When I was the associate at St. Stephen’s in Pittsfield, we would periodically gather with leadership on the balcony of the sanctuary to help us get a birds-eye view of life in the parish. From the balcony we would invite leaders to look down upon the community in which they worshiped. From there, we would ask a series of questions:
Where do you sit?
How did you come to sit there?
Have you ever moved?
Who sits around you?
As each person would answer these questions, we would then ask other questions that would help the group get a broader perspective.
Who is missing?
Who do you interact with regularly?
Who do you not know well, what prevents you from getting to know them?
Where is anxiety manifesting itself in the system and in you?
This term and process, developed by Ronald Heifetz, allows participants to both see a larger view of the congregation and their place or role within it.
It took a team of us to be able to capture the full dynamics of what was manifesting itself. We needed each other to both encourage and hold one another accountable to the work that we were called to do and the spiritual practices that would ground us in the middle of it.
I participate in this practice regularly. As of late, I have said to colleagues, I feel like I am living on the balcony as I consider the needs of Cathedral of the Beloved, but realize I can’t see everything myself. With ever present dynamics, a litany of ongoing needs, trying to navigate uncharted territory and my own blind spots and weaknesses, I need colleagues and places in which I can dive deep in this work to help me recognize when my own stuff is getting in the way and to see the larger picture simultaneously.
One of the places this has come is from my local UCC colleague, Joel, who is pastor of South Congregational, where my office is located. (South houses the largest food pantry in the area serving roughly 500 families every week.) Roughly every six weeks, we set aside time to get together to debrief the work of the pantry and Cathedral, get on the balcony, and name those places that are both challenging and liberating to us personally and professionally. Doing this work together allows us to thrive as we breathe deeply and are reminded of God’s ever present grace. We are not alone in this work and we can do it better together.
This past year, the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, alongside the Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut UCC Conferences and the New England ELCA, was awarded a Lily Grant entitled
Together We Thrive. The grant’s purpose is to help support clergy at a time when the landscape of ministry is ever changing, giving clergy throughout our diocese resources and places to get up on the balcony together, but perhaps more importantly to also provide spaces to deeply rest and be rejuvenated with one another, beyond lunch time meetings.
Together we Thrive will invite clergy to participate at different times through some of the following opportunities:
Clergy Communities of Practice (CCOP):
Foster collegial relationships and promote growth by giving participants the opportunity to: ponder common issues, explore ideas and be sound boards to one another, hold each other accountable to spiritual practices, build personal relationships across denominations, etc. These groups will be facilitated by a designated clergy person who has the responsibility of convening and running the groups.
Clergy Affinity Groups: Will provide the opportunity for meaningful relationships between clergy who are in similar positions. Groups will be formed based on each group’s own unique ministerial stages and settings. These gatherings will meet once a quarter.
Tending the Fire Training
: “Draws on the wisdom of family systems by Murray Bowen and Edwin Friedman, combined with the adaptive leadership insights of Ron Heifitz and Brene Brown. The Tending the Fire process involved didactic learning, personal reflection and study and group process.” The training is offered over three sessions.
To help with coordination of these efforts, we have just finished hiring a program coordinator who will be announced in the coming weeks and who has many gifts to share with all of us. In the meantime, please feel free to check out the website as it is developed (www.TWThrive.com).
Ronald A. Heifetz.
Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading.
Harvard Business School Press: Boston, MA. 2002: pg 54.
Together we Thrive Grant Application