What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-7-21
In a “Union Service” on April 25, First Church and South Church commissioned six working groups composed of both First Church and South Church members whose purpose is to “imagine a new entity, including: its sense community; its infrastructure; telling its history; its program; its property and its staff and technological communications.” Each of these working groups will be assigned its own coach, who will be meeting with the groups to support their work.
Many of us are familiar with coaching through our work with Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg and/or Rev. Paul Nickerson. My transitional ministry contract includes the expectation that I will provide “coaching where appropriate.” But what do we mean by “coaching?”
People use the term “coaching” in many different ways. The definition that Claire and I use comes from the International Coach Federation (ICF), which sets global industry standards for professional coaching. Methodist pastor J. Val Hastings, Founder and President Coaching4Clergy, puts the ICF approach this way: “Here is how I define coaching: As a coach, I help people get the results they want by bringing out the best in them. I’ll also explain that coaching isn’t about fixing people or solving problems, rather coaching is a developmental or discovery-based process. Similar to athletic coaches, we further develop the skill and talent already inherent in the people we coach.”
Coaching is often confused with “consulting.” Consultants tend to “tell you what to do.” They have expertise in a particular field and apply that expertise to your particular situation. Paul Nickerson, for example, uses more of a consultant model. Consulting is helpful. That’s why consulting is such a big business.
Coaching in the ICF model relies on deep listening, powerful questions, and something called “artful language” (which is a discipline of atuning oneself to the client’s preferred vocabulary and style of expression.) These are the basic tools that when deployed effectively can lead to “a-ha” moments of discovery on the part of individuals and groups.
What are some “a-ha” moments that you have noticed in our coaching work so far? Perhaps you’ve had a personal moment of insight. I would love to hear it. Perhaps you’ve noticed a moment in a meeting or one of our Sharing Services in which heads were nodding and there was a feeling of connectedness. The word cloud exercise we did last year that revealed a common “Why” around the words “inspire” and “love” was an “a-ha” moment for many. Discovering these insights and then building an action plan around them is what coaching is designed to do.
We are so blessed to have access to have this much coaching for our project. I’m not aware of any other consolidation projects that have coaches assigned to each working group. I encourage all of us to engage the process wholeheartedly.
Mother God, womb of the world, thank you for mothers, who gave us life from their bodies. Life is the gift that makes all other gifts possible, so we say “Thank you, mom, for life.” A mother’s love can be so intimate as to be overlooked. We repent taking our mothers’ love for granted. A mother’s absence can be so painful as to leave us forever scarred. Give us the grace to embrace our own mothering, as imperfect as it may be. Give us the wisdom to honor our mothers in their full humanity. Give us the will as a nation to pay mothers more than just lip service. We pray for equal pay for equal work. We pray for paid maternity leave. We pray for access to health care and housing and education and all of the tools mothers need to flourish. Amen!
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-30-21
Last week we began exploring the second half of Weird Church: Welcome to the Twenty-First Century by Paul Nixon and Beth Ann Estock. This section describes 21 models, forms, paradigms for doing church that the authors have observed emerging in the 21st century. There are a lot of unknowns about the church of the 21st century, but one thing Nixon and Estock seem fairly certain of is that the “neighborhood, denominationally-franchised church . . . with a weak local vision and identity” is about to disappear.
As I read through the weird church paradigms, it seems to me that a number of them might be components of a new UCC in Granby: “The Simple Cell,” “The Dinner Party,” “The Soulful Community,” “The Community Enterprise,” “The Pilgrimage,” “The Innovation Lab,” “The Tabernacle,” all might manifest themselves in some way even if they don’t become the dominant or “stand alone” model. The book gives current examples of churches following these models. Which one of these example churches would you like to learn more about?
My hope is that by the end of this process we will land somewhere with some kind of emerging, distinct local identity that new people can connect with. One of the reasons the denominationally-franchised church is headed for extinction is that too often it tries to be everything to everyone and so ends up unable to connect authentically with anyone. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says to a “lukewarm” church “I will spit you out of my mouth” (3:16). Trying not to offend anyone, the church as we have known it has feared being weird.
I’m reminded of our “What’s Your Why?” training. Simon Sinek makes the point that the successful organization connects with the people who already on some level share the organization’s values. That’s why it’s so important as we go through this process to ask “Who is God calling us to reach next?” Rev. Paul Nickerson sometimes calls this person “unchurched Harry and Mary.” All of the weird church paradigms are targeted toward a specific group of people with particular spiritual, emotional, and social needs.
