A Meaningful, Multiplied Matryoshka Haus Thanksgiving! Part 2: Recollections from the Celebration

I mentioned in Part 1: Backstory that I expected to follow up on that big picture of Matryoshka Haus’ origins and overall direction with a post more specifically about the Thanksgiving celebration. Part 2 is that post. (And, when more details about the three sibling non-profits are available, I’ll add Part 3 with that news and some thoughts on what it could mean for MHaus’ future.)

*          *          *          *          *

How best to convey the ambience and significance of the Matryoshka Haus Thanksgiving? I thought about this off and on for a few weeks, and decided to share the flow of the overall framework, punctuated by photos, some scans of the program brochure, and a few personal recollections.

*          *          *          *          *

The Setting and Overall Program

SETTING. The purpose of Matryoshka Haus involves “working to see hope, justice and restoration transform our world.” Since a vision for transformation and restoration drive MHaus, it was meaningful that the venue for this year’s special celebration event was St. Ethleburga’s Church in Bishopgate, City of London. This setting itself served as a poignant place of reflection.

In 1993, the building of this historic Church of England congregation was bombed by the Irish Republican Army. The building was eventually restored, and reopened as a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. They present themselves as “a maker of peace-makers,” and work in the arenas of peace and faith, global issues, and leadership. What better place to host a gathering of those who’d been touched by the transformative communities and ministries of MHaus?

[Click on images for larger-sized versions of the program brochure pages.]

THE DAY’S PROGRAM. The Thanksgiving celebration was scheduled for 3 PM to 10 PM. The plan for this 16th annual event included three parts:

First was an informal time for connecting with one another and enjoying festive drinks, such as eggnog.

This was followed by a formal “ritual” time together as a community.

Then came an American-style Thanksgiving meal with conversations both at the tables and roving around the room.

It was wonderful! I particularly appreciated the many opportunities the day provided me to connect face-to-face with about a dozen people whose work I’d interacted with – many of them, for years, but we’d never met in person. They included pastors and interns, artists and academics, non-profit board members and friends’ extended family members. We’d become acquainted through our parallel work in church planting, cultural creative, and/or social entrepreneurship endeavors. Perhaps we’d only heard of each other, but more likely we’d emailed or Skyped or dialogued on social media. And now we got to solidify a name-to-face connection! It’s a great feeling to establish and expand one’s global family.

*          *          *          *          *

Ritual Reflections:

The Land, The Fray, and The Sea

At the edge of the land there is a fraying and a fragmenting where the land meets the sea. Everything by the sea becomes frayed, by salt and wind, by melancholy and memories. But when the sun shines and the crowds come, the ragged edges are less discernible and the beach becomes a democratic space where we eat, sleep, think and recover …

SHELTERED HARBOR AND SHIP’S JOURNEY. I have a fun story about my connections with ships and shores. The first time Dr. Spencer leaned the dentist’s chair back with me in it, forcing me to gaze at the ceiling, I knew instantly that he’d be My Favorite Dentist of All Time. Why? He’d put cool posters on the ceiling, so we patients would have something intriguing to look at while in the often unpleasant position of reclining and being worked on. One of the best posters I saw there showed a huge mast ship, moored to the dock. The caption said, “A ship in the harbor is safe – but that’s not what a ship was made for.”

I believe we are by nature designed to want to adventure. Even if we’re not drawn by the level of risk required to venture across continents or into uncharted seas, we can still find creative ways to adapt to where we find ourselves, and connect in transformative ways with people old and new.

Over the years, the Matryoshka Haus community has found ways to facilitate varying levels of venturing through social entrepreneurship. That history was one dimension celebrated at the Thanksgiving Marking Ceremony. But I appreciate the thought behind the ceremony’s focus on “the fray,” the in-between zone bridging village and voyage – a space where trajectories to and from harbor and home crisscross on the beach.

This metaphor and land, fray, and sea set up a powerful image to consider during the well-facilitated time of reflection on MHaus’ past, present and future by the group so gathered.

*          *          *          *          *

Matryoshka Haus Thanksgiving 2019

PROGRAM FOLDER. The community reflection time was designed to be both tactile and interactive (hallmarks of MHaus activities!).

