Yesterday I went on a Staff Away Day to the Forest of Dean.
Many organisations run them – however they can conjure up images of flip charts, buzz groups and slightly laboured team building exercises or even worse – orienteering in the rain with only a compass and your colleagues for company.
This day however, was quite different. We went to a nice hotel. We were served lovely food. We even managed a cup of tea and scones on the terrace. All very civilised.
But what we mostly did was listen. As ministers together, we listened to each other – our thoughts about the year just gone, our hopes for the year ahead, how our families were doing. We prayed for each other and we thought about the wider Methodist Church and issues that it faces.
Really listening to someone is hard work. How easy is it when someone else is talking, to be checking our phones for a text, or be half-watching the football while pretending to pay attention?
Listening can also be very powerful. How has it felt for the families of the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy to finally know that they have been properly listened to and their stories properly heard?
The Christian writer and thinker Paul Tillich says that “the first duty of love is to listen.” By listening well, we send a message to the person communicating that we value them and what they are trying to say, even if we might not always agree.
Listening is an art, one to be learned and not lost in the world of fast moving information. Listening is also a gift to be offered and received and something that enriches us if we learn to use it well.
(this was first used as a Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Bristol, Sept 14th 2012).