Embrace launch, Florida RLOTS, April 30, 2016 | Photo Courtesy of: Captain Lynn Irish
By Maureen Diffley
Florida and National Capital & Virginia Divisions have recently used already planned divisional events to serve as Embrace launch parties. Taking mom’s advice, “try it, you might like it” to heart, divisional leaders gave women in their divisions a taste of Embrace . It was an introduction to a way of doing small groups that could help corps cultivate authentic community in their local settings.
Envisioned as a monthly gathering of a small group to share a meal and a guided conversation that goes deeper than chit-chat, Embrace provides a practice that can help introduce structure into promoting community without creating a highly programmed group or event. Ideally, Embrace members take turns hosting the monthly gathering in their homes. This gives everybody a chance to lead and burdens nobody. Sharing a meal, visiting in each other’s homes and having meaningful conversations help to provide a framework for real relationships, for encouragement and for mutual prayer and support. Embrace is deliberately inter-generational whenever possible. It might be mixed gender or single-sex, depending on local preferences. But how do you transfer an idea into practice? How do you convince people that this is a format that can work in their communities?
National Capital & Virginia made Embrace a significant part of its Women’s Retreat “I am…God’s Masterpiece”. On Saturday, May 14th, retreat delegates split up from their corps groups and familiar friends to share an Embrace lunch and dinner. Major Amelia Kelly, Divisional Secretary for Women’s Ministries, had given each lady a specialized color lanyard and tote bag on Friday. The next day, all the ladies had to do was find a table with the same color tablecloth and balloons and sit down. Voila! People who had not met together yet sat down for meals together without complicated lists or directions.
While enjoying their meals, retreat delegates had a conversation guided by the four question cards created for that event. The groups were diverse and random. Some participants enjoyed their Embrace groups so much that they were not sure where to sit for Sunday’s meals – with their corps or their Embrace groups. Many women indicated that it forced them to have conversation with new people, including much younger or older women and “it turned out we have something to say to each other and enjoyed the conversation”, said one. Of course, there were challenges, participants noted that the questions were not so easy or they felt someone at the table was less than nice. The benefit of doing Embrace twice in one day is that it helped delegates work through some of those issues and build a connection with their new acquaintances.
Florida Division included an Embrace launch in its Regional Local Officer Training meetings on April 30th. Four regions promoted Embrace as part of their Women’s Ministries training; 141 women participated in the Embrace launch, where they received printed copies of the materials available at Ministry Toolkit (link). Each region had local presenters who explained the concept and shared the materials. The women were seated at tables of five to six, so they could practice the Embrace model after the presentation, Divisional Secretary for Women’s Ministries Major Susie Erickson, who spearheaded the effort, reported. She noted that many participants were encouraged that Embrace could help bring different age groups together and encourage younger women to get involved.
“I had started a group for working moms and women on Saturdays from 9-11 a.m. The idea was that we could have brunch, a program and then still have the rest of the day to take care of household matters. When the Embrace material arrived for me to translate [into Korean], I thought ‘this is exactly what I was looking for’,” said Captain Christine Kim, an Embrace presenter at RLOTS. “Often when you do programs, you are in a rush to get through the program and you have no time left for talking, building friendship and encouraging each other in the Lord. Embrace lets you relate and share deep concerns in prayer and conversation.”
The relationship-building and ready-to-use quality appealed to Captain Lynn Irish, when she received the material. An Embrace presenter at RLOTS, Captain Irish noted: “I am excited to do this in the corps. A lot of participants noted that it is easier to invite a friend or co-worker to dinner than to church or Bible Study. Each corps had different ideas how to use it, but it was clear this can appeal to women 18 and up. While some of the older women were not comfortable with the idea of mixed gender groups, it was not an issue for younger women as they considered the possibility of doing Embrace. For me, it was interesting to see how there are similarities between this and Wesley’s class meeting structure. It just provides a simple way to build community.”
Note: The Korean language materials are in the final edits.
Captain Maureen Diffley is a Program Specialist for Women’s Ministries and the author of USA Southern Territory’s 2016 Embrace program.