Several years ago Rev. Traci Blackmon, UCC Executive Minister for Witness and Justice, preached at a meeting of the newly formed Southern New England Conference UCC. Her text was the story of the Crossing of the Jordan God’s people were nearing the end of their forty year wilderness journey. Looking across the Jordan River, they could see the Promised Land. Like God did at the Red Sea forty years earlier, God had promised to part the waters for them so that they could cross over. But the waters didn’t part until the people at the front of the procession actually stepped into the water. A way opened up where there hadn’t been one before, but only after the people were willing to step out in faith.
Time and again I’ve found that to be true. And I’m finding it to be true now. I’ve had several exciting conversations with community members who are aware of our collaboration efforts and are interested in partnering with our congregations in creating something new. Every day has the potential to give rise to a clearer vision for our new combined future as long as we are willing and brave enough to continue moving forward in faith.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-16-21
Our transition coach, Claire Bamberg, recommended everyone from First Church and South Church read Weird Church: Welcome to the Twenty-First Century by Paul Nixon and Beth Ann Estock as a resource for envisioning what the new church God is birthing among us as a result of our collaboration might be. In chapter 5, Nixon and Estock write about “shame-based systematic theology” (p. 51), which has been a feature of many Christian churches for centuries. The authors propose a shift away from “shame-based theology” toward an approach to doing church based on love and letting go.
While this may sound a bit abstract mystical, it is not in the least. Some researchers argue that shame is the most powerful force in human psychological, social, and spiritual life. Shame is an emotion. Emotions are made up of thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Here I think it’s important to distinguish between what some researchers call “healthy shame” and “toxic” or “chronic” shame. In it’s benign or “healthy” form, shame simply lets us know when we are out of alignment socially. It might be that feeling of “dis-ease” when we enter a room of strangers or that feeling of embarrassment when we make an inappropriate comment. Internally it could arise as a sense that we are not living in alignment with our values.
Healthy shame can prevent us from doing socially harmful things. This is the kind of shame the Prophet Jeremiah writes about: “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. They acted shamefully, they committed abomination; yet they were not ashamed, they did not know how to blush” (6:14). For an in depth study see Shame: Theory, Therapy, Theology by Stephen Pattinson.
When Nixon and Estock are writing about “shame-based theology,” they are referring to “toxic” or “chronic” shame. Toxic/chronic shame is the sense that “there is something fundamentally wrong with me.” Whereas guilt is the sense that “I’ve done bad,” toxic shame is the sense that “I am bad.” Author Brene Brown talks about this as the difference between “feeling shame” and “being shamed.” Listen to her podcast “Shame and Accountability.”
When I moved from my church of origin to the “liberal” UCC I thought I was leaving shame-based theology behind. I discovered that we have our own version. Some call it “toxic wokeness” or “cancel culture.” All of it–whether it’s from the “right” or the “left,” conservative or liberal, “blue,” or “orange,” or “green” stages of spiral dynamics (to use Estock and Nixon’s terminology) arises from a deep-seated desire for purity. It’s a belief that there’s something fundamentally wrong with reality and if we could just eliminate it or “them” everything would be “good.” It’s a worry or a sense or a fear that the declaration of Genesis that “God saw all that God had made and behold it was very good,” no longer applies.
Toxic shame is a tool of oppression. In her podcast, Brene Brown quotes author and activist Audre Lorde: “You can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools.” A “weird church” won’t abandon working for justice, but it will avoid using the master’s tools to do so.
The vision of a theology oriented toward loving and letting go is grounded in a practice of radical acceptance. It looks more like a “yellow” or “turquoise” stage in spiral dynamics. Loving and letting go means letting go of our dreams of purity and meeting the world as it is. Filled with deep faith in the ongoing goodness of creation, we can meet each moment whether pleasant or unpleasant, each person whether loveable or hateful, each situation whether harmful or healing, with fierce tenderness and longsuffering patience because everything we encounter is woven into the seamless fabric of God’s boundless love.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-26-21
“To Improve Your Team, First Work on Yourself” is the title of a 2019 Harvard Business Review article that caught my attention this week. This concept is the foundation of my approach to ministry for the past 25 years. It is the bedrock on which family systems theory is built. Family systems theory, first developed by psychiatrist Murray Bowen and adapted for congregations by Rabbi Ed Friedman, has had a huge influence on generations of clergy. This includes my counterpart in the First Church/South Church consolidation effort, Rev. Denny Moon, and our consolidation coach, Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg. I encourage you to check out the short article both for your own personal edification and as a springboard for conversation as First Church and South Church move into our next stage of work together.
