Dear members and friends of the Wisconsin and Minnesota Conferences,
It has been over two years since our Conferences joined forces on a bold initiative to form spiritually-grounded leaders for a changing church. The Damascus Project was conceived as a hub of resources and learning opportunities for our faith communities. Inspired by the story of Paul’s transformation on the road to Damascus, we are challenging ourselves to imagine fresh and creative ways to build up the body of Christ.
We’ve identified four key audiences that could benefit from the work of The Damascus Project:
- Clergy and licensed pastors (continuing education)
- Lay leaders (leadership development)
- Members-In-discernment (equipping future leaders for faithful and fruitful ministry)
- Spiritual seekers (faith formation for people from all walks of life)
After a few years of exploration and hard work, The Damascus Project finds itself in a transition. There is staff turnover on the Minnesota side, with the Rev. Abby Henderson coming on board in October as the Director of Leadership Development. Meanwhile, the Rev. Tisha Brown, Associate Conference Minister of Leadership Development in Wisconsin, will go on a two-month sabbatical starting Nov. 18.
We are excited about this partnership and believe that not even a two-month separation will slow us down! Nevertheless, this liminal moment is a good time to take stock of where we’ve been and where we are going.
What We’ve Accomplished
Since fall 2018, The Damascus Project has offered 5 courses, with an enrollment of 34 people from across both Conferences. These courses have been grounded in the wisdom of the Christian tradition, incorporating an outcome-based, action-reflection model of teaching and learning that focuses on learners’ real-life ministry contexts. Here are just a couple of examples of ways in which Damascus Project participants have been impacted by their learning experiences:
- Kathy, a layperson in Wisconsin, participated in “Returning to Sacred Texts and Finding Stories You Can Live In.” Kathy writes, “Reading the book [assigned for the class] was like a sigh of relief from my previous beliefs of what the purpose of the Bible is. I like to dabble in writing and knowing that the Bible is more story of the relationship of the Israelites with God than a text or law book gives me a boost to write more about my relationship with God.”
- Susie, a layperson from Minnesota, never studied theology or scripture before but felt there was something more that she wanted to do in her life. After taking “Exploring God’s Call in a Changing World,” Susie was moved to take a leave of absence from her job and volunteer full-time for three months at the border between the US and Mexico. Susie writes: “For me, The Damascus Project has been life-changing. The caliber of teaching, the materials, and the discussions are top notch. I was led to the border; see where you might be led.”
The last two years have not been without challenges. As with any brand new project, there have been unexpected developments, hits and misses, and leaps of faith. And it has been a learning experience to navigate this collaboration across two Conferences, each with its own structure, staff, needs, and processes.
But through it all, we have seen how The Damascus Project offers safe learning spaces in which questions are encouraged, wisdom is drawn from real-life contexts and experiences, and God’s people are empowered to develop their spiritual gifts for ministries of all kinds. We are excited by the possibilities revealed in the last two years, and eager to take the project to the next level.
Where We Are Going
While Tisha is on her much-deserved sabbatical, Abby plans to focus on relationship-building, program evaluation, and needs assessment. She wants to get a better sense of what and how people want to learn, what has worked well already, and what could be improved moving forward. This will be time well-spent so that we can hit the ground running when Tisha returns on January 13. In addition to focusing on course development for the spring and fall, we will be investing time in The Damascus Project’s infrastructure and design, working closely with key teams and leaders to ensure that the project aligns with the mission and needs of both Conferences.
Keep your eye out for two courses to be offered right after Easter: 1) The Church’s Response to Mental Health and Addiction; and 2) Being a Faith Change Agent: A New Paradigm for Transformational Pastoral Leadership. We are very excited to share more with you about these learning opportunities. Stay tuned.
We are also eager to connect with you. If you have thoughts to share about leadership development and learning needs in Wisconsin or Minnesota, please be in touch with Abby (any time) or Tisha (after January 13).