Institutional mapping and the pottery town

A map of Seagrove, N.C., shows that it is a thriving community whose potters are bound together by traditioned innovation, the desire to work together and a love of their craft. Do our institutions need maps that show the relationships, ideas and priorities that define us?

A favorite place we take our visitors is Seagrove, N.C., one of the largest communities of potters with the longest history of pottery-making in the U.S. The area is known not only for its diverse styles of pottery, but for its meandering country highway, dotted with quiet farms and side-roads where more than 100 potters from all over the world work their craft and learn from long-standing pottery traditions.

As much as I love the pottery, my favorite souvenir is our map of Seagrove. Creased with wear and with our notes, the map shows the main highway and the location of all the pottery studios in relation to one another. It‘s the key to our annual visit.

What can the map and its history teach us as Christian institutional leaders?

The map depicts the qualities that have led to a now-thriving community: traditioned innovation, the desire to work together and a love of their craft.

Seagrove’s history is one of adaptability and change, beginning with the first English and German immigrants in the 1700s, who quickly realized that the area’s reddish clay was more suitable to pottery than farming. The pioneer-farmers continued to develop their wares, based on their artistic vision, their natural resources, and the growing needs of the community, surviving challenges like the Industrial Revolution and World War II. They adapted to changing needs, yet kept their traditions alive.

The community came together more deliberately in the early 20th century, when newcomers Jacques and Juliana Busbee arrived, bringing with them transformative leadership in their love of the local crafts, and their ability to market Seagrove to the world.

And in the 1950s, the potters, working as a group to promote the area, printed the first area-wide pottery map. Their map both acknowledged those potters who had come before them and became the foundation for the ways in which the community worked together in the future.

Now area potters “educate and inspire one another, help one another fire massive kilns, lend glaze ingredients, provide assistance to one of their own in need, and support the greater community by donating their time, talents and artwork to many charitable organizations,” according to the Seagrove Area Potters Association. The map of the area not only guides the visitor to dozens of pottery studios, but represents the relationships that have helped Seagrove become a thriving community, despite a difficult history and multiple challenges.

What kinds of maps depict thriving Christian communities? Do our neighborhoods have maps available that show area churches, delineate their common labor, history and available resources, or our relationships with one another? Do institutions need maps that make clear roles and relationships of people, ideas, themes and priorities?

What could we learn from coming together to chart these courses?