Steven Dry is the winner of the 2017 Laity Address Challenge.
Dry is the Metro Boston Hope District Lay Leader, and was a member of the delegation to the 2016 General Conference and Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference. He serves on the Conference Board of Laity and the Connectional Table.
The challenge winner is asked to speak on the Annual Conference theme and/or the guiding Scripture. This year’s Scripture is “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” – Psalm 137:4 (NIV).
Being able to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land, Dry said, requires looking at this passage from another point of view. Dry used the story of Jon Feinman, CEO of Innercity Weightlifting
, to illustrate.
Innercity Weightlifting is a Boston organization that trains formerly incarcerated men to be personal trainers. Feinman’s plan was to train these young men to become amazing athletes who would be able to earn athletic scholarships to college, and possibly try out for the Olympics.
“And when he finally got things set up, the method was a complete flop,” Dry said. “His idea simply didn’t resonate with the community he hoped to serve.”
Read the full address
Feinman was forced to re-examine the situation. When listened, he learned that the young men he was trying to help couldn’t plan a future because they lacked a sense of hope.
Like Feinmen seeking to learn about his community, Dry asked members to reconsider this Scripture passage: “This time, listening to the Babylonians before pre-judging their intentions.”
It’s a pretty standard interpretation for us to empathize with the Israelites in the story, he said, but there are problems with that:
“First, the idea that we can only worship in Jerusalem does not allow us to creatively think about the evolving form of the church … Second, the anger of the Israelites leads to a demonization of the other,” he said.
He read the passage again: “By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there, we hung up our harps. For there, our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’”
“The tormentors are asking for joy and for songs of Zion,” Dry said. “We can imagine that perhaps these Babylonians, like the men Jon works with, are actually deeply in need of hope and something more in their lives. … these Babylonians are authentically looking for something.”
“If we are quicker to listen than to sing, then we can start to hear the needs of the community,” Dry said. “We can start to hear the songs of Zion in a foreign land.”
Dry said there is hope and a lesson for the Church in the story of Innercity Weightlifting.
“What we learn from his work and others is that our intentions cannot come first,” Dry said. “Like Jon, our listening has to happen outside the walls of Jerusalem; our solutions have to come out of real needs from the community, not the traditions we established in the church; and we need to be open to the possibilities that the Spirit brings.”
Dry said: "If we are too focused on what we ‘do best’ instead of what people need most — then we need to be open to re-evaluating our methods."
How do we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? Dry’s answer was simple: “We listen.”
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar nominated Dry and he was one of 20 young adults (ages 18-35) chosen by the Council of Bishops Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships
(OCUIR) for the Ecumenical Plunge.
The Ecumenical Plunge is a two-year formation opportunity. The first year will include a pilgrimage to the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey
and Taize (which will coincide with the NE Taize pilgrimage July 17-31, 2017
). The second year will include a pilgrimage to a global interreligious site of each participant’s choice.
Dry is a management consultant for a technology and innovation firm, and, by night, the founder of Catalyst, a spiritual innovation hub in Cambridge, MA. He holds an M.Div. from Harvard University and a B.S./B.A. from Emory University.
Dry is a member of Harvard-Epworth UMC in Cambridge, MA. He is the son of the Rev. Leigh Goodrich, a New England Conference elder who serves as Director for Education and Leadership for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.