‘Giving life to new things is hard, but it’s so worth it,’ says outgoing Damascus Project leader Tisha Brown

Tisha BrownThe Rev. Dr. Tisha Brown leaves the staff of the Wisconsin Conference this month after eight years, first as director of the Lay Academy and more recently as leader of the Damascus Project. Over the past year, almost 200 people have taken part in paid programs offered by the Damascus Project, which provides online theological education and leadership skills development to laypeople and members in discernment, and about 1,000 people have signed up for the related Damascus Project Network, a social network and learning platform. Before her departure, Tisha he sat down with Wisconsin Conference Life to talk about the Damascus Project, the future of church and how her experience in ministry will shape her next career as proprietor of Tisha’s Delicious Bakery, which serves customers with food allergies. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How high is the ceiling for the Damascus Project?

Here’s the vision I’ve had: The Damascus Project can be one of the places where people who have left our mainline denominations – young people mainly – can find a bridge to the progressive version of the Christian faith, in an environment that feels safer than walking into a 100-year-old building. They can engage it on their own terms. I don’t see the Damascus Project replacing the in-person faith community. It becomes a place where seekers are finding their way back to the Christian faith of into the Christian faith for the first time.

What surprised you as leader of the Damascus Project?

On the positive side, what’s surprised me is how little time and resourcing it takes to make a huge difference in people’s lives. People are really affected by this formation. A little bit means a lot.

Our structures aren’t always set up for innovation and creativity, which means trying to do new things of any kind is very, very challenging. But that’s part of blazing a new trail. I feel grateful for all the ways I’ve had to stretch and grow in articulating the Damascus Project vision in a way that people can understand it.

What advice do you have for the next Damascus director?

Don’t try to do it all yourself. Double down on bringing people together in community, getting people into spaces where they can interact. Share resources. Provide support. That’s possible in an online environment as much as it is in person.

You really can have meaningful, transformational community online. I was not initially convinced of that but I’m not 100 percent on board with that. I don’t believe it will replace in-person community. I think we will figure out as a species the right balance.

I really want people to continue praying for the Damascus Project and its flourishing as an emerging ministry, and I invite their prayers for the new director.

Some observers say churches are a bit depressed coming out of the pandemic. What encouragement can you provide to congregations and individual laypeople?

We are in a season of wilderness, and the most encouragement I can offer is to say you are not alone. We need each other more than we ever have because the way forward is not clear. Perhaps the best we can do is figure out how to remain faithful in this moment, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide us. And maybe we need to let some things go to create space for the new things that are emerging. If it’s not life-giving, let it go.

We are in a midwifing time. Some things are dying, but some things are emerging. That is our story. You never have death without resurrection. Giving life to new things is hard, but it’s so worth it.

How did Damascus change you?

One of the really amazing parts of being a clergy person is that you interact with people from so many different backgrounds and you get to learn so much if you take the time to do it. Because of the ministry I’ve been privileged to do, and the people I’ve been in relationship with, I am a much kinder, gentler, more compassionate, more faithful person than I could ever have imagined being.

You are taking a sharp turn, professionally speaking. How will your experience of ministry shape your approach to running Tisha’s Delicious Bakery?

I very much feel that pastors feed people – there’s an element of spiritual feeding. What I’m experiencing as a bread baker is feeding people. They’re outcasts – people with food allergies often think there’s nothing for them. It’s very much a ministry to the margins.

I have customers now and am nurturing relationships. If I’m lucky, and my business takes off, I will hire a staff and then nurture my employees. I think of it as the care and feeding of a community, which is what a pastor does. I’m excited about being able to employ people and nurturing them in their own vocational growth.

‹ Back to News & Updates

Sign up for our newsletter!


Contact Us

(608) 846-7880