Reimagining Community: Conversation with Jonathan Massimi

Making Meaningful Connections
Conversation with Jonathan Massimi ~ March 12, 2019

About every six weeks for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building pioneers as their guests. For their March 12, 2019 dialog they invited the Rev. Jonathan Massimi to talk about how his work has turned conventional thinking upside down about connecting youth and adults.

Rev. Jonathan Massimi of Kitchener, Ontario talks with John and Peter about the ways he connects young and old in his parish and larger community through skills sharing and Abundant Community study groups, where the first thing he does is listen deeply to what they are saying.

John and Peter talk with Rev. Jonathan Massimi of Kitchener, Ontario about the ways he uses skills sharing, Abundant Community book study groups and other innovative methods to connect young and old in his parish and larger community. Read a transcript here.



John McKnight: Welcome everybody who’s joined us today. We have a guest I’ve known a good many years he has a very checkered kind of career which has made him an incredibly informed in different areas of life.

He’s an {Anglican} priest who has been in local parishes and done some amazing community focused work there. Then he’s been an employee of the United Way and in the United Way he has simply been focused on neighborhood issues and now he works for the city of Kitchener in Canada in the Province of Ontario and he’s joining us from Kitchener today.

One of the things that we thought we’ll start with is your amazing study guide to a book that Peter and I did together called The Abundant Community. You have developed a curriculum, in a sense, for people locally who want to use the book as a way of raising a whole series of questions about community and locality.

I know that you have developed not only the curriculum but you have used it in all sorts of ways and it’s spreading as a device get people not so much to do a book review but to think about the nature of abundance and the possibility that an abundant community is a both the goals and the means by which we can achieve a good life.

Why don’t you begin describing a bit about the curriculum and how you first used it and what kinds of reactions you see people giving as a result of reading the book.

Jon Massimi: Engaging with the book actually started, I would say, close to five years ago where a friend of mine, even before that, a friend of mine gave me a book, The Abundant Community, and I started buying copies and giving it out.

What I was finding was, those that I was sharing the book with wanted to engage in conversation.

Then I moved to the United Way and we engaged in this program Identifying Community Connectors. So, we had eight individuals in different neighborhoods and the first thing, one of the first things, I did was get them copies of the book, The Abundant Community, and slowly we started to work through some of that content.

Then when I came to the city of Kitchener, one of the lines in my job description was “community development” and I always have issues with trying to unpack that term. I’m a little bit more comfortable with this idea of community organizing and when we had the term “community development” we were struggling with a definition. So, what I did was invite my facilitator teams (there were four of us) to read the book together as a basis to have similar outlook, a place to build from, in our engagement with our community.

The book gave us this wonderful language to understand our experience. One of the authors outside of this book that has influenced me and is of my Anglican priest days was Stanley Hauerwas, and he says you can only act in a world you can see and you can only see what you’ve learned to speak.

So, language informs our sight and how we engage with our world, so I found this book taught us how to speak a particular and opened our eyes up to a different reality, the reality of abundance.

After we did that the facilitators then we started piloting it with other groups. Out of that we worked with the neighborhood association where they incorporated the study of The Abundant Community into their board meetings so they would reserve some time to unpack some of the thoughts in the book and then slowly we moved out into the community and offering it at the library.

We had some participants in the library and currently we’re working at having this book study available through utilizing what we have here, the Zoom capabilities, to get people engage in the content. If you look at some of the rough drafts of this book study it is very much evolving; we’re learning a lot of things. In some instances, we had time constraints where we were only able to have four or five sessions so the book study that’s available online was adapted to those four-five sessions; others wanted to have a chapter a week so we were able to expand that and out of that came learnings.

If you’ll notice in the curriculum, you had like some ideas on the side, simple things like food is a connector of people, what times we found were best, how many people should you have in the group, and so on and so on. But when we were sharing this book or engaging in the book study, I was very interested in the reactions of people.

There were some that the book gave them language whereby they’re able to express what they’re experiencing in their community. That togetherness, the notion of, in Peter’s words, the social capital and bringing people together. But for others it hit a nerve, it was “oh my goodness, I’m living this life,” and it actually brought out anger in some: What do you mean I have the power within myself to do this?

