Last year I attended Seabury’s Kellogg School Summer Institute and it was one of the best continuing education experiences I’ve had to date. So the choice to return for the 2012 class was an easy one. Rare is the educational experience that moves from a morning session with an economist talking about competitive advantages and the rental car industry, to an afternoon of listening to a Dominican sister teach about leading transformative change by seeking God and following the Gospels. Rarer still is the opportunity to reflect in community, allowing for the piecing and parsing of all that has been offered, so that not only are there ideas, but actual tools for leading.
In this year’s session, I’ve been particularly drawn to the focus on leading and working through resistance to change. In one session we were reminded about the importance of self-reflection and balance, not for the sake of navel gazing, but because it allows us the space to see what the bigger vision is, where the God is calling us to go. Likewise, other sessions have focused on the importance of how to begin to name hard truths, with compassion and love, so that the mission of the Gospel can be seen and lived.
From a practical perspective, we leave many of these sessions with tools or action plans of how we might begin this work at the local level. As I imagine the immediate work that needs to done in my context, these skills are quickly morphing into a roadmap. Time talking with peers about how this work might be done helps to create a clear path for what is most important and how ideas might be implemented in the parish.
Perhaps most interesting to me juxtaposition between the academics and the constant call to remember the work that truly needs to be done–the work of the Gospel. Sister Donna Markham offered very practical steps to help move a congregation or system forward even in the midst of conflict. And that work, as she presented it, can not be done outside of remembering who we are and why we are in business. Are we willing to go where the need is for the sake of the Gospel? Are we, as leaders, willing to sit at the foot of the cross? Because sometimes leading through change and resistance requires just that.
I am incredibly fortunate to journey with a vibrant and healthy congregation that keeps its bickering to a minimum and is bold and brave in trying new ideas if they think it will create a place of welcome for the seeker and a home for the Christ who meets us everyday. Yet even so, the gifts and tools offered this week will make me a stronger leader. The reminder to create space to reflect, to find balance in order to better lead, to be honest even when, or perhaps especially when, it would be easier to ignore what needs to be said–these are all vital skills for moving a congregation forward. I’m grateful to have them in my tool kit.
–The Rev. Sarah K. Fisher is the rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Chicago. She received a Woman’s Board scholarship to attend this summer’s program.