Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Courage to Lead

By Rev. Michelle Bodle

When I first heard the name of a regional retreat for clergy under the age of 35 sponsored by the Center for Courage and Renewal and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, I cringed. “The Courage to Lead” sounded corny and the description of what we would be doing together during a six month ministry intensive seemed to be lacking details. As a planner, it took me a while to take the leap of faith to apply, but I am so glad now that I did. Glad that I took the risk of going to the retreat with the corny title, because it has truly re-shaped my ministry.

As someone who is young in ministry, both in terms of age and years of service, I will be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn and a lot of places to grow. However, the Center for Courage and Renewal helped me discover new dimensions of my leadership to others by discovering the leader that lies within.
During the processes of going to seminary and ordination, leadership seems to be one of the hot topics - how to grow in your leadership skills, how to vision with a congregation, as well as other similar topics, but I do not remember the topic of leadership from within being brought up. Now, as a disclosure, maybe I just didn’t pay attention if the topic was brought up, but as a whole, the topic of being a leader didn’t seem to come with much focus on leading from the still, small voice inside of you. The Center for Courage and Renewal, under the direction of Parker Palmer, has taken Quaker spiritual practices of clearness committees, silence, and reflection, and has crafted leadership retreats and peer learning groups that help us discover and articulate who those in healing professions truly are in their soul.

In this particular experience, two retreats were held, one in April and the second in October, with six peer learning calls in between. Whether it was on a peer learning call or in a covenant group at the retreat, each participant was encouraged to embrace the touchstones of the courage movement, including but not limited to, learning how to respond with open, honest questions, turning to wonder, trusting the silence, and not fixing, saving, advising, or correcting each other. These touchstones, along with six others, acted as boundaries around our time together that encouraged deep self-reflection and honest, self-disclosure.

It is hard to put words around the courage movement, and it is even harder to fully articulate how this experience has changed me. However, I know that it has made me listen more deeply to my congregation and those I serve. It has helped me rely on the guiding of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my ministry and has encouraged me to spend more time in silence, seeking that guiding presence. It has taught me that people know what they need, if only we give them permission to truly ask.

I have always been a strong believer in continuing education that attends both to the spiritual and the practical, but this program has reaffirmed that belief in me even more. What would it look like if we attended to our own souls, in a community of support, in order to best serve in the places where we find ourselves? What if we stopped trying to fix others and instead helped cultivate a place where folks could listen to their own souls? How could individuals and communities be transformed?

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