A fortnight with Vocari

The main purpose for Shannon’s return to San Francisco was to work with Vocari – a community of Christian business people who work in the Bay Area. Having met them in May, and talked about the TI, they wanted to hear more and see for themselves how it worked, so this trip was an opportunity to do just that.

Over a period of two weeks, the Matryoshka Haus team met with different elements of Vocari at a series of gatherings, meetings and workshops. Many of these took place at the Vocari Hub in Pleasant Hill – a new space where community events take place, but also a working space for a range of businesses and organisations.

Our first interaction was at their regular Friday evening drinks, where we were able to tell a little of the Matryoshka Haus story and give a small taste of what the TI involved. We also learnt that Vocari know a lot about good wine (there’s even a wine storage centre next door) and good food – both are valuable qualities in business and community!

At their monthly hub lunch the following week, we had the opportunity to present the TI to a whole range of business people, philanthropists and social entrepreneurs. Thanks to a conversation the previous Friday, we were able to put our words into action immediately afterwards, by running a TI with one of the Hub’s tenants – the Center for Bio Ethics and Culture. It was a fun, but intense afternoon. Discussion was fuelled with Cadbury’s chocolate all the way from London, and some more of the excellent wine that Vocari seems to have an endless supply of!


A few days later, we were back at the Hub to conduct a ‘fishbowl’ of the TI with the Vocari team – ‘fishbowl’ in that the first phase of the process could be observed by anyone who was interested. If the level of noise was anything to go by, the team had a great time engaging with the TI! Cadbury’s chocolate came in handy again, as a prize for whichever team chose their indicators the quickest (which proved to be an amazing motivator). It was particularly exceptional to see so much energy, given as the exercise had begun at 9am on a Saturday morning.

Vocari TI

The work didn’t end even after Cathers and I returned to London. Shannon met with other groups based at the Hub, ending her Californian trip with another Friday evening event there, entitled: ‘Making Stuff Happen’. The idea was to share some of what Shannon and Matryoshka Haus have learnt about making ideas tangible and getting them off the ground – and judging by some of the feedback I’ve seen, it went pretty well!

Working with the people who make up Vocari was a real privilege for us. Not only did we connect with lots of different businesses and organisations on a professional level, we also made new friendships – there are even two couples who have already paid their deposits to join the next Chateau Duffy trip! Being hosted by Brad and Lynn Smith was a joy, they made us so welcome in their home and it was great having the opportunity to get to know them – we’d be happy to return the favour in London one day! Massive thanks also need to go to Wayne, Jesse and Rod for all their hard work on the programme too. (Jesse needs to be particularly thanked for his awesome Downton Abbey impressions!)

Thanks Vocari! We look forward to working with you again very soon!

Matryoshka Haus meets Apple

September 10th was a big day for Apple. Forget the launch of the iPhone 5S and 5C, much more important was the arrival – several hours after the launch had ended – of three Matryoshka Haus representatives at Infinite Loop 3.

Infinite Loop, Apple HQ

On her trip to San Francisco back in May, Shannon had met Dr Ernie Prabhakar – a member of Apple’s ‘Evangelism’ team. (Not evangelism in the Christian sense, more in the Apple marketing sense.) Our meeting was an opportunity to reconnect; to share more about the TI; and to hear some of Ernie’s many thoughts on the interaction between business and faith. It turned out to be a fascinating conversation that could have lasted a lot longer!

We arrived just as Apple’s ‘cookie happy hour’ was beginning (we decided all employers should instigate such an afternoon feature) and our discussion took place over cookies in the tranquil gardens that all the Infinite Loop buildings surround. If this blogpost chronicled every bit of wisdom that Ernie came out with, it would be an essay, but here are some quotes:

“Heretics are the church’s innovators.” And we need to be inspired by the history of theologians, rather than imitate it.

“The scarcest commodity in modern society (in Silicon Valley) is moral authority. In organisations, the biggest commodity is trust.” 

“Imitation without Iteration is Mockery. Iteration without Improvement is Ritual. Improvement without Metrics is Luck.”

All three of us left with plenty of food for thought and feeling encouraged that someone working in such a massive global company had seen and appreciated the value in what we’re involved with.

Cathers' Apple name badge

You can read more of Ernie’s thoughts on theology and mission on his blog.

Making connections in California

It often feels as though there isn’t a place on earth where you cannot find friends of Shannon’s. It’s great to be welcomed and hosted by strangers who quickly become friends – the mantra “a friend of Shannon’s is a friend of ours” certainly holds true!

In San Francisco, we had the privilege of re-connecting with Mark Scandrette – who Shannon first met back in the late 1990’s. In 1998 he moved to the city to pioneer Christian community and became one of the founding directors of ReIMAGINE – a ‘center for integral Christian practice’. There are some similarities with Matryoshka Haus, such as an emphasis upon transformation and sharing life together, and the holding of regular learning labs (although theirs are a little different to ours).

With Mark Scandrette

Over excellent Mexican food in the Mission neighbourhood of San Francisco, we shared some of our work and vision with Mark and his colleague Danny – it’s fantastic to find people we have so much in common with, so many thousands of miles away from London! Should you ever find yourself in San Francisco, we can highly recommend El Metate on Bryant Street – especially their Tostado salad. I get the impression that Mexican food is to the mission what curry is to the East End…

Tostado Salad

Matryoshka Haus in California

Last week, the London community had to bid another fond farewell to Shannon, as she left British shores for a 2-month long trip back to the US. During this trip, she’ll be visiting California, Tennessee and Texas, meeting with supporters, sharing the work of MH and working with the TI.

The first leg of her journey was to San Francisco, where the SOCAP (Social Capital Markets) conference was taking place – an ideal place to share the work of MH and to re-connect with old friends.

SOCAP 2013

Cathers and I (Liz) have joined Shannon in California for the next phase of the trip – a week of meetings and gatherings with the Vocari community. We’ll be engaging with the community around the TI under the theme of ‘cross pond pollination’ at a series of events.

The first few days in California have already included many great meetings and connections – here’s to many more before our return to London!

Golden Gate bridge

Greenbelt: Life Begins at 40

Greenbelt is a major fixture in the British Christian calendar and this year saw its 40th birthday. A four-day festival of music, arts, literature, theology and worship, it attracts people from all backgrounds and traditions and from across the UK. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with old friends, hear some great speakers and musicians, as well as experiencing new things.

Ivy & Ronnie

It was great to catch up with Ivy & Ronnie (and their parents) after they joined us at Chateau Duffy last spring.

Last year, a small number of Matryoshka Haus people camped together – this year there were more and it seemed as though we’d been a lot more intentional in making this a community event. Shannon spoke at the CMS Kitchen, Caz was busy filming, Liz wrote reviews for the Church Times and the others made the most of a varied programme (and a very well-stocked beer tent – the Jesus Arms).

Cathers dancing to F&F

Cathers gets into the groove, accompanied by Fat & Frantic.

The great things about Greenbelt are the people you meet and the discussions you end up having. A testament to the thoughts provoked was the debate that continued in the car all the way home, after thought-provoking talks on feminist theology as well as experiences of the atheist ‘Sunday Service’. It was a great time of networking as well as having some quality time all together, away from the usual pressures of London life.

As an added bonus, the weather was pretty well-behaved, with no repeat of the quagmires of last year!