Inspiring ‘Meno’ for the Long Haul

By Rita Bergsma  |  February 13th

My love for hockey started young, playing on the pond with my six brothers and determined to be as good or better than them. Skates were hand-me-downs, sticks had plastic blades shaped to just the right curve, and nets were boots. Those were great times - memorable times.

When I was about ten, things changed for a time. I clearly remember my friends asking me why I wore boys’ skates. I suddenly felt out of place and unsure, uncomfortable with who I was in the moment. I wanted comfort and I wanted to fit in with my small group of peers. I decided to talk my parents into buying me a pair of girls’ figure skates. It took me one pond hockey game to discover that girls’ skates were the wrong fit for who I was and how I could learn best. Even today, I appreciate the opportunity that I had to learn that ‘comfort’ amongst others is not necessarily a good space to always be.

I wonder if my experience exemplifies the essence of what we struggle with in our work to develop unity in our organizations. Things have shifted in society, and we find ourselves in uncomfortable and difficult conversations with others more often. We may even feel that unity within our communities has become elusive or even slipping away.

I wonder if unity as a goal on its own is the best fit for our school communities. Andy Wolfe and Lynn E. Swaner in their book Flourishing Together draw attention to the Greek word ‘meno’ which means abide. They explain that it includes the relational connotation to remain, to stay, and to endure. Perhaps merging unity and ‘meno’ gives insight into what we ought to be striving for. They go on to say, “When we think about the implications of ‘meno’ for a wider ecology of flourishing together, the kind of relationships to which schools, educators and students are called together are enduring, interdependent, inclusive, and serving – all building toward a school community characterized by shalom.” In our intertwining relationships with others as part of our school leadership, do we need to learn, model, and teach others how to abide with one another, to be present for the long haul? Is that not the essence of the grace gifted each one of us in Christ Jesus? I wonder if developing a culture of ‘meno’ must come alongside or even be a precursor to redefining unity in our communities today. Is this a better fit for who God has created us and calls us to be as an organization?

The issues of today can be polarizing and worry us as leaders. We see people gravitating towards others who are like minded and drawing lines in the sand. Mindsets are fixed before collaboration even begins, community members are ready to leave when discussion gets tough, and emotions run high. It has been a “we against them” society for some time now and it threatens to creep into our schools if it has not done so already. We see it all around us, aggravated by social media and television, both of which seem to just stir the pot and pit opposing views against one another. It’s into this space that we are challenged to welcome debate and ideas that create a healthy forum of ‘uncomfortable’; to discuss, grow, and learn from one another. It’s a mind and heart shift from a self-oriented and in many ways self-destructive posture to one of ‘meno’ – “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:4) And so, we are called to lead our communities to abide in Christ and in one another as we grapple with the result of sin in a broken world. It’s easy to walk away and harder to endure together for the long haul.   

Lynn and Andy remind us that, “If there is no journey together, there is no conversation. Without conversation, any individual learning remains bottled up and unshared. When we go together, we hear different voices, give time to others’ views, and escape our own echo chambers.” Andy Stanley reinforced this idea of our own echo chambers being an unhealthy long-term space without challenge when he commented at the August Global Leadership Summit that “if our religion is a tool that we use to get our way unity is the number one enemy of the church or organization.”  Intuitively we understand that collaboration and debate is healthy and yet still wonder if the issues of today are just too big, too polarizing for us to do well.

There are skills that we can learn and utilize to promote a more unified school environment where staff, students, and parents are working together. We know them and we use them as effective tools, yet wonder if they are enough. I keep coming back to the place at the foot of the cross, this place of ‘meno’, where Christ abides with us and in us and so we are to abide with others. It flows out of our relationship with Him, challenges our own attitudes and biases as leaders, and humbly allows us to begin conversations and build relationships. For the sake of God’s kingdom and our schools, it is imperative to challenge and dig deeper to seek understanding with our staff, students and broader communities. Quoting Andy Stanley, “We are not left or right. We are Christians, partisans of a brand-new King, not changing religion, but allegiance.” The work is beyond difficult at times and recognizes that God is the author of all that we do. We are reminded to humbly ask time and time again, ‘What does love require in this situation with these people with this issue?’ And then, be prepared; the answer may not be what we want or expect to hear.

I was required to ‘uncomfortably’ endure those figure skates for several years.  It’s still a great reminder to me of a journey that has taught me the best lessons in ‘uncomfortable’ situations with people I didn’t necessarily agree with or understand. I was challenged to listen and grow. Unity is fleeting and without substance unless we are willing to learn to ‘abide’ in relationships steeped in grace and willing to find understanding in God’s Word together. The figure skates of my youth, long since traded for hockey skates, remind me to find the right fit and to strive to meld unity and ‘meno’ as we tackle some hard questions in community. Cultivating a culture of ‘meno’ brings to mind more questions than answers. I am comforted in the knowledge that our individual and collective stories are not our own. We journey together in God’s story.   


Rita Bergsma is the Seaway Valley Cohort Leader and Principal at Community Christian School in Metcalfe, Ontario.