St. Cloud’s Safe Spaces Project: In Search of the Kernel of Truth

Today’s portion of Benedict’s Rule begins at Chapter 3: Calling the Community for Counsel. In her inclusive translation and daily commentary (Liturgical Press, 2021), Judith Sutera, OSB, asks, “Can I try to find the kernel of truth in the opinion of someone with whom I disagree?”

Imagine a community the size of greater St. Cloud (the community surrounding Saint Benedict’s Monastery), where 5,000 people answer that question with a resounding, “YES!”

In an era when all the headlines seem to be broadcasting bad news, I’m delighted to share some great news. Seventy St. Cloud area leaders have made a commitment to create safe spaces for 5,000 brave conversations, to happen between now and June 2022.

I recently talked with Pastor James Alberts, who is leading this initiative. He told me, “We want to have intentional conversations about uncomfortable situations. To learn about each other. Not to convince each other. Not to convert each other. To change the paradigm.”

He’s talking about friendly companionship, the state of being comradely, people on the same team working for a common good. In other words—he’s talking about building community with a primary Benedictine value, listening with the ear of the heart.

Leaders of this initiative understand that listening is an essential skill for society. Listening allows us to recognize important issues and find common grounds for action, and it builds a sense of identity and participation in order to create stable communities capable of implementing important, necessary change.  In response to the need to secure a deeper understanding of the problem of racism and create solutions that lift all residents of central Minnesota, these leaders recognized that the first step has to be to get a majority of central Minnesotans listening to the people with whom they might disagree on some issues, in order to discover what they do agree on.

Certainly those of us who value a Benedictine way of life want to become people who try to find the kernel of truth in the opinion of someone with whom we disagree. Listening, we know, is something we must practice. And Safe Spaces Conversations is an intentional, practical, and community-building way to practice that skill and strengthen our empathy-muscle.

If you live in this area and want to support this initiative by bringing your listening heart to a brave conversation, you can read all about how and why to participate in this article: 5 Good Reasons to Join the St. Cloud Safe Spaces Conversation Project and 7 Steps to Hold a Safe Spaces Conversation.

Text and photograph by Tracy Ritmueller, OblSB