And then, what I found in these books is that people were actually arguing to the contrary, focusing on the professionalized services, and saying well, how can we live without them? How can we do without this or that? And really advocating for a position whereby they are handing over their power to professionals rather than taking it on themselves and creating that future that they themselves can only create as a community.

Just to summarize again, we started off just handing out the book and then slowly started working with the staff, and then bringing in the neighborhood association, then working with the library, and now exploring an online basis for engagement utilizing Zoom, and coming in May the book study inspired another book study. We have a woman who’s associated with our community center creating a five-week study based on the book called Big Ideas with Little People. And she is a parent and she wants to share these ideas with them so she created a little something. I’ve am again being inspired by these book studies and it’s slowly taking on a life of its own, which is really cool.

Peter Block: Amazing story, Jon. Two things. One is as an organizer the problem with community development is it conflicts real estate [with] the social capital, and both sides use it so I can see why that term is confusing. You can organize people around what bothers you about this neighborhood. You can organize people around what issues make you angry and how do we get the mayor to wake up? You’ve organized people through the people and the book.

It’s probably a good vehicle because it’s overly idealistic, vague and based on something with no evidence. This is not an evidence-based treatise. So, I just think using a book as an organizing principle was great. The other thing that you did, first you act based on what you see, based on what you speak, that the book is a vehicle where it gives expressions to the idea that all transformation is linguistic. If I find the language it changes what I see and if I change what I see it changes how I act. It seems to me that your ministry or priesthood, your work, your love is to get people to act differently with each other, more communally, care about each other and what do they see, what you help them see is the distinction between outsourcing, cocreation, the distinction between consumption and creation. You decided to put enormous resources [into the effort] and I love the way you do it, the way you put the ideas on the left and right, and on the back. It’s not linear and so if I can affect this speaking I can change the way we are together. Powerful strategy.

Jon: And if you noticed in the study, the questions aren’t numbered. So, the contexts when we meet, we say what question struck you the most?

Peter: I love it. That’s phenomenal. It describes what matters.

Jon: What matters and where they want to start.

Peter: They can start with their life.

Jon: Yep.

Peter: So, you’re using the study guide as a small physical metaphor of the world you’re trying to create. A little nuance like that makes me declare you an artist, forget about the priest, the community center, [because] only an artist sees the importance of something as small and powerful as you pick where we start, beautiful. That’s a huge piece of architecture, not an afterthought.

John: Jon, let’s dig a little deeper in to the language of abundance. You said initially that what happened was that this gave language to people who didn’t have it and that once you have that language then you see differently and you act differently.

But can you say something more specifically about what is the language that you see emerging that gives meaning to people that shifts how they’re seeing things?

Jon: I think it’s recognizing the gifts, so the gifts language, rather than viewing them in terms of scarcity but abundance. So, when we start to view our reality with that lens amazing things start to emerge: people begin to tell stories about not when my neighbor’s dog went to the bathroom on my lawn but about that time when my neighbor actually helped me shovel my driveway. So, people started to identify: here are the people in my community, here are the stories, here are the gifts. It became a very powerful discussion, an exciting discussion because it opened up people to possibilities. When I say the gifts from that book [I meant that] it’s a new lens to view your reality and I know that those that read the book they can’t un-think or can’t un-see that. Once that thought is in their mind it becomes this lens through which they’re viewing their reality. Where they’re seeing the potential even in the tiniest of interactions.

Even if they’re meeting a neighbor, what can I give to this neighbor or what can this neighbor share with me? Even those day-to-day interactions it’s just been amazing to see that transformation lies with people where that’s become their go-to: [they ask] Where are the gifts, what is my community strong in? rather than complaining about where they are.

John: Now you’ve introduced this to a neighborhood organization and they’re reading and thinking about what the book says. Have you seen any application where what happens in a neighborhood organization if some of the members or the board or whoever the group is see this kind of language: does it then translate into their actions and how?

