Monday, March 15, 2010

Healthy Congregations and Family Systems

Last Friday and Saturday I attended a ten hour Healthy Congregations Workshop sponsored by The Presbytery of New York City and led by Richard Blackburn (photo top right) of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center.

My first serious introduction to Family Systems Theory was in 2002 when I attended Healthy Congregations Facilitator’s Training with Peter Steinke at the Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina. It was an eye opening and thought provoking week as I was exposed to systems thinking for the first time in my professional ministry.
A few years later, in 2005, I attended a Mediation Skills Training Institute led by Richard and the Lombard Center. Richard’s work incorporates a lot of the Family Systems Theory pioneered by Murray Bowen and popularized by Edwin H. Friedman, author of Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue and Peter Steinke, author of Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach. Two years ago I was invited to be one of four or five trained mediators to assist Richard when he presented the same institute in New York City on behalf of New York City Presbytery and Hudson River Presbytery.
Thus, when I attended the Healthy Congregations Workshop last Friday and Saturday it was more of a review even though, technically speaking, it was the first actual Healthy Congregations Workshop I have ever attended. It was also the first time I have been part of a Healthy Congregations Workshop that is designed to be part of a regional governing body Mediation Process rather than a standalone workshop or a workshop designed to be part of a congregation’s Mediation Process.
Some of the work we did during the workshop was to list, compare and discuss the characteristics of anxious congregations and responsible congregations (photo second from top). Some of us were also internally listing and comparing the characteristics of anxious and unhealthy regional governing bodies and responsible, healthy regional governing bodies.
One idea I had been ruminating on that I asked Richard about was the idea that anxious and unhealthy congregations, as they send representatives to and bring their problems to otherwise healthy governing bodies, can transmit their anxiety and bring their unhealthy behaviors to the governing body and thereby potentially make the governing body less healthy. On the other hand, if representatives from otherwise healthy and responsible congregations are participating in the life of an unhealthy governing body, they can transmit anxiety into that otherwise healthy congregation and even introduce unhealthy behaviors, potentially making that healthy congregation less healthy.
It would seem that healthy congregations have a stake in insuring that their regional governing bodies are healthy, and that healthy regional governing bodies have a stake in insuring that their constituent congregations are healthy. And heaven help the unhealthy regional governing body constituted of mainly unhealthy congregations, or the unhealthy congregation without a healthy regional governing body to go to for help.

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