As you can see from the scan of the program folder, it had interactive items tucked inside – two blank craft-paper tags with tie-on strings for hanging on the journey signpost, and an origami boat to float upon the “sea.”

FACILITATORS. From the outset, Matryoshka Haus leadership and projects have intentionally been inclusive of both men and women, from both the UK and North America. The MHaus team invited two individuals who’d been instrumental supporters along the way to facilitate this special Thanksgiving celebration: Jonny Baker from the UK and Dawn Thames from the US. They introduced people, shared reflections and readings, and guided participants through the metaphor of how MHaus had been like the land, fray, and sea.

Jonny Baker was a main developer of the evening’s time of reflection. He is perhaps best known for his long-time work developing churches and ministries that fit in postmodern and post-Christian cultures like that of the UK.

He serves with Church Mission Society. He developed and runs their movement for equipping pioneer missional leadership. This is connected with Fresh Expressions, which church/ministry leaders in both UK and North America may be familiar with.

Jonny has long been associated with MHaus, and he wrote an extensive section on “Developing a Pioneer Ecosystem” for the book, Matryoshka Haus: A Story of Faith and Social Innovation.


Dawn Thames is a nurse, who has also been a mid-wife and served internationally.

She described her main roles in the history of Matryoshka Haus as being a long-time friend to its founder Shannon Hopkins, and a “prayer mid-wife” for it as an organization.

Dawn is currently working on advanced studies in reconciliation, restorative justice, conflict transformation, and peace-building.


*          *          *          *          *

Act 1, The Land

The past * Thanks * Celebration * Stories * Memories

MHaus Journeying Along the Way

SIGNPOSTS AND TAGS. Blank tags slipped into the program folder provided an opportunity to express thoughts, feelings, memories, hopes … whatever struck them as something to write out and share by hanging on the journey post. On the signpost were six direction markers that could serve as prompts:

  • Belonging
  • Life Together
  • Meaning
  • Imagination
  • Purpose
  • Action

Rachel Johnson, an MHaus friend from the US, led the way in crafting the signpost. By the end of the evening, this “tree of trajectories” was covered with memory tags, dangling from its post, arms, and thumbtacks.

Among other personal stories shared during this time, we heard from Abigail on the origins of her suggesting the name Matryoshka Haus for the unique community that both supported one another and created ways to reach out beyond its borders. Other participants shared their experiences in the community and/or its enterprises. For instance, Sveta, who has been part of the community for over 10 years, shared her story and a shorter version can also be found in this MHaus’ Facebook post.

*          *          *          *          *

Act 2, The Fray

In-between * The edge * A tearing * Grief * Loss

TRIALS AND TRANSITIONS. Not all things go smoothly in culturally creative enterprises. That reality was represented by the fray. In the center of the ceremony space was a vivid shoreline made from smooth beach rocks and sun-bleached driftwood, chunks of rough burlap net, and slashes of cloth in splashes of color: foamy white, lightened aqua, greyed lavendar, deeper blues, darkest indigo.

Shannon spoke of the parallel Matryoshka entities of community and non-profit, how various changes had gone on while those two tracks were directly interwoven under one name, and how a process of clarifying missions and accountability was bringing about a rearrangement into specializations. (Many of the details are shared in Part 1 of this series.)

Change brings both losses and gains; it tends to churn up emotions. Various people shared their gratitude for memories held dear, and their wrestling with some aspects of these many changes MHaus has been undergoing. The rocks around the fray offered a tactile way for people to hold on or to let go.

*          *          *          *          *

Act 3, The Sea

The future * Uncertainty * Hopes and dreams * Risk * A blessing

REORIENTATIONS, PRESENTATIONS, MEMORIALIZATIONS. There were three main elements involved in looking toward MHaus’ future.

First, Shannon introduced leaders of the three sibling organizations multiplied from MHaus, and shared descriptions about their more focused realms of work.

Second, we acknowledged people by giving meaningful items representative of their roles. This involved a set of four blank, unpainted matryoskhi (Russian nesting dolls) and a bowl filled with metal matryoskhi.

