Debbie Gline Allen: I am excited to talk with you, Heather, about The Bridge Initiative. Tell me first what the program is.
Heather Rochette: The Bridge Initiative is an action-oriented movement that addresses how we treat others. It is noticing who is different from ourselves and allowing the hand of God to guide us to take action, letting others know they are not alone. In the context of what it means to follow Jesus, we say that it’s okay to be different. Yet, often outside of the church, and even sometimes inside, that is not always the case. In our desire to fit in, we sometimes choose to allow any number of obstacles to get in the way of our understanding of those who may be different. This leaves the “other” standing alone on one side of the proverbial bridge while we stand safely with our friends on the other side. Most likely, all of us at one time or another, have been on the other side of that bridge. The Bridge Initiative is a call to action to unite us all on the same side of the bridge. It addresses how we treat others, living as Jesus did following the Golden Rule, and it guides us in walking with those who yearn to find their place in the world. The goal of the Bridge Initiative is that we simply live it.
DGA: How did the Bridge Initiative come about?
HR: When my son was in elementary school, he really struggled. Because he was different, he was bullied. (This was in the days before anti-bullying programs.) I had an idea for a school that would help him and I actually had it all written up, but I realized that it would not be possible to implement in the public school. Since I was working at the church, I realized that it would be a great program for the youth group. One day, I woke up with the words, “The Bridge Initiative” in my head. I knew immediately what it was — it was about how we treat other people, and in particular, how we treat people who are different from us. Yet I still didn’t know exactly what I might do with it. I lived with this phrase for a few years; it never left me. Then one day my son brought home a bridge built out of K’nex from summer school. Coincidence? I don’t think so. This bridge became the symbol and logo of our Bridge Initiative. And when I sat at my computer to begin constructing the program, the words simply began to flow. Every time I have sat down to write, I feel like more of a scribe — the conduit through which God is choosing to speak about this program.
DGA: So how does it work? What happens in the groups that use this program?
HR: There are six simple steps that can be experienced over the course of a number of sessions:
2. Take action
Through some exploration of the scripture, watching and discussing videos, journalling, and working through some challenge activities together, the youth gradually begin to open up, take bolder steps to reach out, and encourage one another in the process.
DGA: You began this as a program for your youth group. Is it adaptable for other ages as well?
HR: Absolutely! By its very nature, it is meant for everyone, regardless of race, age, culture, etc. It can be used with the entire congregation, as a Sunday School curriculum, for Vacation Bible School, and can be adapted for other settings. If you are human, it is for you!
DGA: What impact has this program had on your congregation?
HR: When we studied the Bible story in John where Jesus says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7), we talked about choosing to not cast stones of judgment, anger, or discontent. Rather, choose to cast stones of love, compassion, and empowerment of others — like how stones make ripples in the water that expand and grow, and travel far from where the stone first touched the water. Soon our bulletin board was being filled with colorful index cards about the different ways everyone, of all ages, was reaching out to someone who needed a welcoming smile and a helping hand.
DGA: Can people contact you if they are interested in implementing the Bridge Initiative in their own churches?
HR: Yes! I am in the process of working to make it available for use in other congregations. Those who are interested may reach out to me at email@example.com. And let me close by saying what a gift it is to another person to be noticed and allowed the privilege and respect to simply be who they are; to be understood, accepted, and embraced for who they are as a child of God. Go and be the Bridge! And may God bless you on your way.
Debbie Gline Allen serves as a Minister of Faith Formation on the Conference’s Faith Formation Ministry Team. She also serves as the administrator of the SNEUCC Faith Formation Leadership Program. Her passion for ministry is with children and family...