If it feels like you don't know where you're going, that's okay. Here's something that can help you reflect on what God might have in store for you and your congregation.
Issue #14: February 2022
Ash Wednesday 2022: Grounded in Lent
By the Rev. Bob Ullman 
“For you were made from dust, and to dust you shall return.” 
“We are animated dirt. Soil and life joined. From living ground we were made;  
to living ground we will return.” -- from “Grounded” by Diana Butler Bass 
“Ground” – the surface of the Earth 
“To ground” – to prohibit or prevent harm (as in grounding a plane or a teenager), 
to instruct someone fully in a subject
As the ramifications of the long COVID pandemic continue to affect us all, many of us are feeling ground down, longing for some reprieve from so much lingering uncertainty. We have been introduced to the wisdom of Susan Beaumont as we read and re-read her timely book “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going” (or, we might add, When You Don’t Know What’s Coming Next). She borrows from the work of Otto Scharmer on the critical role of the leader in effecting change in any system. Scharmer writes: “Our job as leaders and change makers is to cultivate the soil of the social fields which consists of the relationships among individuals, groups and systems that give rise to patterns of thinking, conversing and organizing which in turn produce the fruits of any organization.” He goes on to observe that “energy (in a system) follows attention. Wherever we put our attention as leaders, educators, parents, etc., is where the energy of the team will go.” As leaders, we need to be in touch with and grounded in the “Ground of all Being” as Paul Tillich once described God.  

The lengthening daylight hours during Lent are a good time to draw back and tune in to explore our inner life as leaders. As Beaumont notes in Chapter 2 of her book: “The authenticity of any leadership action depends on the interior condition of the leader – on her or his ability to be true to self and true to the institution, to remain non-anxious and to connect with the Divine.”

Because Ash Wednesday falls on the first Wednesday of March this year, the Supportive Ministries Team will not be hosting our customary first Wednesday webinar. We invite you instead to use the time to explore and commit to a renewed focus on our inner lives, “hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3) It would be a good time to revisit the article and video “Shifting Gears in a New Year” featured in the January 2021 issue of “Tending the Soul.” While it may seem impossible to imagine that we would still be needing to shift gears more than a year later, it remains a timely guide for the work we will need to do to face the uncertainty of post-pandemic days and years.
“I pray that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” (Ephesians 3:17) 
A Prayer by Conference Minister David Long-Higgins of the Heartland Conference, United Church of Christ
Loving God,  
Deepen my root 
In the soil of You 
Pressure enough 
To hold and grow  
All You intend  
Into fullness of blossom 
In seasons of Your design.
Grant me grace 
To be connected 
To other roots  
Also fashioned by You 
That strength may abound 
In connections You form 
For every storm 
Of the world’s design. 

O Love, 
Let the gift of challenge 
Grow in me love’s grit 
Embracing the necessary 
Resistance for the growth  
Of root and limb  
You so deeply desire.
Yes, deepen my root 
In Your Holy ground 
Watered by You 
Nourished by You 
That my life may be shade 
For at least one other  
Who longs to know 
Your shielding grace 
Just enough to grow 
In due season into fullness 
Of praise and thanks 
For the very gift 
Of being planted  
In You, by You, for You. 

Yes, Love, 
Grow Your grit 
Of Love in me 
Refining my loving 
Deepening my root 
For whatever good 
Truth and beauty 
You are already forming 
That I cannot yet see.
Recommended reading
Diana Butler Bass’ book “Grounded: Finding God in the World, A Spiritual Revolution” would be another helpful guide for this Lenten season. 

The headlines are clear: Religion is on the decline in America as many people leave behind traditional religious practices. Diana Butler Bass, leading commentator on religion, politics, and culture, follows up her acclaimed book “Christianity After Religion” by arguing that what appears to be a decline actually signals a major transformation in how people understand and experience God. The distant God of conventional religion has given way to a more intimate sense of the sacred that is with us in the world. This shift, from a vertical understanding of God to a God found on the horizons of nature and human community, is at the heart of a spiritual revolution that surrounds us – and that is challenging not only religious institutions but political and social ones as well.

“Religion is changing because its deepest questions, those regarding the relationship between God and the world, are being asked in new ways. For the last several centuries, the primary questions regarding God and the world were of theology or practice: Who is God? What must I do to be a good person or to be saved?....Faith questions now center on finding God – Where is God? – and figuring out what discovering the sacred here means – How does God’s presence enliven our actions in the world? The informational queries of who and what, along with their authoritative answers, are being traded for the experiential and open-ended concerns of where and how….To locate God is to ground our lives.”
Centering prayer
As we move into the Lenten season with the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic still with us, it’s a good time to explore or delve more deeply into a time-honored practice for listening for the heart of God. Below is the beginning of a Feb. 6 article by Carl McColman about Centering Prayer with a link to the vast resources of Contemplative Outreach. (Search the App Store for the Centering Prayer app, which enables you to receive guidance in your daily practice of Centering Prayer.) You can access the complete article here.
What is Centering Prayer? Centering Prayer is a contemporary method of Christian spiritual practice that is based on teachings from ancient Christian mystics. It is based on a recognition of silence and stillness as doorways into prayer and intimacy with God.
The Method of Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is, properly speaking, not a form of contemplative prayer, but rather a method of prayer that helps the praying person to prepare and consent to the gift of contemplation. It is a method of prayer that fosters interior silence and stillness: a prayerful way of responding to the call of the Psalms: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
The method of centering prayer involves four simple guidelines. These guidelines were developed by Thomas Keating and the leadership of Contemplative Outreach International; you can find them summarized on their website.
We need your insights
The Wisconsin Conference is launching an Appreciative Inquiry ministry to help lead congregations into the future. AI is a positive, strength-based approach to organizational development and change management which identifies positive energy for transformation. If you have been trained to lead the AI process and would be willing to have a quick (no obligation) conversion about your experience please email Cathy Wille or Bonnie Andrews.
Missed these articles?

Revisit these thought-provoking articles from previous issues. Many include questions for groups discussions in your congregation, or for personal reflection.
Conference Supportive Ministries

In addition to the direct support to pastors and congregations provided by Wisconsin Conference staff, here are some of the supportive ministries congregations can take advantage of. Follow the link below to learn more about this programs and how your church might benefit.
  • Conflict Transformation
  • Coaching Partners
  • Grants and assistance programs
  • Communities of Practice for Clergy or Faith Formation
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations
  • Readiness 360
View a comprehensive list with more information about Supportive Ministries offerings.
Photo of Supportive Ministries Task Force
Supportive Ministries Task Force
Through this communication, the Wisconsin Conference Supportive Ministries Task Force provides articles, discussion guides and other resources for clergy and congregations on coping and thriving as we navigate the current turbulent waters. Supportive Ministries Task Force members from top left are Bob Ullman, Lisa Hart, Bonnie Andrews, Cathleen Wille and Tim Perkins.
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