Jon: There’s this one incidence, it’s slowly in one way shaking their foundation; they’re re-thinking what they’re doing. Recognizing maybe in some of the delivery of their programs they were more involved in a system way of thinking rather than a gift-oriented way of thinking. So, what I’m seeing with this neighborhood association is a deeper desire to, and I know this is an overused term, engage more in grassroots initiatives and to remember where they started.

So, I see them view association where it’s almost a trajectory where they start grassroots, they’re recognizing each other’s gifts, they’re building and slowly and I know this is a term you use, get beyond a human scale, then they start taking on institutional forms. And being connected with the city, they become like us based on proximity. So, they think about efficiency, boards, and policies and procedures, which have their place but at the expense of, sometimes, connecting with their community immediately around the center.

There’s this one association that I had in mind––they’re slowly looking beyond their walls and trying to recapture that community sense and engaging with the neighborhood at large. They’re shifting it, it almost gave them a litmus test. Are we more community driven or more institutionally driven? I was able to also create a resource to have them think through that and where they landed on the scale and that was shocking to them because they were landing more on the institutional side of things and now they’re working towards trying to grasp that community focus.

John: Do you see among the participants themselves that kind of collective shift, a way of being together that’s different than they might have before?

Jon: What I found was interesting that in some of the meetings the language from the book emerged. Someone would challenge a thought utilizing the language in the book. What I found amazing in those gatherings is the power of stories; [people] began to share stories rather than statistics in the meeting. And there are some really cool stories that came out of that.

But then again there’s that shift of their thinking and they’re beginning to analyze their own work and where they’re recognizing abundance and trying to mesh that with their current structures.

John: For everybody who’s listening in the room, how would you start? Here you have a brief simple guy, but how would you suggest somebody where would they look? How would they start? What have you done to get over the line from thinking to acting?

Jon: Well, there’s a couple of starting points. As a supervisor of the City of Kitchener, I was able to bring my team together and say, “Hey, we’re reading this book.” In a sense, I was a bit of a dictator: We’re going to read this. And one of the lines I used with my staff, [is] at the beginning of an initiative sometimes I’ll be a dictator and over the course of that initiative I’ll allow you to topple my reign.

They slowly topple and begin to take over the study on their own. So, when I start the study in that context, it was here’s the book; with the library, we put out some advertisements. We gather those that were just interested in either you two as authors, or in the subject matter and when we would start. One of the things I learned as we did this more and more was that people came with something to give.

I wanted to create space in the study so that if there’s nothing in the book that interests you that you want to share with others, and some nights just people sharing took up the whole night. Other nights we’re really scraping at the bottom of the well, so then we relied more heavily on the guide. So, it’s just seeing the study guide as more like a scaffold and then allowing people to build what they want out of that book study experience, rather than dictating we need to finish chapter one tonight, we better do it.

No, it’s what thoughts are emerging and a wonderful product that came out of that was not only we got a sense of what interests people but they were able to share their stories of community and I think the storytelling was just phenomenal.

Peter: I think you have four centers. Are they of different social-economic status?

Jon: They are.

Peter: And do you think anything you noticed differently based on people’s wealth? Middle-class and this or not middle-class and this or marginalized beings?

Jon: I think in some contexts––and I could also draw my time at United Way is in certain neighborhoods––they can’t look beyond the social service lens.

Peter: The more services there are the more they value the conservation of services.

Jon: Something’s gone wrong in the community, what agency should we bring in? What professionals need to tell us what to do? But I found in the more affluent neighborhoods you have people saying, “Yeah, we’re gonna do this ourselves.” But they’re not cognizant of the fact that they’re enslaved to other things.

Peter: Exactly. Like consumerism. In the lower-income groups, is that where they got angry?

Jon: No. In the more wealthy neighborhoods is where they got angry because in some of those contexts, they are the professionals that are profiting off the needs of the others. So, when we say here “We don’t need you” it opened up another reality.

Peter: They are part of the social-services industrial complex. I think that’s great.  Anything you’ve been disappointed in in the process of spreading this?

