On joining the Sister Parish Board of Directors
By Tom Pouliot
As I write this, the Sister Parish board of directors is meeting in Minneapolis. This is the first meeting in four years that I have not attended. It is a bitter sweet time for me thinking about all that is going on right now. I have come to respect and admire the people who serve on the board, and I’ve also come to love and cherish those communities that are a part of Sister Parish. I have also come to realize what a privilege and responsibility it is to be part of a group that oversees this amazing organization.
My journey with Sister Parish started in 2000 when members of my church community, Wallingford United Methodist Church (WUMC) in Seattle, invited me to go on the first delegation to Guarjila, El Salvador. It was for me, as it is for many, a life changing experience.
Soon after our April 2000 delegation, the board of directors contacted WUMC and asked us to host their fall meeting. We were blessed to have 12 people come to our community to do the work of Sister Parish. During that time we shared meals, had amazing conversations, worshiped together, and watched the work of Sister Parish being done.
Soon after that board meeting I was asked to consider joining the board. As my life was already pretty full with work, other volunteer commitments and raising a family, I said no thank you. It wasn’t a knee-jerk answer; it took a lot of thought and prayer. Perhaps you’ve been there before – where adding one more commitment to your already full plate does not make sense.
Sister Parish had a northern advisory board (NAB) in my early years with the organization. I flew around the country and met with folks from the various communities involved in Sister Parish. Those were wonderful meetings and the people I met in those gatherings are still friends. The board of directors would often be meeting at the same time as those NAB meetings and I would have a chance to visit with board members. The question of my joining the board would often come up and it just didn’t ever seem to be the right time.
In 2013 I was approached about board membership again. I had just finished three years of full-time work and full-time college, my son was through with his own college studies and life had calmed down to a manageable frenzy. This time the answer that came out was “yes,” I will join the board for the three years that was asked of me. That yes, like the one in 2000 that started me on the Sister Parish road, has made a huge difference in my life.
Being on the board of Sister Parish exposed me to the great heart of the organization while at the same time allowing me to participate in the business of Sister Parish. There are so many good people who have served and are serving on the board. I owe them a huge thank you for their stewardship and commitment. At the same time, I thank God for the privilege of being able to meet, live with, share bread with and worship with so many people involved in Sister Parish.
My first board meeting was a phone conference and I felt a little lost. To tell the truth, it was hard to make a connection with these disembodied voices on the call. That soon changed. In April of 2013 First United Methodist Church of Downers Grove (FUMCDG) in Illinois agreed to host the board. I was excited to meet up with other board members as well as to meet the good people of FUMCDG. While much of our time was spent on budgets and other business of Sister Parish, we also had the opportunity to be with our host families, attend an all-church potluck and worship with FUMCDG. It was an amazing time that solidified my decision to be a part of the Sister Parish board.
Since that first meeting in Downers Grove, I’ve had the honor of being at board meetings hosted by Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, CT; First Lutheran Church in Duluth, MN; Danville Congregational Church in Danville, CA; Faith Lutheran Church in West Fargo, ND; and First United Methodist Church in Decorah, IA. Each one holds special memories for me and I treasure the time spent with amazing people at meals, at play and at worship.
Each board meeting we Skype with folks in Guatemala and El Salvador. My love for the staff and volunteers in the south has grown with each conversation we’ve had. The blessings I’ve received by being on the board extended south when I traveled to the Southern Encounter in the fall of 2016. Meeting with Sister Parish staff and representatives from all of the southern communities in Guatemala and El Salvador was another life changing experience that continues to live in my heart and gives me hope.
I ended up spending an extra year on the board of Sister Parish. It was not a burden because of the amazing people I worked with on the board. Because of my time on the board of Sister Parish I’ve come to see what an honor and privilege it is to serve. I’ve also come to see how important it is to have someone representing our church community on the board and was excited to introduce another member of WUMC to the board.
You may have been asked to be on the board of Sister Parish at some time. You may have been wondering if you could or should be a part of the board. I know many of you are crazy busy with life and all that it entails. The truth is, that that craziness is probably not that much different than those serving on the board now. Board members are parents of young children, serve on other boards, volunteer at other organizations, have jobs and work as activists for various causes. I will not tell you board membership is a trivial commitment, but I will tell you that my experience is that the benefits outweigh any burdens.
Sister Parish needs board members to continue the great work that has been done over all these years. I ask you to look around your own Sister Parish church community. Does your group have representation on the board? Would you consider spending some time to be energized and changed by this organization (again)? Certainly your experience may be different, but I would suggest that the cost of time on the board is returned in a multitude of ways.