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APCE workshop helps participants speak the language of grace

It turns out many of us are more willing to give grace to others than to grant it to ourselves

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Evi Odioko via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Last week as part of the Association of Partners in Christian Education’s annual event, it fell to the Rev. Elizabeth Boulware Landes to lead the workshop “The Language of Grace.”

“My goal,” Landes said at the outset, “is to begin a conversation around the word ‘grace,’ — how we embrace, model and teach it.”

Maya Angelou once told Oprah Winfrey grace is “like a lake of drinkable water right outside your door. But you stay inside and die of thirst.”

“I do not understand the mystery of grace,” said the author Anne Lamott, a Presbyterian, “only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

We’re delighted, of course, when people surprisingly show us grace. Landes was leading worship as the guest preacher at a nearby church one Sunday when she realized she’d uploaded the wrong document on her tablet. She was flummoxed for a moment on how to proceed. “The congregation was patient with me and showed me grace,” Landes said. “Nobody said anything about it on their way out the door.”

It’s not easy for us to embody grace in moments where we’ve been hurt or “when we see all that’s happened in the world. But that’s what we’re called to do, to mend and bring about reconciliation,” Landes said.

Participants broke into small groups to discuss where they find grace and where they wished they could find it. Among their answers:

  • “Church is a place where we root for each other.”
  • “What we’d easily forgive in others we beat ourselves up over.”
  • “It’s easier to show grace to children to children than adults.”
  • Grace often means “holding back what you want to say or do and giving God space to say and do.”
  • “Grace is loving our enemies and realizing they need our love.”

“Those are beautiful,” Landes said. “This is embodied grace.”

Leading worship that day, “I was kicking myself. All I wanted to do was run and hide because I had messed up,” Landes said. “I couldn’t give myself grace in that moment. It took a few days to get past that, but everyone around me showed grace and didn’t bring it up at all.”

Participants got to ask questions and share their thinking about grace toward the end of the workshop, which was available both in person and online.

The Rev. Elizabeth Boulware Landes

Asked about the possibility of extending grace in the public sphere — outside of church life — Landes said she didn’t have a specific answer “other than we practice it, we model it, and the more we model it in the world around us and speak up, it’ll start to spread. It’s a really good question” that requires further conversation, she said.

Another participant said that the media we consume “colors our perception. When we see bad things happen, it doesn’t allow us the space to see what’s actually happening.”

It can help to limit the amount of information coming in, Landes said. “If we’re anxious and unable to practice grace,” she said, “it’ll continue to spiral down the other way.”

As the mother of two small children, “I recognize I need five minutes away, and then I’ll come back” to whatever situation requires a bit of grace. She recalls mornings driving her children to school and “apologizing for yelling,” but then adding further explanation to the apology. “I had to work on saying, ‘I’m sorry’ and not elaborating.”

“As we start admitting our mistakes in a way that’s matter of fact, we can practice grace,” she said.

Landes concluded the workshop with a prayer that included these words: “God of grace, we give thanks for opportunities to be here, to grow and learn hand have tough conversations about grace and what it means for us as we receive it from you and share it with others and with ourselves. Amen.”

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