority view’ ie those who claim to have no religion.
- We do not have the indulgence of reducing our conversation partners to people like ourselves. Our ability to cross boundaries of difference is at the heart of our role, and a skill the wider church needs now.
Aspects of the deacons’ distinctive role:
- we can steady the soul when the heart and mind are under pressure
- we have a ministry of awakening and prompting conversations of the spirit, giving birth to ‘God in the soul’
- we support people’s intimation that ‘there is more to life than meets the eye’
- we are skilled in ‘code-switching’, treating the sub-Christian ideas of others with respect, maintaining a commitment to hospitality
- we persist in compassionate responses that others may judge as naive.
image from jfernandez.co
Thoughts on locating the deacon’s role:
- Deacons work in the ‘Foundational Domain’ with aims
- to challenge secular materialism
- to help people gain confidence in the possibility of God
- to encourage imagination: re-enchanting our view of the world
- hospitality to the unorthodox and zany
Ann’s reading list included her own books, ‘Beyond the Good Samaritan’, ‘Journeying Out’, ‘Bothered and Bewildered’ and ‘Borrowing from the future’. See also Malcolm Gladwell: ‘The Tipping Point: how little things can make a big difference’.
Ann’s seminar was recorded, and we hope to make this available shortly.