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Luther K. Snow and Asset Mapping

By Howard Stringfellow
9 April 2011

This note is unusual in that it looks back rather than forward; rather than advertise a future event, I plan to reflect on one that is past and is memorable for its quality and implications for our life together.

Under the auspices of continuing education at Moravian Theological Seminary, Luther Snow presented in Allentown and Bethlehem on the last Friday and Saturday in March. We advertised the events as much as we could. Fr. Charles Cesaretti, Chair of the Diocesan Renewal Committee, included the presentations in his schedule of events for Renewal in the Diocese. Many clergy and lay people from the Diocese attended one or both sessions—along with many people from other denominations—more clergy on Friday and more lay people on Saturday.

The most striking, memorable, and compelling feature of Luther Snow’s presentations is his solid grounding in theology.  He really believes and trusts in God. He truly stands where he believes. Moreover, his belief and trust in God trump and overshadow the technique of what he calls asset mapping. The technique is valuable, don’t misunderstand, but it is all the more valuable because of his commitment in faith. His commitment and trust in God pervade everything he says whether he is presenting his material or responding to a comment. Every remark opens the door to God’s possibility and future, to God’s goodness and mercy.

I found it very moving for him to conclude a segment by saying, “Let us have a word of prayer.” And what he did then was to read a passage of Scripture, in most cases a portion of a reading assigned to the Sunday before us. He read not dramatically nor in any way that called attention to itself, but he read with conviction and with clarity and understanding. When he finished his passage, he stopped and said nothing but held the moment, held it as a spiritual reality. He broke the moment by physical movement. Having watched people conduct public services for over fifty years and having conducted them myself as an ordained minister for over twenty-five, I do not believe that his presence and obvious connection with the Almighty can be taught or faked. It only comes from being connected. And, we need more of it, more connection with each other and more connection with God. In other words, we need Renewal.  As an aside, I observe that ordination is not necessary to read the Scriptures in public, nor is Baptism necessary, for that matter.

Asset mapping is his term (though he acknowledges mentors and forerunners) for taking an inventory of assets and then combining the assets in creative ways to further mission. The process and exercises for groups to undertake the inventory and combination may be found in his book, The Power of Asset Mapping, published by the Alban Institute and available from the Brazilian River (my cheeky name for Amazon).

The image he uses often in his presentations is the water glass. Is it half-full or half-empty? And his point is that even if the water glass holds only 5% of the water it can hold when filled, a lot is there for God and God’s people to work with.

Asset mapping, then, is called for when the vestry gets to the point of saying, “We don’t have the money we need to open an overnight shelter.” But what resources do you, in fact, have? What can you do with what you have? How can you use what you have to open a door to the kingdom of God for people bumping into walls looking for that door?

Though he would, I suppose, abominate the term, he is a “supply-side” theologian, a Christian who sees enough in her or his daily bread or weekly offering or annual budget to do something to make God known. The water glass, holding something, holds enough to do something. Always. We may not be able to multiply loaves and fish, and convert water into wine, but the loaves, fish, and water can be used in such a way to declare that God gave them to us to use.

Late on Saturday one of the participants said that Luther Snow was to preach the next day at the early service at East Hills Moravian Church in Bethlehem.  Lord, I wanted to be in that number.

Asset Mapping: Strong Together, Mobilizing our Assets in Tough Times

At Moravian Theological Seminary ... Friday, March 25: Luther Snow will work with pastors, judicatory staff, and faith-based agency staff. The fo­cus of the full-day workshop will be The Macro View: Building Partnerships. Saturday, March 26: The focus will be The Micro View: Strength­ening Congregations. This full-day workshop (9:30 AM – 3:30 PM) is for the leadership of local congre­gations – lay and clergy leadership teams. More at http://www.moravianseminary.edu/conted/Spring11/assetmapping.html

By Charles Cesaretti

“Congregations, parishes, and other faith communities face daily challenges to our leadership, orga­nization, and finances,” writes Lu­ther Snow. “But we can choose to focus on God’s blessings. Empow­ering Congregations is a strategy that builds on our strengths, gifts, and assets. From appreciation and thankfulness for these gifts, we are led to connect our gifts with each other to get things done together we could not get done on our own. In the process, we experience the pow­er of being part of something bigger than all of us.”At workshops on March 25 and 26, Luther Snow, the creator of Asset Map­ping, will introduce the pro­cess of asset mapping and train congregational leaders. The Diocese of Bethlehem in partnership with other denominations, institutions, and agencies across north­east Pennsylvania is one of the sponsors of the event.

Snow has 35 years expe­rience in community and group leadership. He’s led grass roots social and eco­nomic development efforts in inner city Chicago, and he’s sparked positive rural development approaches across the nation. He has published three bestsell­ing books, including The Power of Asset Mapping and The Organization of Hope. In faith-based work, Luther has trained leaders of six national denominations and strengthened hundreds of congregations. Luther’s expertise includes community part­nerships, financial strategy, univer­sity engagement, and social enter­prise. He has a BA from Harvard and an MBA from the University of Chica­go. He lives in Decorah, Iowa, with his wife and two sons.

“There are three immediate and general benefits of Asset Mapping that I have seen,” explains Snow.

“First, Asset Mapping helps us to recognize assets, strengths and gifts all around us – assets that are oth­erwise overlooked, taken for grant­ed, unappreciated, or outside our vision.

“Second, Asset Mapping propels us to identify beneficial relationships and build on them in collaborative action. We “connect the dots” and find ways that we can get things done together that we could not get done on our own. We build on af­finities of difference as well as af­finities of similarity, and we build relationships outside our group as well as within it.

“Third, Asset Mapping opens up opportunities for action toward the greater good. As we ‘vote with our feet,’ we give each other permission to follow our own interests as part of the group, and experience an un­folding sense of a larger whole and a greater good. Because we are act­ing together, we shift perspectives, away from ‘us and them’ and toward ‘all of us.’ This wider perspective, in turn, illuminates new assets and op­portunities and encourages us to in­vest further in the group, feeding the positive cycle anew.”

On Friday, March 25, Snow will work with pastors, judicatory staff, and faith-based agency staff. The fo­cus of the full-day workshop will be: The Macro View: Building Partnerships.

On Saturday, March 26, at Mora­vian Theological Seminary, the focus will be: The Micro View: Strength­ening Congregations. This full-day workshop (9:30 AM – 3:30 PM) is for the leadership of local congre­gations – lay and clergy leadership teams. Registration is $20, and in­cludes lunch and snacks.

On Sunday, March 27, Snow will preach at the 8:30 AM service at East Hills Moravian Church in Bethlehem.

See Moravian Seminary Continuing Ed, http://www.moravianseminary.edu/conted/Spring11/assetmapping.html, for more information and registration.