Jon: Something that I was disappointed in was people’s time commitment. When we first started, I was like, Okay, we’ll do five sessions. And then when I say, Well, maybe we can extend this a little bit, We’ll do chapter by chapter, attention span was less when we went chapter by chapter because it took a larger commitment based on the participants.

I enjoyed every week if people were coming but just recognizing that people want to commitment for x amount of weeks.

Peter: They want control over the schedule. You know I also wonder, we’re asking people to postpone action for the sake of changing their speaking and seeing. If they jump right to acting––I like your quote it was so beautiful––then they’ll keep speaking and seeing the world as they did. But it’s also delicate as to how long you can do that before you have them do something. You almost need to feed their habits for action. Maybe sometimes before you want to.

Jon: If you noticed later on in the study, I think one of the questions is based on what we’ve read: How then shall we live? Earlier on in my interaction that question made its way to the study based on my experience because it was that you’re delaying action.

We need to think about this, we need to learn how to speak, but then we challenge each other in these studies: How then shall I live? What is something I could do this week to live this out?

Peter: I love that phrase; I would name the study guide “How Then Shall We Live?” And the subtitle is “Put Up with the Abundant Community.” This vehicle, that direction, that question organizes our lives, our life. Whatever stage you’re in and I think that’s so beautiful.

Jon: I think that was an important space to open up to people, saying well, How is this going to change my life tomorrow after this study? Or, how I’m interacting with others?

Peter: And the ones that say it’s not, are your best partners. It has to be placed with a question, otherwise the yes doesn’t mean anything.

John: If you’re getting people to think how religion changes my life that would manifest a sense of abundance in said individual. I was wondering the degree to which you see situations in the various settings where you’ve done this. Where what happens is that an individual then decides to move in some way of bringing other people together to begin this see if we can as group understand what this means and therefore what it means in terms of all of us rather than just one of us. Do you see that happening? Does that emerge?

Jon: I found that emerging when I was doing the work at United Way. The community connectors were gathering people in their community toward a particular action. I found that out in my facilitator team, where it informed our actions, so, for example––I’m just gonna read you from my bulletin board here.

We had a mandate on our wall at every center we have: “Kitchener’s Community Centers are great places that build great communities. Each center focuses on the unique needs of the surrounding neighborhood by offering activities and services for a diverse group of residents. Our community centers are inclusive, diverse, safe, social, accessible and connected.”

And when I met with my team, we had just put these plaques on the wall with the mandate and I said “I noticed that plaque on the wall. How many of you have memorized it?” And no one even knew what it was. So, I said, “How does this mandate mesh with our work and what we’re learning in the book?” So, out of that we said, Okay, what the book is teaching us, and what our mandate is, kind of framed for us how we’re going to develop four practices; in all our work.

The first is, the gifts is a practice. So, when engaging in neighborhoods we will focus on the gifts of residents. That’s going to be our starting point.

Second is the importance of our limits. In our work with neighborhoods we will set limits by asking those three questions: What can residents do for themselves? What can residents do with outside help? What can’t they do for themselves? So that’s classic asset-based needs at the moment.

Then we focus on context. We’ll pay attention to the uniqueness of neighborhoods. And I think that’s something that’s not typically part of the municipal way of doing things. We want consistency. We want something that’s scalable across neighborhoods, but we don’t want to lose that uniqueness of every neighborhood.

And then finally the fourth practice is hospitality. We will show hospitality to the stranger. We will welcome their knowledge and capacities we will seek to create spaces where strangers become friends.

So, utilizing the book, utilizing our mandate, we said, Here is how we are gonna work as a team. So that’s our municipal setting. When I work with neighborhoods, you had this key individual that held on to the language of the book and slowly began to invite others into this vision, into this idea of abundance and really cool things have happened, like art installations in the community. People just being out and about more. Recognizing that rather than hanging out in my backyard, how about I move my activities to the front yard and engage with my neighbors.

So, little things like that [emerged] through this study. I’ve incorporated a practice in my own life where I moved my barbecue to my garage and I’m out front and I’m engaging with neighbors. When it snows, I wait till there are a lot of my neighbors outside then I decide to shovel my snow so I can interact with them. So, it’s these little things: recognizing my community, recognizing my contexts in ways I can connect with my neighbors and I’m finding others doing the same. How can I put my life out there for others to see? How can I share what I have with others and how can they share with me?

