“I think my most important job is to make space for people to be who they are and tell their own stories…My role is to cultivate relationship, cultivate curiosity, [and] create a sense of sacred space.” -Kelly Bean, Soultribe Cultivator
How do I love Kelly Bean? Let me count the ways! First, she’s a redhead (big points.) Second he has the totally adorable name. (more brownie points.) But most importantly, Kelly Bean is as gentle as she is wise, with more patience than anyone I know, and has a habit of waiting and listening until the solution arrives. (Unlike some redheads we know. Hi. Me.)
There’s nothing like learning from a pro, and at 20-plus years of nurturing the same Soultribe (it’s a record!) Kelly can really give us insight into how to keep something going through the ups, downs and seasons of life.
This is a long, but excellent interview and features a unique shared-leadership model called Leadership by Triad which I’ve never heard of anyone else using. Plus there’s loads of stuff in here for those of you who are in the process of a church break-up, or who are Leaving Church. And don’t miss the bit where she lays out some of the common pitfalls Soultribes trip into, and how to avoid them. I recommend you print this out and pop it in your bag. You’ll want to underline and highlight this winsome goodness, I promise.
Kelly generously gave us her time to write up this interview, so she could encourage and guide you. In the spirit of our on-going Sacred Commerce experiment, please let me know if you’d like to send Kelly a thank-you gift from your Etsy or other shop. (My email is moi at magpie-girl dot com.)
And now without further ado my Soulsister, Kelly Bean, and the Soultribe at Third Saturdays.
Background: Could you tell us what kind of Soultribe you belong to: What do you call it? How often do you meet? How long have you been together as a group?
My soultribe is called Third Saturday.We are a community of people following in the way of Jesus. Our gatherings vary in size from 15-30 -which includes 6 kids ranging in ages 1 to 13. We meet twice a month for sure and sometimes more frequently.
I began to host this group over 22 years ago. I remember my daughter (who is now 23 years old) was just beginning to crawl when we first started. I can still see her playing in the center of the circle of friends, although now she is a mother herself. Over time I have become the ‘official’ cultivator of this community (thanks Rachelle for the great title, “cultivator.”) I’d venture to say that most of the current participants have been attending for seven to ten years.
Group Content: What does your typical evening together look like?
Group Content: What does your typical evening together look like?
Our meetings have changed over the years. We originally met for a couple hours on Tuesday nights. After our kids began school we shifted to meeting on Friday nights so the children could continue to come along and be with their friends. We met on Friday nights from 7:00 to well past 11:00 for about 10 years. When both our daughters were in high school we found that giving up a weekend night every week made it hard to participate in their activities and to know their friends. We wanted to be able to attend the Friday night ball games at the school, provide transportation and be available to them. At that point, about six years ago, we shifted to our current rhythm.
Our primary rhythm now is around our meeting on the Third Saturday (or sometimes the second or fourth J) of the month. We meet in my home—with the exception of two periods in this 23 years, when we were building or remodeling homes- during these times other group members “hosted.” We share a meal and engage in the evening’s ritual, relational connection, discussion topic.
We also meet the first Friday of the month for Taize Prayerat a local university. After prayer and silent contemplation we trek to a nearby establishment called Chez Jose where we share Mexican food, margaritas and conversation.
Who decides what you will do together? Who facilitates?
There is room for all voices. I guide the group but the general direction we take is borne out of listening to the group. For a few years we tried an experiment of leadership by Triad. Every month three different people from within the group would set the course for the month. They would plan all that we did for the Third Saturday gathering, even down to the potluck theme.
Together the Triad would determine what they wanted the group to do or what they wanted to bring to the group. Sometimes they would choose a topic that they were all fascinated with and they would bring three perspectives. Sometimes one Triad member might be a talker and the others would be introverts. In this case it might be that one introvert would bring a mix of songs they felt illustrated the theme the talker was unpacking and the other might lead a group discussion or an interactive art project to explore of the topic. A Triad might explore a global issue or a feeling or go deep into a scripture or poem. The past two years it seems we’ve had a lot international travelers in our group and we’ve loved learning from them upon their return.
My role is to cultivate relationship, cultivate curiosity, create a sense of sacred space, guide and direct in a way that helps to bring out all the group has to offer. My incredible husband Ken makes a good pot of coffee and is always glad to get a drum circle going at the end of the evening. (Magpie Girl’s Note: In my house we call this being the “Pastor’s Husband. That’s fun to trot out at church conferences, let me tell ya’!)
