“Culture can never be assumed,” Mimi Dixon reminded the Renovaré staff and board at a recent retreat. “You have to tend the garden. You have to fight for it.”

Every January our board and staff gathers in retreat to connect face-to-face, to worship, to pray, to plan, and to dream together. As we began together last week, our focus was on culture. Margaret Campbell started the session on Monday night with the fun fact that “culture” was Miriam-Webster’s most looked-up word in 2014.

So, what is culture?

Renovaré’s president, Chris Hall, teaches the group at the 2017 Board and Staff Retreat.

Our old friend Miriam-Webster tells us that culture is “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.” Families have a culture, communities have a culture—organizations have a culture, too. And culture is made up of some things outwardly visible and some things unseen. We may come to think these unseen things are intuitive, but they need to be intentionally nurtured or they will disappear.

What is Renovaré’s culture? No better person to ask than our founder, Richard Foster, who was in attendance. Richard’s early decisions with Renovaré formed our culture and so continue to shape our vision, our structure, and our core values.

One of the key components of our culture is storytelling. And so Richard sat down to tell us the story of how Renovaré began. Like Archimedes, he looked for a place to stand; for Renovaré, that foundation was actually the highest possible Christology, which is central to all that we say, think, plan, and do. Breaking from Classics into a circus metaphor, Richard recalled how Christ is the great center pole of our tent; other poles may be important, but they can fall and the tent will still stand, as long as the center pole is in place.

Richard also exhibited and elicited another essential aspect of the Renovaré culture: laughter. From his fierce enthusiasm for the “cup game” (too complicated to explain here), to memories of the Swedish “dancing” of late Renovaré giants like Bill Vaswig and Roger Fredrikson, Richard had our sides aching.

Carolyn Arends leads worship with Chris Hall, Brian Morykon, Mimi Dixon, Margaret Campbell, Richella Parham, and part of Richard Foster pictured.

The Renovaré culture, then, is marked by a desire to take Christ seriously and ourselves lightly. Richard recounted his determination, in the early years of Renovaré, to flout every established model for creating a successful organization. How else, he asked, could you explain the selection of a strange Latin name (complete with a gratuitous accent mark over the terminal ‘e’) that made people tend to assume Renovaré was an air conditioning repair company? Armed with nothing more than a singular laser printer and some good friends, Renovaré set about eschewing any culture of celebrity or empire, deliberately taking the road less traveled.

And what a group of pilgrims ended joining Richard on that road! Renovaré slowly formed a diverse ministry team—people willing to join the great cloud of witnesses by immersing themselves in the devotional classics of the past two thousand years. In this way, Richard hoped, perhaps Renovaré could help bring the Church to present day churches, and invite individuals to the “great conversation about the growth of the soul.”

Each person who joined the team would be someone who was him or herself in renewal. From the beginning, Renovaré invested deeply in these relationships—and we still do. We go together to work together. Everything else is peripheral.

Richella Parham (foreground), Mimi Dixon and Jon Bailey (hugging), and Margaret Campbell (background).

Of course, our culture also consists of the visible things: morning and evening prayers, revisiting old books, communal spiritual practices. And our desire is to carry our culture into all the projects we’re working on—our web content, podcasts, events, Book Club, Institute, Community Initiatives, and everything else God seems to be incubating in our community.

“A strong culture can have powerful consequences,” Margaret reminded us last week. We praise God that, under his grace, our vision is clear and our spirits are renewed. And we pray that he might continue to empower us to cultivate the kind of culture that can bless others.

Now Underway: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? First, choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

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