The psych evaluation before my ordination said “Laura can exist with a high level of chaos.” This may explain the state of my apartment, but it also says something about how many different ideas and projects I’m playing with at any given time. I’ve slowly learned that having multiple side-projects keeps me interested and able to stay in one place to do the long, slow work of reform and building robust community. Here are some of the projects, schemes, dreams, and ideas that I’m brewing on now:
Reforming a 115 year old Christian institution:
So, as it turns out, it takes time, skill, creativity and spirit to change historic institutions. The Massachusetts Council of Churches exists to make the vibrant Church visible. We see all sorts of faithful ministry, deep reconciliation, creative innovation, and lively worship. We’re trying to make the vibrant Church visible to the divided Church and visible to a weary world. More broadly, we want to create a mutually affirming, non-competitive religious ecology in Massachusetts. And yet, we were was founded by 12 white Protestant gentlemen with some good intentions and some major blind spots. As the Executive Direction, I’m devoted to the work to see if we can make this council of churches truly a place for all and not just some. We’re aiming at a culture change for a very established institution, claiming our values and norms. I’m trying to manage staff and learn how to lead in constant change. Honestly, it’s a joy to run a Christian institution that’s generally healthy, working to notice and change our historic white presumptions, and where our first value in making a decision is “Delight.” Check out our Facebook page for regular updates and more stories of vitality. Find our resources here. And for the love of God, read Faith & Leadership, a stellar resource of smart writing about leading Christian institutions.
Museums, curation, and diversity:
I believe in institutions. They’re not perfect at all, but they’re sure more trustworthy than free agents. Institutions gather the wins so we do not have to reinvent in every generation. They hold us steady when things are chaotic. But they can also calcify. I believe in institutions. And so, I like to look at other institutions to learn how to lead mine. As a newspaper editors daughter, I’m particularly interested in newspapers- which like Church, are often struggling to find a financial and membership model at this moment. I’m also fascinated by museums- who feels they are welcomed, what art is shown, what is the model for community engagement, and how is it all funded. A few years ago, I had a small grant to visit innovative museums with intentional efforts around diversity. I visited a museum that had really focused what it showed on the history of the local immigrant population. I visited a museum that had opened gallery space in a nursing home. I visited a deadly boring historical society that had found a way to become a community hub and cultural generator. If you want to talk museums, contact me.
The curator Hans Ulrich Obrist understands his roll as a not merely one who gathers and displays what an artist has already produced, but a facilitator, asking the artist “What is that project you’ve been dreaming of, and have never been quite able to pull off?” And then, it is his work to make that unrealized dream happen. I think this is how I want to pastor.
Public ritual in diverse spaces & Ghostbikes
In my role as a public religious leader, I’ve had to respond to multiple crisis and plan public ceremony. It’s complicated to create a service to hold communal grief, anger, hope and longing, especially when folks don’t believe the same things, pray the same way, know the same songs, or turn to the same stories. Every time, we struggle and scramble for music we can all sing and rituals we can all find resonant, without making the whole thing so nondescript that there is nothing to hang on to. If you are a musician and want to write a song that we can all sing, that’s not “Sweet Caroline” or “Dirty Water” then please, contact me.
I ride my bicycle as my primary form of transit in the city. When a cyclist died in 2015, a friend asked me to help lead our dedication of a ghostbike. Since that time, we’ve developed a meaningful, inclusive liturgy and practice of dedicating a ghost bike. I’ve written a bunch about this in my book Holy Spokes. I’m still learning and teaching others about what makes for meaningful ritual for a hurting, diffuse and diverse community.
Boston is my adopted city, and we have some major problems around racism. Not just historic problems of ye olde racists, but contemporary problems that are being exacerbated now. African Americans in greater Boston have a median net wealth of $8. We no longer have the worst economic inequality in the nation, but we’ve got nothing to celebrate as the seventh-most unequal. I’m doing more reading and thinking these days about structural reforms and personal efforts to support economic vitality for those who have not had access to wealth.
At a personal level, I think Jesus says a whole lot more about money than He does about most of what we battle over in the culture wars. I’ve personally valued the Boston Faith & Justice Network’s small group study on economic discipleship. I’m interested in creative economic models for institutions and for new ministries. I’m scheming about some new projects. Stay tuned.
Who counts as an innovator:
Now maybe this is because I’ve sat through WAY too many worships on innovation, but it seems to me that the only people who count as innovators are white guys with venture capital. I can’t believe that Steve Jobs is the only one who has ever used “design thinking.” More often, I see women, poor folks, people of color who know how to make do with what they’ve got and make it work. I’m trying to shift my own thinking and storytelling about who counts as an innovator. Which brings me to my next project…
I need to learn with my hands what I want to do in the world: repair. Whole new big project on mending over at the website “Mending Church.” I’m finishing up my research stage and beginning to offer workshops.
Learning how to ask good questions:
How do I learn how to do this well?
Other projects: Needlepoint
And smashing the kyriachy.