Episcopal Church’s ‘From Many, One’ aims to heal America’s deep divisions one conversation at a time

By David Paulsen
Posted Jan 11, 2021

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church is launching a campaign, “From Many, One,” to promote a new spiritual framework for Episcopalians to engage in tough conversations with family, friends and neighbors, bridging the intense divisions that threaten to tear apart communities in the United States and beyond.

Starting Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Episcopalians will be encouraged to invite others to join them in “conversations across difference” guided by four questions: Who do you love? What have you lost? Where does it hurt? And what do you dream?

The campaign, which rejects retribution, punishment and “othering,” is inspired by the Latin phrase on the U.S. seal: E Pluribus Unum. Although it was developed before the mob of Trump supporters took over the Capitol for several hours on Jan. 6, the church campaign is launching at a time when many Americans are reeling from recent events. The goal is to celebrate difference and promote healing by emphasizing listening and curiosity.

“I have never been more profoundly aware of the need for passionate and practical commitment to the way of unselfish, sacrificial love that Jesus taught,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said Jan. 11 in a news release announcing the church’s “From Many, One” campaign. “Conversations with others across difference is not just a nice thing to do. It is a spiritual practice of love in action.”

So how will “From Many, One” help Episcopalians respond faithfully to today’s divisions? The campaign offers steps for facilitating one-on-one conversations that allow open expression of differences without judgment. Before setting up those conversations, participants can review the guide developed by the church. Engaging in “the spiritual practice of conversation across difference can help to knit us all into a diverse, more perfect union,” the guide says.

The guide encourages participants to reflect on the framework’s four questions. Participants also may watch videos of Curry and other leaders modeling these types of conversations. The guide provides practical tips and suggestions for approaching these conversations with openness and curiosity in search of “God in the presence of the other person.”

“Watching the tragic upheaval in our nation’s Capitol, I was struck again by the urgency – and difficulty – of cutting through the vitriol, listening deeply, and growing authentic relationships across difference,” the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, the presiding bishop’s canon for evangelism, reconciliation and stewardship of creation, told Episcopal News Service. “‘From Many, One’ won’t solve the problems in our broken common life, but it’s one concrete way for each of us to practice the ministry of reconciliation that Jesus gave us all. I know I want help making that commitment right now.”

Conversation partners can be anyone in a person’s social circle, from relatives to co-workers – “many of them are eager for respectful, mutual conversation,” the guide says. Although the conversations are intended for individuals, congregations may choose to host events that encourage the practice, such as Zoom meetings with breakout rooms for the one-on-one talks.

“We all are wonderfully and diversely made in God’s image,” the Rev. Shannon Kelly, the church’s director of faith formation, told ENS. “Engaging in conversation with someone who differs from us on any topic, hearing their experiences and sharing your own understanding is one way to start to build relationships and break down the walls between us.”

After completing these conversations, participants then are asked to pray for their conversation partners and, if they wish, to share the story of their experiences online through the “From Many, One” campaign.

“We hope people understand this is only scratching the surface of the practice and learning we’re called toward,” the Rev. Melanie Mullen, the church’s director of Reconciliation, Justice and Creation Care, said in the news release. “Our goal is to point people toward partner efforts that meet you where you are: for more simple conversation, further learning, deeper reckoning and/or action. More than that, we hope people see this as part of a life-long commitment to creating beloved community.”

The initial phase of the campaign will build to an Easter celebration, with a special online worship service and additional opportunities for participants to discuss their experiences.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.