People: What kind of people attend? How did you initially find and gather these folks? How do people find you now that you’ve been around for a while?
I think that Third Saturday is a microcosm of the possibility of pluralism lived out over time. Together as a community, our life has given us occasion to navigate theological conversions and diversions, some divorces, the collapse of our mother church, graduations and adoptions, addictions- our own or our loved ones, economic boom and financial collapse. marriages, births and deaths (not always staged in that order).
When we started out we were a rather monolithic group of slightly charismatic Evangelicals in our early years of marriage and of raising young children. We all attended the same church and held fairly similar beliefs. Now 20 some years later, although life has taken us on various courses, we faithfully gather to share, worship, study, serve and create together. But now we are now a motley mixture of people with affiliation to United Church of Christ, Episcopalian, Greek Orthodox, Albanian Orthodox, Baptist, Christian Missionary Alliance and Presbyterian congregations.
Some of us have detached from the “institutional” church completely, others have rediscovered faith in artist communities, others embrace doubt. Some are Republicans and others Democrats, some are prochoice and others are prolife. Some hold to Creationism and others are Darwinists. Some doubt the credibility of global warming and others are environmental activists. Some are Universalists and others are staunch Calvinists. Some are black and some are white. Some are grandparents and others are single college students. Some are artists, some are computer programmers, others are health care workers and still others are engineers. Some are homemakers, others are writers, a handyman, salespeople and entrepreneurs, a bike mechanic, an analyst, and masseuse are all in the mix. We all struggle at times and we all have victories. We are a small enough community that there is no anonymity. We are who we are.
Although all these things are true, we don’t generally think of each other in these categorical ways. We are bound together by shared history, by a heart for the poor, by care and respect that transcends “belief”, by many shared meals , by laughter and tears, by the stories we have trusted each other with, by the burdens we have borne together and by the strong thread of Jesus in our lives and in our midst.
As we have grown and changed over the years I recognize we have continually cultivated relational space which makes it possible to share an encounter of commitments. We retain our unique identities and hold our deepest differences even as we participate in dynamic, creative, life-rearranging relationships together.
Coming Together: How long did it take your group to gel? What was that process like?
How did we come together? Well, we mostly met in the same church at various points along the way. A few have come by word of mouth. At this point we are not “officially” an open community; we are not attempting to grow in size or to promote ourselves to that end. If someone has a friend who wants to come along we welcome them. Our more recent regular participants (including our awesome violinist) came to us in this way.
This answer feels glib but, it seems like it has always worked. And for the handful who have left here and there over the years there has been a sense of a peaceful shift to something new for them. Maybe part of that is due to being flexible and willing to let things go rather than structure them too much. At the same time I do try to keep a plan up my sleeve so if things drag we can shift gears. I trust the spirit in the group and in the process. So something can be a flop and still be just fine. There is always another week!
I think my most important job is to make space for people to be who they are and tell their own stories, to do what I can to ensure that the environment is emotionally safe and supportive, to help people connect with each other and find a way they can belong and to create a relaxed welcoming atmosphere. If people feel safe, accepted, relaxed, connected and welcomed that goes a long way.
If you got to a sticky point where you weren’t sure it was working out, how did you know to press on? When did you know you had “clicked” together?
I can think of a several sticky points that have been the downfall of many a community but we have weathered. Here are some of those-
We were for many, many years, a community that existed within a church. That church; our “mother church”, went through a rough time and eventually disbanded. My husband and I left the church before it disbanded. At that point the community was comprised of people who left in a great deal of pain (like us) people who still thought it could work out and were loyal to the leaders who remained, and people who didn’t identify with any church. It was a tender time and everyone had deep feelings. We resolved to make space for each other to be wherever we needed to be and to trust each other in that. We participated in silent shared rituals for grief together (sitting Shiva together, floating prayer candles, writing our feelings as prayers) to acknowledge that everything was not well and that we could all grieve even if we were grieving completely opposite things.
I was very proud of how the community navigated that time. When the church did eventually shut down there was room for everyone to remain- and everyone chose to.
