Why Relā? Why Now?

by Harvey Hook

If you’ve been part of The Gathering/Columbus story, anytime during our 25+ years, the switch to Relā, may have taken you by surprise. I’ll explain “Why Relā” and “Why Now,” but first, let me set the stage.

With a clearer vision of my mortality at age 50, I began training for my first-ever marathon. With 100 miles of training under my belt, a daily limp in my painful left knee, and my MRI results in hand, the dream of running 26.2 miles was quickly laid to rest. I had to make a mid-course correction.

Still wanting to scratch my name somewhere on the universe, I embarked on a 48-month journey, full of doubters, dead-ends, rejections and setbacks that ended with my first published book, “The Power of an Ordinary Life,” by Tyndale House. It was a far longer and more arduous redirection of my passions but it resulted in immeasurably greater value for me, and for those who’ve read my book, than ever would have been accomplished by my tired and dehydrated body crossing some marathon finish line in Columbus, Chicago or Boston.

Approaching 60, and with the image of my mortality appearing larger-than-ever in my rear view mirror, I was moved deeper into reflection. I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to become one of the many men that I knew. I didn’t want to become “that guy;” the Upper Arlington, Dublin, or New Albany resident, who was afraid to retire, because his sole identity was wrapped up in his work. That man is still working, tied to the past, and afraid to retire because he is afraid of the future.

In that regard, I’m a blessed man, because I’m not defined by my work, and I don’t have the financial resources to retire. In addition, I believe the possibilities of the future are immeasurably greater than those of our past. What a perfect opportunity to redirect my passions once again, and do what I wanted to do, what was best to do, and what I needed to do. I wanted a future, where I was asked to give my best and where I had to give my best, because that’s the only way one can truly serve God and others.

Sometimes “want to do” and “best to do,” are incompatible. I came across a quote while strolling the sidewalks of Hudson, Ohio with Rita this summer. It had been carved into wood and was suitable for framing. It said, “Just because it’s a bad idea, doesn’t mean it won’t be a good time!” I laughed out loud, because I knew exactly what it meant. You and I both have stories in our past from such choices. They often carry hilarious and sometimes carry painful memories.

But occasionally “want to do” and “best to do” are fully compatible, and it would be unconscionable to ignore the invitation. My story is symbolic of, and parallel to the transition of The Gathering/Columbus into Relā, and our common response to create the future, as best as possible, in the image of God.

So why Relā, and why now?

The Gathering/Columbus has served Central Ohio remarkably well for over 25 years, resulting in changed lives, reconciled relationships and faith-filled beginnings. Our stories are innumerable! Our vision was, and remains: To transform culture through transformed leaders.

However, with an aging, baby boomer core, how could we expect to fulfill our vision? How could we continue as agents of transformational change if we became irrelevant and “aged-out,” tied only to our generation, and tied only to tradition, for tradition’s sake?

We had a choice. The board, staff and I evaluated the options of remaining tied to a model just beginning to fade from relevance, or choose the difficult path to transform ourselves and our programs to reflect the new future. The future of Columbus, central Ohio and the United States is increasingly diverse and global with increasing numbers of women in the workforce and millions of young emerging leaders flooding the marketplace. Our young leaders are genuine leaders and we recognize them as such.

We chose to find a new way, and the new way is Relā. Relā is the perfect vehicle to serve central Ohio as a faith-based catalyst inspiring others to lifetimes of leadership and service. Relā allows the baton to be passed from one generation to another, because it brings the three predominate generations to the common table of conversation, innovation, change and community: Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials.

Everyone benefits in this model. Everyone is challenged to change, learn and grow from one another. It’s a process we call “mutual exchange.” Everyone has equal worth and value and can learn from one another. Everyone is a mentor, we don’t believe in “reverse mentoring.”

We developed a desire for an independent identity that gave equal weight to reaching men and women as well as emerging and racially diverse leaders. Coupled with a rapidly growing global community, the rapid ascent of women into leadership roles and the tsunami of millennials entering the marketplace, Columbus is recognized as an “Open, Smart & Global City.” Our desires were now compatible with the community where we lived, loved and served.

To meet the challenges of the new future we’ve created a NxGen leadership program for emergent leaders designed to stimulate their personal and professional growth. We will equip 1,000 young leaders in the coming years. They will lead the way: in how we do business, launch entrepreneurial enterprise, relate to one another, and care for our community. Our program won’t ask them to wait their turn, or stand in line to volunteer. But these young men and women, will address core systemic needs in our city, creating the sustainable solutions, we’ve long sought.

And when you asked, “What’s next after this big event, we listened:” A series of small, highly engaging, open forums called Relā(te) will arise featuring today’s most inspiring change agents. It will have a seat at the table for you, and your immediate interaction, input, vision casting; and they will be a place for relationships to grow. Our forums will connect business, community and spirit, and become incubators for “doing the good” we all endeavor for our city.

In the end, to serve our city, we must know her and we must love her. Jeremiah 29:7 states: “Seek the shalom and the prosperity of the city to which I have carried you.” The word shalom, when used in scripture is always used in the context of relationships.

Shalom can be defined in many ways. Here are some of the ways that define our desire for Columbus and her residents. Shalom signifies a sense of well-being both within and without. Shalom also means: to be safe, sound, healthy, perfect, completeness, wholeness, peace, health, welfare, wellbeing, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, fullness, rest, harmony; the absence of agitation or discord, a state of calm without anxiety or stress; all associated with the presence of God with His people.

This is our desire for Columbus and central Ohio.

In closing, I don’t believe that you and are I are dice rolled across the gambling table of life by an indifferent higher life form. You and I were created for a purpose that is revealed in our redemptive actions as we love God and love one another. We have been called to an ethic of godly service.

While it’s an unknown future, it’s a hopeful one that we can create together, if we choose to love and serve one another with the same love, that God loves us.

We want to create this future and we want to create it with you.

The question remains, what will you and I do today, in some small way, to change the world forever?

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