Rising up does not mean having power over but, rather, having power with. Mary Parker Follett, a social worker who in the early 20th century became a management theorist and consultant, helps us understand the difference: “Power over is a traditional relationship in which one person has power over another person, or one group over another group, or one nation over another nation.” Having power over involves dominance and coercion, and it usually means the most powerful get their way whether it is best for the other or not. This kind of traditional scenario is marked by polarities — winner/loser, good/bad, right/wrong. In contrast, power with is relational and mutual, says Follett. “It creates new possibilities from the very differences that might exist in a group.” Within this posture is the potential for co-creative power where something new can be generated to benefit both, and hopefully all of creation.
By adding the word “together” to the theme of the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering ― Rise Up Together — we were making a statement about our church’s preference for the power with posture. Our church calls it accompaniment, and it is the way we are in mission in the world.
Accompaniment is defined as walking together in a solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality. The ELCA lives out accompaniment in its relationships with more than 80 companion churches, striving to share God’s love and participate in God’s mission together. Our relationship with those companion churches is marked by mutuality, inclusivity and vulnerability. We will enter Detroit this summer with the same posture, a power with posture, and in the sacred space of that relationship God will be active, as we co-create something new and hope-filled with the people of Detroit.
In her book “The Deepest Wound,” Linda Crockett says, “Accompaniment goes beyond solidarity in that anyone who enters into it risks suffering the pain of those we would accompany. Accompaniment … does not necessarily share the assumption that we can fix, save, or change a situation or person by what we do. It calls for us to walk with those we accompany, forming relationships and sharing risks, joys, and lives. We enter into the world of the one who suffers with no assurance that we can change or fix anything … . Accompaniment is based on hope despite evidence that there is little reason for optimism.”
It is the hope of the resurrection that ELCA youth cling to as they serve throughout the Detroit metro area. In light of the resurrection of Jesus, and together, young people will be strong in their vulnerability and empowering through self-emptying. That is the posture of accompaniment.
It isn’t about the work we accomplish, although that is helpful; it is more about the relationships established in the process of doing the work. Young people will courageously risk suffering the pain of those whom they meet, as well as share their joys. In the space of those relationships, which are made possible by the sharing of power, God will act, new possibilities will be created, and lives will change. The whole creation will be blessed.
A question I hope young people will consider when they return home is how our dependence on relationships of power over can be diminished.