There are some instances where there are some larger projects that came out of it and other instances it’s just these little practices that people have incorporated into their [lives], which are connected with their neighbors on a deeper level.

John: One of the things that I hear in what you’re saying is it seems to me very, very often in civic life, when you get together with people in a neighborhood organization or anything that’s called civic, the general culture says our purpose here is to come together to bitch and moan. To complain, to say who’s not doing what they should be doing kind of a thing. And I know from a good many years of work that it’s very hard to get people to shift from that bitch and moan idea of the collective purpose into the kind of world view that’s expressed by your four principles.

I wonder if you have your staff people who operate on the very basis of these four principles. Do you think that begins to shift culture and mode among the people in the neighborhood? Does it spread out beyond themselves so that you’re shifting from a civic definition of the space to a community definition of the space?

Jon: Yeah, I’m slowly seeing that among our staff and even the ideas that are being proposed at the centers. As a supervisor, what I’m looking at doing is expanding to more neighborhood associations that are working with my facilitators to help give them the language. Because I’m also seeing that type where work a facilitator comes in with a particular lens and then maybe an association will think in a particular way so that they begin to rub against each other.

So, kind of just opening up that space we are seeing a slow culture shift where new ideas, where relationships are being built where they weren’t being built before.

Peter: I think what you just said, Jon, [is that] you’re not in a hurry and you’re not captured by scale or consistency and I think those are powerful elements of chosen accountability, chosen change. Because what you’re up again when John McKnight says, people come to complain, well, that’s just a meeting of consumers. That’s what consumers are encouraged to do: every time I buy something they invite me to complain––What can we do to make it better? And so, in a way, you’re doing this with all the seemingly small elements: pick your own sequence, pick your own conversations, if you want to tell your story and it takes all night, you told your story and it took all night.

All those are little acts of shifting away from consumer to citizen, which means that they’re going to meet their expectations. You give them the architecture and you exaggerate when you said you started as a dictator. I would say you just started as someone with a clear intention who wouldn’t be distracted by people’s resistance.

So, let’s stop for a minute. Becky, do we have questions? Should I look at the chat?

Becky: I’m just gonna go ahead and welcome our friend Mac in Cincinnati and we have some questions for Jon.

Mac: Thank you all. I read with interest The Abundant Community email in which you mention your event and I wanted to inquire I want to call it the right thing here.

Jon: The Share Fair?

Mac: The Share Fair exactly. I wanted to know more about that; we’re thinking about working it around Community Blend Coffee Shop.

Jon: So, very briefly, what we encouraged members of our congregation to do was recognize the abundance they have and to declutter their lives. There was a group of families that had loads of stuff. I hate garage sales and I have a long story about that but we said, Here is the stuff that’s in our house that we don’t need––and in some instances things were still in packages that we thought we needed but we never got around to opening it. We invited members of our congregation to come and share that with the community. ‘If you need come and take, and in turn neighbors will come and share their things.”

It was utilizing our possessions as a connector. The goal wasn’t “let me just give things away.” It was “how do I utilize what I have to make a connection with my neighbor?” Nor was it “let’s get a bunch of our stuff, put it in a container and then send it to another community that’s underprivileged.” It was, “no, we’re bringing people together around the things we have, recognizing we don’t need absolutely everything that we own and [wondering] how do we bring people together?”

Ten families did that. We had it on the church yard. We got to know a lot of neighbors and some really cool things emerged out of that.

Peter: How did you structure it so they actually talk to each other instead of wandering around, stopping and picking things up?

Jon: Food is the connector: we had food stations and things for people to do and interact with each other. And when you remove the price tag, your conversation is not about bartering for a better price. You didn’t have to guard it either. You’re out and about, you took, you came, you did without. When we removed that element of commerce we opened up a space for people to connect.

Peter: I love that. Thank you, Mac.

Becky, are there others? I know we’ve got a community engagement manager from the police department in Longmont, Colorado. These are old friends of mine.

