Escaping the Echo Chamber

In the early stages of our journey towards starting City Collective we had two incredible individuals - Mitchell & Sancia Toth - a part of those beginnings. We love them dearly and wanted to create a space for them to share one of the things that they were advocates for in our identity as a church - conversation.  

  photograph by Shari + Mike

photograph by Shari + Mike

 
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The world is an ever-growing echo chamber, and healthy conversation seems to occur at a decreasing rate. Facebook labels you according to your ideals and political stances, primarily showing curated content that lines up with your own beliefs. We are quick to join churches, clubs and social media groups of like-minded individuals who think the same way we do. Our beliefs are increasingly affirmed, leaving little room for other people (or even ourselves) to question them. The echo chamber unfortunately prevents us from leaving room for the stories and opinions of others, and as a result, engaging in conversation is becoming more important than ever.

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We had the incredible privilege of being a part of the City Collective team in its very beginnings, before it was public, before the location had been decided, and before any of the structures that now exist had ever been put into words. Over the past nearly three years it has been those eventual words that have shaped us, challenged everything we believed, and in turn carved out relationships that we now hold so dear.

We believe that words possess incredible power. They are one of the most beautiful ways we can communicate what is taking place in our thoughts and hearts. They can inspire, shed light on a new way of thinking, and also be incredibly hurtful. In a desire to be transparent, we can honestly say that we experienced all of these in early conversations with the City Collective team. That being said, we are truly delighted that this was the case.

We both craved a space where we (and others) were welcome to bring our questions, doubts, and potentially controversial perspectives.

Conversation was one of two words that we couldn’t shake when Jason asked what we valued the most for City Collective. We both craved a space where we (and others) were welcome to bring our questions, doubts, and potentially controversial perspectives. We desired to gather with people who would be willing to dig into these things without judgment or an obligation to have answers. What we didn’t realize was that our living room in Calgary would become the birthplace of what we hoped would exist within the four walls of the new church in the lower mainland.

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The definition of conversation is “the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words,” and it was an honour to navigate some incredibly hard conversations with the City Collective team. As we have reflected on our time of involvement, we both agreed that our favourite team meeting was the also hardest. Over the course of our first planning meetings it became quickly evident that despite our shared beliefs, both in our faith and overall vision for the church, there were a lot of underlying questions, perspectives, and doubts below the surface. We were six individuals who had different church experiences, each with something unique to bring to the table. And to be frank; we hadn’t mastered the etiquette of healthy conversation. For this particular meeting we had agreed on an evening of honesty; asking hard questions, and sharing our thoughts and beliefs on some of the most controversial church topics. There were moments of defensive silence as ideologies were challenged, statements were made more rashly than necessary, and there was no shortage of tears.

In many circumstances it would have been much easier to walk away, to leave our questions unanswered and gravitate towards individuals we knew would share our thoughts exactly. Instead we gathered with our hearts in our hands, forcibly humbled by the vulnerability required to risk sharing our greatest doubts. In those moments we realized that we required an openness to actually hear what others were trying to communicate without judgment or fear. It was incredibly hard, and yet it was this evening of conversation that gave us hope. Our desire for City Collective Church to create space for conversation had come to fruition in its very foundation, and as a team we fought to maintain unity despite our differences.

Over time these conversations became easier. We had all taken the risk of exposing our ideas, thoughts, and beliefs to one another, and were quicker to speak because we didn’t fear a negative reaction. As we realized we could learn from one another, we were more eager to listen, and our respect for the voices of our team members grew immensely.

In those moments we realized that we required an openness to actually hear what others were trying to communicate without judgment or fear.

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As you enter into conversation of any kind, we would encourage you to consider the following:

If you are entering into a conversation with the sole intention of persuading the other participant, you really aren’t engaging in conversation at all.

That being said, don’t be afraid to kindly voice your opinion and let your perspective be heard.

Be careful not to craft a response before the other person is done speaking. This can likely come from a subconscious belief that your voice is more valuable than theirs. Being aware of this habit can be a healthy self-realization that creates opportunity for you to grow in both humility and empathy.

That being said, speak your mind. Entering the conversation from a mindset of inferiority can keep you from practicing honesty. Your voice is equally as valuable.

Entering the conversation from a mindset of inferiority can keep you from practicing honesty

Risk is involved. Entering into a conversation can pose a risk to your beliefs and there is a chance that you could leave with new doubts or a different perspective.

That being said, a conversation may also provide an opportunity for your existing beliefs to be strengthened.

You have to care about the person you are engaging in conversation with more than the words that come out of their mouth.

Both parties are equally broken, and each will get things wrong. Both parties are equally deserving of grace and the opportunity to grow. Neither should be written off because of a specific belief.

Changing your mind on an issue or belief isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness or an indication that your faith is wavering and instead can be a sign of growth.

Similarly, allow your pastors and leaders to be exposed to different ways of thinking, and don’t be afraid when they have tough conversations themselves. Although you may perceive their apparent neatly packaged beliefs to be unchanging, it is likely that they are experiencing questions and encountering new perspectives just like you, and that is okay.

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As we watch the City Collective team continue moving towards the official launch in Langley, we have such confidence in the spaces they are creating for conversation. They are familiar with both the challenges and beauty that can take place within those spaces, and are ready to welcome you to the table.