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Rector's Reflections

ECMN Focus Area: Innovation

By November 17, 2021No Comments

A number of years ago I did some door knocking to collect signatures from people in support of legislation that would ensure sick time off for all workers in Minnesota. As I knocked on doors and talked to people, an odd pattern began to emerge. People who had access to sick days were very likely to sign the petition with few questions asked. But those who didn’t have access to sick days – primarily low-wage workers – were more hesitant. The very people who would benefit most directly from this legislation were the hardest to convince. And as I had more of these conversations, I began to realize that for many of these workers, the hesitation was not because they didn’t believe in the idea, or didn’t sign petitions, it was because they simply were confused by the idea. Having never had access to paid sick days, imagining being given paid time off when they were ill or a kid was sick was virtually impossible. People looked at me like I was describing a complete fantasy land. What I was describing was so far from the status quo that they couldn’t even imagine another world. I remember one man looking at me with a puzzled expression and saying, “well, it would be nice to not have to go to work when I am sick, but to be paid …?” He trailed off, as if he must be misunderstanding me completely.

When I think about these conversations, I am struck by just how difficult it can be to imagining beyond the status quo. To imagine a world that is completely different from the one in which we are completely immersed in from birth to death is not an easy task. It takes time. It takes practice. And often it takes someone else there with us, helping paint a picture or point the way towards something that we cannot quite envision or dream of. But despite the difficulties, or perhaps because of them, this work of imagining is, I believe, a core part of our work as Christians.

In her book, The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor writes that “the church’s central task is an imaginative one.” She describes imagination as the “place where vision is formed and reformed, where human beings encounter an inner reality with power to transform the other realities of their lives.”

What then, I wonder, might it look like to build our muscles of imagination at St. John’s?

One way we could hone this practice is by using a practice that focuses on the question “How Might We?”[1] Instead of starting with the question “How Have We?” which focuses on what we have always done, or question “How Should We?” which places a set of restrictions based on what we have always been told is that “right” or “correct” way, starting with the question “How Might We” invites a different kind of imaginative stance. It invites us to think about new ways to do our work, it invites experimentation and the possibility of being wrong, and it invites us to do it together as a community.

There are big questions facing us as Christians. What is our role in an increasingly secular country? What does discipleship really mean? What are we called to do as people of faith? What is the role of the church? As we wrestle with these questions, I propose that we do so with a stance of creative imagination and innovation. What might it look like to ask questions like, “how might we be disciples in Linden Hills?” Or, “How might we listen to people’s stories of God?” Or, “How might we share the love we have in our community more broadly?” As we think about the work we do at St. John’s and in our lives, I invite us into the practice of “how might we?” Let’s begin with creative imagination, with innovation, and experimentation, and trust that God’s spirit will be with us as we do our work.

Elizabeth Lienesch
St. John’s Intern

[1] From Interaction Design Foundation,