Becky: At the current time there are not any additional hands raised but if there are folks who’d like to come on camera and have a question I would love to have those hands raised. In the meantime, we’re wondering, Jon, if you can tell us the name of the author and book that you mentioned at the beginning? One of our listeners was asking about that.

Peter: The speak, see and act book.

Jon: Oh, it’s not one book in particular. It comes out of the work of Stanley Hauerwas––H-A-U-E-R-W-A-S––and his first name is Stanley.

Becky: So, I do have a question from Michelle and she’s wondering if you’d witnessed any positive impacts on those who might be struggling with addiction, mental health issues and or homelessness from these practices and from the transformation that you’re seeing.

Jon: To be honest with you, within the communities we’re working in, we’re slowly moving towards engaging those very identified groups. One of the hopes just before we came on, Peter mentioned, what was my hope for this platform and where does this discussion go? It’s my hope that there’s someone out there listening, inspired by this, will take it on interpret it for their context and hopefully reach those areas that you’ve identified.

I’ve heard stories from other friends that have utilized John’s work and created that space for people with addictions, or [who are] experiencing homelessness, to participate in the life of community and I know one organization who has done that very well is right here in Kitchener. They’re called the Working Center, and [working with] very good friends Joe and Stephanie Mancini, which that’s what they’re all about. How to reduce barriers [to] interactions? How do we get people involved? How do we recognize their gifts? They’re living these principles of the [Abundant Community] book through their organization.

John: Jonathan, she’s asking about the people at the margins and how they might be engaged. You’ve had a very unusual experience when you took over these community centers. There were a lot of people who were called young people who were thought of as being troubling. They’re hanging out in your places and I think your adventure would be instructive if you could give us a brief description of [how you worked with] a bunch of kids, teenagers, causing a lot of trouble from the point of view of the people who run the centers [who asked], How are we going to approach that? Tell us that story.

Jon: My first week of being a supervisor, I got security reports and within three weeks I got 12 security reports pertaining to youths at a particular center. So, I said let me break out of this nine to five work day and I need to start going to the center at night during the time these situations were happening.

The first couple of weeks I just sat with the experience. Staff wanted me to do things: We need to start banning kids, we need to have a structure, we need training. And I’m like, let’s just sit with this experience. And what I was noticing that many of these kids were just coming after school, not eating, not going home for dinner and staying until the center was closed.

I went to my staff, and said, I’m gonna go buy some pizza and then we’ll have a conversation. So, the following week, the kids are going up to the desk. “Is the pizza guy here?”

So, that [continued] week after week. We were having pizza and sitting with their experience and hearing what they were interested in and inviting them to connect with one another and they started to know my name and I got to know their names. And these relationships start to build. And after that, we said, Okay. These kids are gathered with me. How about I start bringing some of my staff members in to build relationships. So then that started.

And this year we tried bringing in community members to come and share their skills with the youths which emerged into this thing called “The Skills Library.” We’re connecting youths and adults and the makers in the community through the sharing of skills and interests.

Out of that experience, I recognize the importance of just sitting in the context and being attentive to what was happening before I acted. It’s really cool [that] things emerged where security incidents have plummeted––I might get one every month or something like that and it’s not always youths that are being the issue. But just that importance of here’s this group that has been identified as a problem rather than a gift to our center and even that mentality has shifted with our team. No one is a problem in our centers: the stranger that we are welcoming [in the means by which] we in turn ourselves are changed.

So, the presence of youths led to the changing in our hiring practices. We have staff people that value working with youths, we have an interest in from local institutions to get involved so slowly we added a lot of experience and really neat things emerged. Again, [it was about] focusing on the experience of the youths and opening up that space for them to engage with one another and an adult who cares.

I found what disarmed this situation was [seeing that] the only interaction they were having with adults was in a policing manner. You’re doing something wrong, now I’m gonna come talk to you. But what we started to do was [in effect say] we’re gonna come and take an interest in you and see what emerges––and great relationships have started out of that.

John: Did you see in terms of what kids are interested in as you think about the neighborhood and the skills people have in the neighborhood? Did you see anything patterning out there?