GUCCI, the steering team for the First Church and South Church consolidation effort, is organizing work groups to lead the next stage of our work. The work groups are: 1) “Getting to Know Each Other,” 2) “Nuts and Bolts,” 3) “Properties and Memorial Gardens,” 4) “Staffing, Technology, and Communications,” 5) “History,” and 6) “Program.”
Considerable thought is being put into the size and composition of these work groups as well as how to build a culture of healthy communication in the work groups so that our time together is productive and to build a healthy foundation for a future congregation.
Which brings me back to the Harvard Business Review article. The author recommends teams master three “foundational capabilities” to improve their functioning: “internal self-awareness, external self-awareness, and personal accountability.”
“Internal self-awareness involves understanding your feelings, beliefs, and values — your inner narrative.” The article goes on to give examples of how increasing internal self-awareness affects interactions. For more details on building self-awareness see this HBR article. I have found maintaining a daily meditation practice key to building self-awareness. Coaching and therapy are also incredibly effective modalties for increasing this “foundational capability.”
“External self-awareness involves understanding how our words and actions impact others.” How do we understand how our words and actions impact others? Ask! I have observed the most effective leaders, including Claire, pause a meeting to ask about body language: “You just scrunched up your face. What was happening in you then?” Or repeating what was said and asking, “Did I get that right?” Or “Are you getting what you need out of this conversation?” It can feel risky to ask for feedback, but all of the best leaders do it.
As for accountability: “When we think of accountability, we typically think of holding others accountable. But the most effective leaders and teammates are more focused on holding themselves accountable.”
Years ago I was meeting with a group of church leaders. We were trying to revitalize a dying downtown congregation that had once been the largest in the state. The team had been attempting to engage the wider congregation in the turnaround effort with little success. The meeting devolved into a complaint session about how we had a congregation of freeloaders who needed an attitude adjustment. By some miracle the conversation shifted to looking at our own attitudes and behaviors as leaders. Finally the light bulb went on and the team leader said with conviction: “Nothing will change until we change.” Long story short: after seven years of hard effort, the congregation was completely transformed. Moral of the story: “If you want to improve your team, first work on yourself.”
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-26-21
At our February 14 discernment meeting an FCC Granby member repeated something that had been said in an earlier conversation about the consolidation/collaboration proposal: “Let’s just get to know each other first. If we do that well, the building issues will work themselves out.”
Research on successful (and failed) consolidations bears this out. Even though up to this point most of the anxiety at First Church and South Church has been around buildings, research shows that buildings and facilities are the least likely deal breakers in consolidation projects (only 4%). The most likely deal breakers are conflict over personnel (28%), trust issues/power struggles (22%), traditions (18%) and culture (10%), (Better Together, p. 108) . . . Which brings me to the concept of “below the green line.”
Put very simply, the “green line” is an imaginary division between what is concrete, rational, and public in an organization and what is relational, irrational, and subconscious in an organization.
Above the green line are the “rational” parts of the organization, such as “structure, process (operations), and pattern.” In a church organization, these are the pieces that what GUCCI is calling the “nuts and bolts” working group will be dealing with: governance and by-laws, staffing and personnel, legal work for creating new identity, finances, endowments, financial audits, insurance, and properties, including memorial gardens.
Below the green line are the “irrational” parts of the organization, such as information, relationships, and identity.
Information is “like oxygen in the system . . . access to information greatly minimizes the negative rumors that can occur within organizations.” GUCCI team has committed itself to regular, clear, and consistent messaging around what’s happening with our collaboration work and what we envision the next steps to be.
Relationships: “People need to have open relationships with the people they work with, trusted relationships that lead to commitment and powerful work getting done. Relationships occur not only between people, but between programs, departments, and organizations (think connections).”
Identity “looks like repeated opportunities for self- reflection and connecting personal beliefs and values to the mission and vision of the organization. It means being reminded of why we come to [church], what’s most important to us” about our faith, and “finding ways to stay true to ourselves” while building a new congregation that wil have a new identity. This is our “Why.”
For the reasons above, below the green line work will be critical to the success of our project.
Holy God, the world is so surprising and we know so little. Outcomes are uncertain. Threats loom. We long to bring peace to our lives, but even our best efforts often miss the mark. We upset when we meant to soothe. Sometimes speaking the truth in love results in an unpleasant reaction. Sometimes our emotions overtake us and we respond in ways that just make the situation worse. With so much beyond our control teach us to rest in your embrace. Within the swirl of events make us steadfast, kind, and compassionate. Amen.