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Leadership training models dialogue

At the June 2009 Leadership Retreat at Pilgrim Firs, members of conference committees met each other and had initial meetings of their committees.  They also spent time visioning under the leadership of Larry Pennington, a spiritual director and organizational coach.

Larry Pennington
Larry Pennington leads visioning sessions.

“I seek to inspire courage, hope and action for justice for communities by developing spiritually informed leadership,” he said, “ leaders conscious of and able to avoid damage when people with good intentions become caught in unseen dynamics.”

He asked participants to share stories of when they felt loved, trusted, respected, honored and validated, and then to consider how to replicate those feelings in the gathering and for their congregations.

Those gathered shared ideas for community building, strengthening relationships among congregations, moving beyond survival issues and addressing social pressures that keep people apart.

To help meet the goals, they envisioned:  1) having regional gatherings for worship, resource sharing and relationship building; 2) equipping churches for change; 3) supporting clergy and lay leaders; 4) promoting ecumenism and global ministries, and 5) facilitating churches’ involvement in their communities.

Larry pointed out the difficulty meeting conference goals with having only one full-time conference minister who has many roles. 

small group
Kaila Russell, Susan Andresen and Iris Coover

Participants brainstormed ideas on communication options, congregational relationships, committee roles and volunteer leadership.

With the conference considering conversations about what it might mean to become an open and affirming conference, he guided participants in modeling ways congregations can engage in discussions and dialogue.

“There are differences of opinions in congregations and strongly held opinions,” he said.  “Acts 15:1-35 tells of a dispute in the early church.  They discussed and moved from debate to consensus.”

“Grace helps prepare people to discern what they are called to do,” he said.  “Gracious space reduces our anxiety so we can experience radical acceptance and be ready to respond to God, informed and changed,” he said.  “Dialogue creates a container to hold human energy so it can be transformative.”

For dialogue, he said people need to know themselves, understand and appreciate their differences, recognize their connections and relationships, and be ready to create something new together.

“Dialogue creates shared meaning,” Larry continued.  “As everyone tells their stories, they build a collective sense of something different, creating a shared experience and discerning shared meaning together.  Dialogue is about listening for wisdom.”

He suggested starting with some questions:  “What is your experience with open and affirming?  What are your feelings about open and affirming?  What led to those feelings?  Who are we justified in excluding?  How do we let people know they are welcome?”

Then he encourages people to structure “a container for conversation,” such as small groups in which people will feel they can risk.  Then, he said, the group gains the capacity to hold more information and to trust.

“I’m bored if everyone has the same opinion,” Larry said.  “We need to be more honest.  It seems overwhelming, but people open up if groups are non-judgmental.

“That means that people are serious about listening with grace and are interested in learning more from someone with a different opinion—without seeking to convert that person,” he said.

Copyright © September 2009 - Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference News

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