Elizabeth Bierdzycki and Sarah Woolsey are not pastors, and they don’t want to be.
But both have a heart to see their neighbors in San Antonio, Texas begin to walk in relationship with the Lord. The people they wanted to connect with were entrepreneurs. These individuals shared with Elizabeth and Sarah an interest in working towards the common good, so that’s where they began.
Elizabeth and Sarah hosted a series of conversations called Good Brunches where they invited their neighbors of all different faith backgrounds to talk together over a meal about topics like hope, justice and restoration. These topics can be approached from a perspective that is Biblically rooted, yet they are relevant to anyone, Christian or not, who is interested in social change.
The key to having open, vulnerable conversation, according to Sarah, was that these conversations weren’t hosted by a Christian institution; without the labels, there were no assumptions about what everyone came in believing, so people from non-faith backgrounds “still felt really safe” sharing how they felt about the issues discussed—so safe, in fact, that they wanted more.
Getting to Work
Elizabeth says that “to sit at one table, to have a Buddhist, a Christian, an LGBTQ activist, all sitting together talking about hope—there’s just something powerful in that, and of course these people wanted to keep meeting, and of course they wanted to keep fostering community.”
And this is precisely what Elizabeth and Sarah had in mind.
The next phase of cultivating community among entrepreneurs in San Antonio is The Impact Guild, where individuals engaging in “social enterprise and social innovation” could come work in the same space and build community together based on their common experiences as social entrepreneurs.
“People are craving community,” Elizabeth says. “They’re craving real relationships, they’re craving healthy conversations and forums in which to have all of that, and the traditional church is just not a place that they’re going…to search for that.” Good Brunches provided the launching pad for a community where people could express their true thoughts and emotions about real issues, and The Impact Guild is becoming a space where those conversations can grow into closer personal relationships.
The church that Sarah belongs to was given a building as a generous gift, but since they only needed a portion for their office space, they offered to let Sarah use the rest for The Impact Guild. While one goal of this co-working space is to meet a tangible need by offering entrepreneurs a physical workspace and office resources, Sarah says that “the goal truly is community. It’s not just people coming into a space and having overlap because of physical proximity, but that there would be a depth of relationships that are built.”
In addition to giving members access to conference rooms and copiers, The Impact Guild gives members access to a community of like-minded others.
Twice a month during “The Good Hour,” Sarah and Elizabeth invite people to enter a shared space and respond to a simple prompt for open conversation. They might ask people to share about a success or a challenge in their work, or they might ask them to respond to a video about a current social issue and discuss how they would engage the problem.
Rhythms like this “invite people into a greater depth of conversation with one another;” they invite people to be honest and to talk about things that matter both personally and socially. Sarah and Elizabeth take the approach of “being question askers” and “thinking about how to encourage people to both share and listen to one another.”
Elizabeth says this is what unifies their community: it’s “a safe place where people are going to be listened to—genuinely listened to, not talked at, not preached at.”
It’s this willingness to listen, this posture of radical humility, that creates space for the kind of relationship that might lead to a conversation about faith.
Exploring Our Reach
Elizabeth tells the story of a friend who is an agnostic and LGBTQ activist who would never have been in a relationship with a Christian” before being part of a conversation at Good Brunches.
Elizabeth says, “If my friend isn’t willing to set her beliefs aside to listen to me talk about my faith and I’m not willing to set my beliefs aside and [listen to] her talk about how the faith community has hurt her as a member of the LGBT community, then we don’t have a basis for building a relationship.”
This woman is now one of Elizabeth’s best friends, and they meet every week for spiritual conversations. Elizabeth and Sarah aren’t hosting Bible studies or worship services for people who don’t care about Scripture or about God, but they are weaving faith into conversations, sowing curiosity by asking questions and building trust by listening to the answers.
They start by talking about things they know their neighbors care about: Where do you find hope? How can there be more meaning and purpose in my work? They hope that these conversations will lead to a place of talking about faith—as they will if Sarah and Elizabeth answer those questions honestly. Because their own work is motivated by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is a natural platform for sharing that message with the people in the community they are building.
When asked about what motivates her to continue doing this work, Sarah responds, “It’s just the everyday fuel of the actual faces and names and people we’re getting to interact with.”
She tells the story of a young woman who recently held her first solo art show in the co-working space. Sarah describes how powerful it was to see this artist “coming to life and being excited that she’d already sold a couple of pieces;” she says, “It’s not about selling the art,” but it’s about seeing her “feeling empowered and engaged and drawn out in her passion.”
The physical space is a resource that not only enables people to succeed in the work they love but also weaves them together in a community that celebrates that success. Sarah and Elizabeth hope that the Impact Guild continues to grow into the kind of community where members build each other up as in the body of Christ.
They have embarked on a journey of answering the question, “How can we engage the people that would never want to walk into a traditional church on a Sunday morning, with the same idea of the lifestyle of Christ, but in a way that feels more approachable and relatable to life, real life?”
By adopting a humble posture of listening, they have taken the first steps toward shepherding their neighbors into an identity as a community and an identity in Christ.
Kaya Prasad is FXUS's summer intern and a student at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. Her home base, though, is actually Richmond, Virginia. She's currently working on a Bachelor of Arts in Global and Community Development at Grinnell and hopes to pursue a career in local development work and Christian church mission and ministry.