Jonny took apart the wooden nesting doll set, giving one doll to a leader from each of the three non-profits – Andy, Cathers, and Mark – and setting aside the fourth doll for later. Jonny had these three leaders and Shannon leave the room for a time to signify this new season of multiplication from a single team to three teams, plus the separation of these organizations from the Matryoshka community.

Instead of their activities of all four (three non-profits plus the community) being coordinated under one roof, each entity would now be free to fill out their own matryoshka set by developing people and projects befitting their distinct mission. When the leaders returned, Jonny had them introduce themselves:

Andy Schofield – The Transformational Index Group will be based in the UK, and will continue its facilitating and consulting work in helping groups measure what matters with qualitative impact of their social change efforts.

Cathers Pearson – The Goodmakers Society will work to support on-the-ground change-makers in the UK; grow the Make Good trainings; and complete the Change Makers Toolkit suite of planning, teamwork building, and evaluation tools.

Mark Sampson – Rooted Good will be based in the US. Mark and his family will be moving there in 2020 to establish the work.

Shannon will continue on in the UK, co-leading Rooted Good with Mark, staying connected with the organizations and community, and seeing what potentially unfolds in new directions for her.

Jonny gave the fourth wooden doll to Hannah as a representative member of the MHaus community. This would be a “roving matryoshka” that periodically should be transferred to someone else in the community as a reminder of deep relational interconnections and interdependence.

Some of Hannah’s story can be found in this MHaus Facebook post.

Everyone present also received a metallic silver matryoshka charm as a token of being part of the Thanksgiving community gathering. (You can see it peeking out by the “Love One Another” heart-shaped stone in the picture at the bottom of this page.)

Third, all participants had the chance to express their own thoughts and prayers about the future by writing them on the origami boat they’d found in their program folder.

Then there was a special oval area of woven yarns in blues, greens, and purples to represent the sea which these boats and notes could sail. At this point, we were dismissed to go into the dinner portion of the evening.

*          *          *          *          *

Communing and Community at The Table

Acts 4, The Table

Feasting * Thanksgiving * Community

COMMON TABLE. There was a “gathering table” by the journey signpost. On it were staples for travelers: fruits, nuts, cheese, loaves of bread, rolls and crackers plus a decanter of wine and a goblet, and a pot for tea. This served as a reminder of communion and community during the reflection time, and the foodstuffs became part of our meal.

DINING TABLES. Where we dined together was a space of elegance with simplicity. Humble burlap table runners were accented by clusters of candles, plus plants and sprigs. Silverware settings were nestled in napkins and tied up with this tag plus driftwood and fragrant fresh rosemary.

THE MEAL. Usually an MHaus Thanksgiving has those invited help prepare the meal. This year, though, it was catered so there would be more time for the reflection element of the day. But the meal was still the traditional dinner of sliced turkey with all the usual sides: stuffing and sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, beans and greens, cranberry sauce and beverages. Plus multiple kinds of desserts, and a cheese board with fruit to accommodate those with a more European taste in end-of-dinner fare to “fill in the corners,” as Tolkien’s Hobbits would say.

FINAL THOUGHTS … As I walked around the room and listened, it struck me that conversations were far more about past friendship connections and recollections, everyday present life experiences, and future hopes instead about the food (even as good as it was!). But isn’t that what the table should do – facilitate communing that forges community? I am grateful I was invited and included in this MHaus Thanksgiving Marking Celebration.

*          *          *          *          *

Credits: Thanks go out to …

All who helped in the plans and set-up.

Lou Baker for loaning her sculpture and cloths.

Rachel Johnson for creating the MHaus signpost.

Lindsay Noble for designing the program brochure.

Steve Eyre for documenting the day with photographs.

Jonny Baker and Dawn Thames for facilitating our reflections.


One thought on “A Meaningful, Multiplied Matryoshka Haus Thanksgiving! Part 2: Recollections from the Celebration

  1. Pingback: A Meaningful, Multiplied Matryoshka Haus Thanksgiving! Part 1: Backstory | futuristguy

Comments are closed.