It’s a beautiful day

Dedicate energy to possibilities, not hurdles, says polity conference speaker

October 21, 2013

DETROIT

What do the band U2 and a hotel ballroom full of 250 mid council leaders have to do with each other?

That’s what the Rev. Corey Schlosser-Hall, executive presbyter of North Puget Sound Presbytery, wanted to discuss with the participants of the annual Polity Conference, held here Oct. 14-16. 

The answer? Both the band and leaders create emotional frameworks that shape what is healthy about life, he said. Or, as U2 puts in in the song “Beautiful Day,” the heart is a bloom that shoots up through stony ground.

While the life of a mid council leader might often seem to be one of plowing stony ground, this is an exciting time to be in mid council ministry, Schlosser-Hall said. There are blooms everywhere trying to shoot up and establish new life.

Mid council leadership is like gardening. It is also like converging weather systems. Leaders must choose which stream will drive the current of the coming years. The downward spiral “high-pressure system” of departures, separation, decline and conflict is an option. But leaders can also choose a “low-pressure system” of aspiration, one that nurtures the shoots of new growth.

The choice is which stream will gain more of our attention, energy, intelligence, imagination and love.

Schlosser-Hall said the covenant that binds Presbyterians together is a multi-dimensional one:

  • mutual love for God, one another and neighbor;
  • a living and growing commitment to Jesus the Christ as Lord and Savior;
  • a vibrant, Reformed faith articulated in Scripture and the confessions;
  • of shared mission;
  • a shared way (aka polity);
  • Shared risk to engage in mission and ministry;
  • Shared liability to protect and stand together through thick and thin;
  • and of material stuff (money, property, belongings) stewarded in trust for the mission of God.

The part of the covenant that should make the headlines is the shared risk, he said.

“The headlines of our hearts should be about all the ways we encourage each other to risk reaching out, to listen deeper to people, to experiment and be willing to fail, to exercise courage, to shape a gospel that speaks the language of the soul today.”

One way that Schlosser-Hall shapes an aspiring emotional framework is by championing the “big, pragmatic, moderate, middle of this denomination and the church in general. As a social movement scholar, I have a deep appreciation for those who are on the poles both the right and the left ... they have a key role in our life together. But I’m noticing a much less vocal, much more influential bunch in the middle.”

These are the ones who pull their church forward, get it done, and get on with it.

What are the habits of heart and mind of an aspiring presbytery?

  • Future orientation matters. Jesus preaches that the Kingdom of God is near, leading us into the future, not back into the past. Rather than grieving what we once were, be astonished at what we still are.
  • Practice trusting. Failing. Gaining in humility. Trying again.
  • Play offense rather than defense.
  • Put feeling first. Change happens when people see and feel, rather than think and analyze.
  • Analyzing leads to negative emotions and dire predictions that can motivate change for the short haul. Lasting change comes from positive aspirations.
  • Look for the bright spots rather than the problems.
  • Allow people to experience the dignity of the consequences of their ideas and decisions.
  • Develop a wide field of vision to connect unlikely convergences, particularly between the fringe and the middle.
  • Leaders surround themselves with networks of innovators.
  • Quit complaining about our own insufficiency and quit blaming something else for our own stuckness.
  • Decide that failing equals learning.
  • Discover that vulnerability is the path out of shame and perfectionism.
  • Ditch being a middle manager for being an artist.
  • Give up believing there is a model, or a secret just around the corner that will fix things

When we believe the Kingdom of God has come near, said Schossler-Hall, then we will be an aspiring — breathing — ecosystem.

“When I stand before my God, I want to know that I did everything possible to help us cohere and stretch beyond ourselves, in order to bless others,” he said.

When we choose to quit letting worry and anxiety colonize our hearts, mind and imaginations, U2 is right: It’s a beautiful day.

Erin Cox-Holmes is executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Donegal and a contributor to Presbyterian News Service.

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