by Tom Pouliot
A reflection written after the November 2015 in-person Board meeting generously hosted by Danville Congregational Church
“What is it that you do at board meetings?” I get the question frequently after telling people that the board of directors of Sister Parish will be meeting. Our board meets four times a year as an entire group. We meet in the winter and summer with a phone session. In the spring and fall we journey to one of our member churches for an in-person meeting.
In November the board met in Danville, California where we were hosted by Danville Congregational Church (linked with San Antonio, Guatemala). For two full days the board met doing the business of Sister Parish. The president of the board, Nancy Wiens, opened our meeting time with a reflection on Pope Francis’ call to be a culture of encounter. Pope Francis tells us that “in this stepping out” [of ourselves] we need to be ready for encounter. Well, isn’t that what we experience in our work with Sister Parish? Nancy has suggested that “A Culture of Encounter” be our theme for 2016. We will send more information soon.
Our time together in Danville was a time to report on items relating to governance, reviewing finances for the current year, budgeting for the new year, and talking about development as it relates to spreading the word about our amazing opportunities for long term relationships through Sister Parish. These business items are critical to the successful functioning of our organization. It is wonderful to have the technology to add board participants who could not travel. Greg Huang-Dales joined us for his final board meeting via Skype video. Maria Van Der Maaten likewise joined us via Skype video for her first board meeting. A special treat this year was to have Arlene Reed join us for parts of the weekend. Arlene was on the board for many years (including time as president) and is a great friend and supporter of Sister Parish.
A gathering of the board is not complete without hearing first-hand the reports from our coordinators in the south. The time we spend talking with Brian Tyler (Guatemala) and Julieta Borja Carranza (El Salvador) is so critical to understanding better the needs and well being of our amazing staff. In addition, the board has an opportunity to talk to leaders of the southern directivas (advisory boards) in El Salvador and Guatemala. This again gives us the opportunity to hear issues and blessings first hand as well as a time to thank them for their leadership.
The meeting would not reflect the values of Sister Parish if we only focused on budgets and registrations. Sister Parish is about relationship. When the board travels to host churches, we do home stays where we get to know some of the amazing people involved in our organization, we share meals with the greater host church community, we sing, we laugh, and we worship together. In the fall, the board, along with the host church, participates in the Solidarity Walk. This year was no exception as we joined on a beautiful sunny day to show our support and solidarity with our partners in the south. Personally, one of my favorite times of the board meeting weekends is the opportunity to worship together. Danville Congregational Church provided an amazing time of special music, children’s’ message, prayers and fellowship focused on the work Sister Parish does. It was a great joy to be together for those moments.
I am so in awe of our amazing Executive Director, Carrie Stengel, who runs the business end of things in one moment and then in another moment warms our hearts with stories of encounter from her experiences in the communities. Michael Spellman has done so much work to prepare material and practices to reach out to congregations to spread the Sister Parish word. Luis Cuyun and Ginnie Berge are amazing in the gifts they bring to the board and Sister Parish. Nancy leads the group with grace and efficiency. We look forward to the gifts Maria will bring to the organization in her role as new board member.
What do we do at board meetings? We work, play, laugh, cry, eat, meet new friends, and rekindle long time acquaintances. The board discusses, prays, sings, walks and envisions a new world based on equality, solidarity and love.
In November of 2016 a southern encounter is being planned. During the delegation, we will participate in the Southern Encounter, an event that brings together representatives from all southern Sister Parish communities. We will make personal connections, share stories, and discuss our goals for the Sister Parish community. We will also visit sites of historical and spiritual significance in both countries and meet with human rights leaders in Guatemala and El Salvador. Watch for more information about how you could join many of the board members in an experience in both Guatemala and El Salvador.
Pope Francis has reminded us that Christ calls us to a culture of encounter. We look forward to working with you all as we continue the encounters through Sister Parish.