This past Sunday, a dozen Council members for Let’s Go Together in Skagit County, and volunteers from the community, gathered at Skagit Valley College to Eat and Share Stories – the first official event in our Let’s Go Together program (LGT). The purpose of this pilot gathering was to test our strategy and logistics in preparation for much larger community events next spring.
There is a long tradition of sharing food and stories in cross-cultural work. There is a connective and peacebuilding power in sharing a meal and a conversation about our personal lives. All cultures have rituals around sharing food and welcoming strangers for a meal. Being nurtured in this way and sharing the pleasures of Earth’s abundance naturally opens the heart. It is hard to hate someone who is breaking bread with you. Conversations begin to tend toward what we have in common and gratitude for our shared resources.
When we developed the LGT strategy, it seemed logical to begin the process of building cross-cultural relationships with a shared meal and small group conversations. On Sunday night, we tested this first step of the LGT program for the first time. Even though this was a small pilot event (we plan to have a hundred or more guests at LGT events next year) the logistics were complex enough that we were glad to have done this “practice run” with just the LGT leadership Council.
Inviting people from a dozen different wisdom communities to share food and engage in deep personal conversation required thoughtful planning: Which food would appeal to everyone? Would there be a local restaurant that could provide all the catering? How many volunteers does it take to turn a college conference room into a welcoming dining hall, as well as a functional space for some short speeches? How do we ensure security at this by-invitation gathering in a public venue?
Most importantly: Which prompts can we give the group to encourage strangers (or mere acquaintances) from very different walks of life to trust each other, open up about their hopes and values, and also have the conversation feel natural and fun?
By the end of the night, everyone had gone back for seconds and thirds at the buffet. We heard much laughter and saw a few tears. Many were surprised by how close they felt to each other so quickly, how they didn’t want the conversation to end. They said it was lifegiving to be fully themselves in this group, and amazing how quickly the conversation prompts built trust between people.
From an Upper Skagit elder to a formerly incarcerated social worker, to a Lutheran pastor – we all felt part of something bigger. We learned what works well and what to do differently next time when we bring hundreds of community members together to eat and share stories. And we all walked away from that dinner with a lot of hope and encouragement for our work together and for our connection as neighbors in Skagit Valley.
Next Steps for Let’s Go Together
Next Spring, the LGT Council will host three strategic events for participating communities in Skagit County. LGT leaders will invite their communities’ and organizations’ members to gather and Eat and Share Stories, do a Service Project, and Stand in Solidarity at a public gathering.