Jon: What I found was there were some themes and a lot of the kids and a lot of the kids were interested in gaming or sports. I kind of shocked members of my team when I said, there has to be this balance; we can give people what they want. I said, we want kids to make up their minds, but in some instances, they don’t have minds ready for making up. So, what we did was we recognized their interests and it was sort of like hiding the vegetables into the dessert. So, we have them play basketball, they’re playing and then we would add an element of a skill.

So, you play basketball for 45 minutes and then here’s half an hour you’re gonna learn how to sew. One of the guys that was involved in this said, I don’t want to learn how to sew because if I don’t make the NBA it’s your fault.

And I’m like, the chances you make it to the NBA is this much; the chances of you having to sew or repair your pants is a lot higher so you’ll appreciate learning how to sew down the road. So, we were saying, okay what are things you like and how can we slowly incorporate these skills and introduce the youths to things they didn’t even know they like yet?

John: Interesting idea.

Peter: A couple I know started by offering that kind of deal: for every half an hour you play basketball you have to do a half an hour of computer literacy, GED training stuff like that. And after a couple of weeks sitting and listening like you did, they just stopped and said let’s not do basketball or the computer; they actually brought in a relationship building course that wasn’t working very well and they said tell us about your lives and they ended up supporting these kids and making a film about their lives. I think that that what you’re thinking: that evolution from what do you like and when that’s not enough, from here’s what we think will be useful [and] that’s not it, results in a real partnership.

Part of your job I’m sure is to be patient with your staff because it was not what they were trained to do.

Jon: And something that emerged out of that is how do we view youths as beings, gifts, skills rather than becoming. And often times when we look at youths we say, well, let’s put the right things in place for them to be productive adults down the road, rather than what we cherish who they are in the moment and at this stage in their life and [asking] how do we bring forth their gifts and their skills and interests and mobilize them towards a good life?

Peter: That’s a great thought––it’s as if we’ve figured out what it’s like to be an adult. It’s such a funny thing that we offer them the destination of becoming that we’ve hardly achieved. And I think the fact that they are complete beings they have thinking is just real thought and depth of thought of what you’re doing Jon. And you have the stomach to live in an administrative place. With your love of ideas and theology and all this kind of stuff and yet you set yourself in the fire of the market place.

John: And the courage to introduce a different way of being and understanding the local communities in a structured place to manage kids; that’s wonderful.

Peter: You’re giving systems a good name, Jon, now I’ll have to stop complaining about them.

Becky: We have a question, Jon, about who is usually the startup host for starting a movement toward abundant communities in a place? Is it typically local government, a church, a YMCA, a non-profit, a community foundation? Who is usually the instigator of these opportunities?

Jon: I can only speak for my perspective by virtue of me being part of the city or the United Way. I was very much the instigator. But as it begins to spread make note of that there were others who were the instigators and took the idea and emerged in a different way, but the challenge is if you are an institution wanting to engage in this is make sure you don’t enter into this like an institution. That mindset we need to set this goal, there’s gonna be 10 people per session, this is going to be the outcomes that- try not to measure it. As an institution, [you must] open up a space for things to happen.

Peter: And you, as an institutional member, they tolerated your instigation. There’s a lot of people in institutions who say, Well, they can’t handle me and you found a way to instigate and still co-habitate.

Jon: Well, this was the thing that I showed here in that this mandate. I’ve developed this practice of taking the language of the institution and re-interpreting it for the purposes of community. Because in some instances when these things are created there’s a lot of, I like to call it plastic words, right. [There are] things that are open for definition, where it looks good on paper but really have no meaning. So how do we give life to those things and define them in a way that benefits community?

Peter: Another thing that I think must be happening is if I were running one of these centers and I had a bunch of youth problems and there’s this pizza guy comes in my youth problems go away down. I think as a manager of a system, I would be very appreciative of this and begin to think a little differently myself. How do we act in ways that build a community rather than police one?

I know we’re getting towards the end but I think the most profound thing I’ve heard you say today is your four principles. And I wonder because I think it’s so useful that I wonder if could just say those four again.

