“The way we gather matters. Gatherings consume our days and help determine the kind of world we live in, in both our intimate and public realms . Gatherings---the conscious bringing together of people for a reason---shapes the way we think, feel, and make sense of our world.

We spend our lives gathering---first in our families, then in neighborhoods and playgroups, schools and churches, and then in meetings, weddings, town halls, conferences, birthday parties, product launches, board meetings, class and family reunions, dinner parties, trade fairs, and funerals. And we spend much of that time in uninspiring, underwhelming moments that fail to capture us, change us in any way, or connect us to one another.

As much as our gatherings disappoint us, though, we tend to keep gathering in the same tired ways. Most of us remain on autopilot when we bring people together, following stale formulas, hoping that the chemistry of a good meeting, conference, or party will somehow take take of itself, that thrilling results will magically emerge from the usual staid inputs. It is almost always a vain hope.

I am endlessly intrigued by the small and important interventions we can all make to help groups gel. In all my gatherings, whether a board meeting or a birthday party, I have come to believe that it is the way a group is gathered that determines what happens in it and how successful it is, the little design choices you can make to help your gathering soar.

I believe that everyone has the ability to gather well.

You don’t have to be an extrovert.

You don’t have to be a boss or a manager.

You don’t need a fancy house.

The art of gathering, fortunately, doesn’t rest on your charisma or quality of your jokes.

Gatherings crackle and flourish when real thought goes into them, when (often invisible) structure is baked into them, and when a host has the curiosity, willingness, and generosity of spirit to try.”

-My Own Personal SparkNotes version of the Intro in The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

We have 44 days left as Fellows (I mean, but who’s counting right?). In this grand slam finale we have been given mini pep talks on “how to finish strong” and “remain present” and all the good things associated with wrapping up our 9 months left with the ever-prestigious title THE Raleigh Fellows.

When I think about this year, I think of the gatherings. I think of the whirlwind of our first day where our gatherings were filled with introductions and way too many awkward hellos. I think of our beach retreat and singing karaoke and the hysterical laughter that made strangers feel less strange. I think of when we shared our testimonies and heard each other's lives unravel. I think of Thursday night round tables and the questions asked, the discussions had and the shared joy of fitting 13 people around a dinner table. I think of how far we have come from having to explain who we are to each other to now feeling the deep sense of belonging. I think of the birthdays we’ve celebrated, the brunches we’ve eaten, the church services we’ve attended, the homes we’ve invaded, the walks we have went on, the porches we have sat on, the prayers we have prayed, and the people who have graciously and relentlessly let us into their lives.

Jesus gathered His twelve disciples together and each meeting had purpose, meaning, and was driven by love. What if we decided to be fully present in the spaces that we occupy? What if we didn’t just go to work out of routine? What if we looked up from our phones? What if we entered into doors and sat down at dinner tables and introduced ourselves to new people in ways that redefined the art of gathering?

The way we gather matters.