New Leaders: Spiritually Grounded -- Landrum

The staff of MidAmerica Region of the UUA has put out a statement about what the "New Leader" of congregations will need to succeed, and they've begun a series of essays about their bullet points, the first three of which are currently available.  My response to the first point is available here on the Lively Tradition, and this is the second.  It's worth noting that theses are qualities of the new Leader not just the new Minister
2.  Spiritually grounded: Leaders understand what they believe or don’t believe and are aware of their need for connection to something larger than themselves; they are aware that they need to connect with a deeper core that gives them balance, intuition, and commitment.
Back when I was preparing for ministry, the suggestion that a competent minister needs to be spiritually grounded would have been met by me with frustration -- and fear.  As an agnostic humanist, I believed that secretly this meant that people believed I should believe in God.  Many people in our pews react the same way.  It was during my internship with Drew Kennedy, who described "spirituality" as a series of right relationship -- right relationship with self, with friends and family, with society, with the earth, with the cosmos or God -- that I began to be comfortable in using the word "spiritual" to describe myself.

Certainly I think a key aspect of the New Leader is understanding connection with something larger, whether you term this concept "spiritual" or not.  Our isolation as individuals and churches is often a weakness, and seeing ourselves as connected to something larger, be it God or Justice or the Unitarian Universalist movement, strengthens us.  

Our people are thirsty for spirituality.  I've done a lot of writing over the years on blogs, and have had three articles in the UU World, and out of all that writing the one piece that people keep talking to me about and writing me about is the piece about doodling as a spiritual practice.  It was startling to me that this is what people connected to most out of everything I've written, but it spoke to people on this level of a need for spirituality.  

Phil Lund draws from Gil Stafford in listing four techniques from spiritual direction:

  • The Leader as the Steward from Sacred Safety
  • The Leader as Holy Listener
  • The Leader as Advocate of Silence
  • The Leader as Wisdom Teacher
I have no disagreement with these.  I would add the Leader as Advocate of Holy Noise, too.  "Spiritually Grounded" for me is being enhanced by seeing the joy in a baby's cry during worship and the laughter and squeals of children in social hour.  It's also about the noise of voices raised in song or chant.  Many of my most mystical moments in life have been moments of music.  We need time for silence, and we need time for noise, too.

I would also add the Leader as Advocate for Multigenerational Experience.  I remember one moment in college when I saw a parent and child walking across the campus, and I realized that I hadn't seen a child in weeks, maybe months.  It's too easy for all our lives to get so tightly focused inward.  Church is one of the most intergenerational places in our lives.  Our social groups outside of church are often grouped by age, and outside of families, church is one place where the very young and the very old and all those in the middle come together.  As someone in the middle, I value these connections with the youth and the elders in our congregations.  There's a reason the Triple Goddess is not just one of the three but is Maiden, Mother, and Crone.  Seeing our lives in the patterns of the generations connects us with something larger.

Lastly a note about safety.  It is very important for our churches to be safe places, yes.  I think it's good for us to have strong policies in place for the safety of our children and our adults.  Our congregations need to be places with standards of protection in place.  But we need to know that sometimes that safety will be shattered by forces beyond our control, and when it does we stand or show up on the side of Love.  And while we strive for safety, being a spiritually grounded leader also means being not governed by fear.  We can't let fear for our safety keep us from marching in a Pride parade or hanging a Black Lives Matter banner, any more than we can let fear for our children's safety keep them from going to school or gradually increasing their independence as they grow into adults.  So being a spiritually grounded leader means stewarding safety while balancing fear with the values of independence, justice, and trying bold new ideas, as well. 


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