Jon: So. we have the first is gifts. Always begin with the gifts of residents. And the second was limits, recognizing our limits. Asking those three asset-based needs developmental questions. You know what can residents do for themselves? What can residents do for themselves with outside help? And what can’t residents do for themselves that would require outside help? The third is context, recognizing that every neighborhood is unique and work within those that uniqueness. And the forth is that hospitality piece.

And what I’ve shared with my team is the definition of hospitality is not how do we invite someone in and shape them in a way that they fit into our programs and into our structure, but how do we open up ourselves and welcome the others so that we ourselves are changed?

Peter: Great benediction. Thank you so much.

Becky: I want to make sure I give [Lolaluz] a chance. [Lolaluz] joined us. If you can unmute, if you have a question as we wrap up the hour.

Lolaluz: Good morning from Vancouver, British Colombia. My question is for Jonathan. You are from a faith community and I do belong to another faith community. Now, most of the things we do in our faith community is spiritual, programs and in doctrine and stuff like that.

But I was wondering how you got connected with United Way because that will open doors––it’s not all spiritual, it has to be body, mind, and spirit. So, I would like my community to go along that focus but it has to come from a different angle. So, your being able to be with United Way was very good. I am part of United Way receiving some what you call it, brands, because I’m also part of this Surrey Senior Planning Table so we are with the seniors right and we did connecting with the Generational Gap like the elder with the youth that was being done right now and it’s being productive, but I’m more interested in my faith community getting the same opportunity you had with United Way. So, how was that possible?

Jon: My connection with United Way started well. [When] I got fired from my post. I said to my wife, I don’t want to get in this game where I get sent to another community. I’m very much going to commit myself to our community so I’m going to look for a job within a 50 kilometer radius.

And that’s when I landed with United Way and what I noted was I didn’t divide the spiritual and the material in my thinking. I said, what were the resources that my faith gave me and ?how does that inform what I do in my work” A key as an Anglican priest is the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper which frames my engagement with my community.

Lolaluz: Very much so I agree with you. It can never be compartmentalized:we are one whole body; body, mind and spirit.

So that goes well. Thank you very much and I would like to tell the one who’s doing the chat you are very fast in putting the information right away, the website and all of those. A question is asked and you come out with the Wikipedia and all of that. That’s very good.

Peter: That’s Leslie Stephen.

Becky: Big thanks to Leslie. Thank you, Jonathan, for joining us today for Peter and John and thanks to all of you who have joined us. We want to make sure you know about our next event which is with special guest Marge Spinney and her organization Renting Partnerships.

We’ll be in touch via the Abundant Community newsletter with that upcoming webinar. We hope to see many of you there. Thank you.

Going Further

Home page image: auntjojo

About the Lead Author

Jonathan Massimi
Jonathan Massimi
In his own words: I have a passion for connecting and resourcing those who desire to build healthy and vibrant communities. With close to 20 years of experience in community development I believe if properly guided people can become architects of their own future. My experience has allowed me to work with a large segment of the community, from infants to seniors. I am currently working on my Doctorate where I am learning a variety of ethnographic skills and approaches as a means of analyzing contexts, identifying needs, and determining what type of leadership is needed for the situation. I am a huge proponent of empowering neighbourhoods by identify, encouraging, and utilizing the gifts and assets that are present within particular contexts. One such initiative was the Share Fair where I encouraged those in the community to declutter their homes and give things away. We asked people to bring their items to Grace Anglican Church and place them on the lawn. This event allowed us to clothe many migrant workers, furnish the apartment of an immigrant family, provide single mothers with items for their children, and send multiple items of clothing over seas. This is the power of community! Ordained in 2011, Jonathan has worked more than 20 years in grassroots community development work. He just completed his doctorate in contextual theology and currently works as Community Centres Supervisor for the City of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, and as Parish Missioner for St. James Anglican Church, Paris, Ontario. See these outside sources for a flavor of Jonathan's work: Man of the Cloth Takin' It to the Streets (White at Jesus Is Italian and So Am I (Brant Advocate)

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