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Accompaniment – Listening Posts

The Riverside Innovation Hub is a learning community made of local congregations who gather together to learn how to be and become public church in their neighborhood contexts. We convene congregations over two years together, shaped by learning and practicing the artforms of the Public Church Framework in each congregation’s unique context.

Accompaniment is the first artform of the Public Church Framework. It is the movement out into the neighborhood to hear the neighbors’ stories. In this movement, we learn to engage and listen to the neighbor for the neighbor’s sake. We’ve simplified and categorized accompaniment into four different practices that help us hear our neighbors’ stories. This blog post dives into the third layer accompaniment, engaging listening posts. 

You can also read more about the other three layers – Understanding Demographic Data and Prayer Walks in the Neighborhood

Listening Posts

Written by Kristina Fruge

Listening posts might just be my favorite element of accompaniment. As someone who is an introvert at heart, but who also prefers to spend the energy I do have on relationships, listening posts offer a soft landing for accompaniment to begin. Listening posts provide an invitation to be fully present and curious about new surroundings while also creating the potential of connections with neighbors in big and small ways. 

A listening post is the term we use to describe the locations that people naturally convene or gather in a neighborhood. This might include the local coffee shop, the ball fields during the summer, a local YMCA, neighborhood association meetings, the local community garden, the town grocery store, the dog park, or even a neighborhood gas station. Your particular context likely has other types of listening posts not on this list, but the common thread is that they function as a sort of hub for people who live, work, worship, pass through or play in that neighborhood to gather and connect. AND, they are great places for listening. Listening posts blend together opportunities for noticing desolation and consolation, as we do in the prayer walks, but also can open doors for one-to-one conversations with neighbors. 

Here is some advice to help you explore the listening posts in your neighborhood. Here is a pdf version of the listening post information that you can print out to share! 

Identify local listening posts. 

Your prayer walk will help you identify possible listening posts! You can read all about prayer walks in our other blog here. Not only can a prayer walk help you locate possible listening posts, but based on your other observations as you pay close attention to desolation and consolation in the neighborhood, you may discover things that you want to learn more about. That curiosity could lead you to a more focused approach in your search for listening posts. 

You also can ask local leaders, business owners or other neighbors who live in the community where they gather. The local librarian may also be a good resource to talk to. One RIH congregation discovered that another community group was facilitating something called Circle Groups in their neighborhood. These circle groups were gatherings where leaders intentionally invited people from different backgrounds into vulnerable conversations about the things that mattered most to them in the neighborhood. The team members from this congregation were invited to participate and were amazed and humbled to be in a place with neighbors sharing from the heart and in a safe place. 

Finally, feel free to use our list as a jumping off point to imagine possible listening posts in your neighborhood. 

Prepare to visit the listening posts and to be a good guest.

Accompaniment in our neighborhoods is an invitation to flip the script on radical hospitality. A young leader we worked with was a part of an RIH congregation that highly valued offering radical hospitality in their space. He wisely challenged his team to explore this question – What does it mean to extend radical hospitality when we are the guest? They took this imagination with them out into their neighborhood, attempting to apply their core value of radical hospitality from the position of guest, rather than host. And we invite your congregation to do likewise as you visit the listening posts of your neighborhood. 

What does it mean to extend radical hospitality when you are the guest in the listening posts of your neighborhood? The answer to this question will vary depending on your particular context and the particular listening post you are visiting. However, humility, curiosity and compassion again become important values to hold on to. The importance of these values was explored in an earlier post on prayer walks which we encourage you to read, especially since participating in prayer walks in the neighborhood will help you discover the neighborhoods’ listening posts! 

However, the summarized explanation is that in all of our efforts to become vital neighbors, we will find ourselves encountering people and places we don’t know or don’t know very well. We will encounter differences between ourselves and others – whether it be racially, religiously, socio-economically, generationally, or across so many other distinctions. We also expect to experience connection as we discover similarities – love of the same local business, or our pets, or our children, or perhaps share similar fears or longings for ourselves and our neighborhoods. Our differences and our similarities are beautiful gifts – they are what makes up a community and can contribute to the mutual flourishing of its members. However, when ignored, dismissed, threatened or undervalued, these similarities and differences can contribute to harm and heartache in our neighborhoods. 

Imagine a time when you have been a guest in someone else’s home or in a context different than your own. How did humility, curiosity and compassion factor into your efforts to be a good guest in those places? Spend time with others in your congregation wondering about how these values help us be radically hospitable guests as you prepare to visit some of the listening posts in your neighborhood. 

Bring some good questions and a goal.

Listening posts are great places to observe and take a pulse on the neighborhood. But hopefully, an opportunity to interact with neighbors as well. If you’re an extrovert, this may be a fun challenge to meet new people but you’ll want to have some questions in your back pocket to help you be a good listener. We’ve shared some of our favorites below, but get creative. 

  • What’s your history with this neighborhood (or this listening post?) 
  • What do you love about this neighborhood? What concerns do you have about this neighborhood?
  • What’s your favorite place in this neighborhood?
  • If I wanted to get to know more about this neighborhood, who would you suggest I talk to? 
  • What is one wish you have for this neighborhood? 

And if you’re an introvert, you may want to consider setting a goal for yourself. Here are some examples:

  • I want to meet three new people, learn their names and one thing they like about this neighborhood. 
  • I want to learn about the history of this listening post.
  • I want to find one person who I can invite for coffee for a one-to-one conversation at a later time. 

One RIH congregation spent several afternoons at a local park that was a listening post near their church. They set up a table with some simple kids games and prizes and had a sign up that simply said, “What are your hopes for this community?” They were truly surprised how many people stopped and visited their table, many sharing their thoughts on this question. And a small number of their interactions went from small talk to strangers sharing stories and opening up about some of their heartaches. The church members reflected afterward about how real the presence of God’s love was in these interactions, despite no talk of God, Jesus or church. It left them wondering about the countless stories they didn’t yet hear in the lives of their neighbors. 

Share, reflect and identify next steps as a team after your visits. 

Finally, after you’ve made some visits with other members of your congregation to local listening posts, plan a time to share about your experiences together. Compare your experiences. Listen for any common themes or surprises that come up across your different experiences. Discuss how these encounters are shaping your next steps, especially as you make plans to do one-to-one conversations with neighbors. 

We often talk about “pulling the thread” in this work, which is a way of talking about how we follow the energy and curiosity this exploration of our neighborhoods sparks. As you think about next steps, specifically potential one-to-one conversations you may want to have, reflect on the threads that are starting to poke through. Maybe it was a surprising encounter or discovery in the neighborhood. Maybe it was a theme you noticed. Maybe someone suggested an organization or local leader to connect with. Allow your reflections as a team to surface the threads you want to pull on as you develop your plans for deeper, one-to-one conversations with neighbors.