When we shifted to meeting twice a month (and only once a month in our home) this was a rough spot. Some people felt they would lose their community, others felt like we shouldn’t make such a change. Although some were fine with the decision it did raise strong doubt and dissension with others. In hind sight there may have been a better way to lead the group into the change, but it had become increasingly clear to us that we were sacrificing the best interest of our family and must make a change. After the announcement I met with concerned group members one on one and listened to their concerns and feelings. I acknowledged that I had moved swiftly without preparing the group for such a big change. Good listening and owning your own stuff goes a long way. Gradual and strategic introduction of the idea would have been a good idea too. But, by the time we reached the point that change was needed, it was past time to make the move. I did learn some things about leading people along gradually.
A few years back I got to feeling that as a group, we had become much too self focused and ingrown. I led us through a process of group discernment to determine together as a community what our strengths were, what brought us together and kept us together, what we imagined and wanted for the future (and what we didn’t want) and where we could learn and grow.
This process led to a focus on global issues and local community engagement. The focus led us to do collaborative art projects to raise money for communities in Africa. It led us to serve each other in more practical ways and to think beyond the needs of the group. I was impressed by the initiative that the community took to make this shift.
Take-Away: Why do you think people come to your group? What does being together do for you? What are the benefits of belonging to this kind of Soultribe?
Some of the many benefits are shared meals (we love good food and beverage!), encouragement for the journey of life and faith, shared history, care for each other, practical support for day to day life and through hard times, authentic relationships, new ideas and study, a sense of belonging, shared ritual, a desire to grow as a person, a desire to be known, fun, a community that welcomes kids.
The Real and the Ideal: What did you think your group would be like? How did it actually turn out? What’s that like for you?
Since Third Saturday has simply become what it is over the years and we all have changed in many ways along the way it feels tough to answer that question.
I sometimes look at Soultribes that are just launching. These generally come together around fairly clear mutually held theologies, beliefs and philosophical or political values- these are common and not bad reasons for people to form groups. I look at these and at times I think “Ah that looks less stressful…no debates about global warming vs global warming hoaxes that make me cringe, no strongly held difference about abortion rights to navigate, no stress when your favorite political candidate comes up in conversation.”
But then I look at the way that we respect and learn from each other, the way we can share life and still make space for the “other” right in our midst, I remember the love that holds us, and I am reminded that in a world split by difference, this is a hopeful story.
When we started out we were a Bible study and prayer group, and that was okay for that time. Over time we have been a spiritual formation group, an emotional support group, a topical study group. In more recent years we are a group of people intent on always learning and growing, urging one another on to love and to good deeds, caring for the world and our local communities together and caring for each other through thick and thin. And that is more than enough.
Advice Girl: What would you have done differently in the early days of your Soultribe?
I have loved all stages of the evolution of Third Saturday. When I look back the one thing I would like to have done differently is to have relaxed about cleaning my house. Getting ready for a large group of people to gather in your home every week can be stressful if you aren’t particularly a good housekeeper (but wish you were!). When my kids were growing up I could be crabby and uptight the day we were getting the house ready. Thank goodness the kids loved the gatherings as much as the adults did or they would have resented that high pressure preparation more than they do. Still, it would have been fine to have my house look a little more lived in when people arrived and would have been more fun to prepare without pushing so hard at the last minute to pull it all together. Frankly this is good advice to all parents of young children when it comes to house cleaning- whether a Soultribe is coming over or not. Relax and enjoy! A little mess (or even a big one) never really hurt anyone. And in hindsight, being bitchy to get a house clean isn’t worth it.
What other tidbits would you like to add to our giant pool of wisdom?
- Laughter is good.
- Listening is essential.
- Let the seasons of your life inform your direction. Listen to your life. My own spiritual journey and the unique needs of our family have shaped the direction for the community over the years. As I look back and see this come clear I am grateful.
Kelly Bean and a slew of her wonder women are up next at Christianity21, October 9-11 in Minneapolis. Loosely based on the TED Talks model, 21 speakers will hit 21 topics in 21 minutes each. It’s the hottest Christian conference I’ve seen in years — plus, all the women are speakers but it’s not a “women’s conference.” In the world of the church my friends, that is a small miracle. To find out how to meet the miracle workers, click here. Pay special attention to Nadia, Seth, Makeesha, and our grand dame, Ms. Phyllis. They will rock your socks!
Soultribes is an on-going series helping creative souls build a place to call home. Demonstrate your commitment to forming your tribe by adding this badge to your website, and follow us on Twitter to read the next edition. “There ain’t no where to go but together!”