Saturday, August 30, 2008

'Courage to Lead' in Congregations

I've just returned from a two-day retreat for 'Courage to Lead' for Congregations.

We are taking the 15-month series of Courage retreats (for clergy) that I participated in 2006-2007 into our congregations. Pretty amazing stuff. We each invited 3 or 4 lay members of our churches, ending up with 26 people in the Circle of Trust. (See Parker Palmer's Hidden Wholeness.)

I've written before about how I realized that the series of Courage retreats were about practicing what church should be like. I'm very excited about the prospect of actually seeing church cultures slowly change. The change can come about, I think, as people learn to EMBODY the Courage To Lead touchstones. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Speak your truth in ways that respect other people's truth. Our views of reality may differ, but speaking one's truth in a circle of trust does not mean interpreting, correcting or debating what others say. Speak from your center to the center of the circle, using "I" statements, trusting people to do their own sifting and winnowing.

  • No fixing, no saving, no advising, and no setting each other straight. This is one of the hardest guidelines for those of us in the "helping professions." But it is vital to welcoming the soul, to making space for the inner teacher.

  • Learn to respond to other with honest, open questions instead of counsel, corrections, etc. With such questions, we help "hear each other into deeper speech."

  • When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. If you feel judgmental, or defensive, ask yourself, "I wonder what brought her to this belief?" "I wonder what he's feeling right now?" "I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?" Set aside judgment to listen to others--and to yourself--more deeply.

  • Trust and learn from the silence. Silence is a gift in our noisy world, and a way of knowing in itself. Treat silence as a member of the group. After someone has spoken, take time to reflect without immediately filling the space with words.
I wanted to share a couple of the quotes/poems we used for the "Listening for Wisdom" segment:

From Mary Oliver's Thirst...

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

And then this from John Fox, Deeply Listening from When Jewels Sing, 1989...

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup you have had since childhood
and watching it fill up with cold fresh water.
When it balances on the top of the rim
you're understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin
you are loved.
When someone deeply listens to you
your bare feet are on the earth
and the beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.


"PS" (a.k.a. purple) said...

Your bullet points are just awesome.

mompriest said...

It's been a few years since I read that your bullet points and that you are doing this...look forward to hearing more. said...


You have beautifully described the work of the Center for Courage & Renewal with clergy and congregational leaders.

I will be forwarding your blog to other clergy in the Courage to Lead program. May we quote your words in our reports to the Lilly Endowment?

John Fenner
Program Direction
Courage to Lead for Clergy and Congregational Leaders

Katherine E. said...

John, yes of course. I emailed you but am not sure whether it got though.

My original post said a lot more:

Thanks for what you are doing!

Anonymous said...

Your Courage To Lead program for clergy and lay leaders sounds like just what I expected ours to be! And yes, I agree that the concept is a great one to build church on!

Our retreat series, however, turned out to be insipid, almost cloying, and never got much into the meat, much less to the bone. Using the model does not assure that the depth will be there, it showed that "Courage" or "Circle of Trust" gatherings are much more than just the model, I learned. They also are about careful intention on the part of the leaders especially but also the part of the participants.

I think learning that, however, underscores what Parker talks about, about how we teach, or lead, who we are. If we are just working a model, whether as teacher, leader or retreatant, we may be falling short of the very thing he encourages us to set our sights on.

To be honest, I envy you. My experience was a very expensive disappointment.

Katherine E. said...

I'm sorry to hear this, Anonymous. Very sorry indeed.

Yes, we had exceptional leaders who embodied what they invited us to learn...