How Did I Feel?

Thursday I wrote about the big meeting and one of the comments was, “How Did I Feel About It? or rather, how do I feel about it?

At the time, as I led the meeting I was not as calm and self-differentiated as I would have liked. But of course the meeting was all about me, how I am being perceived, how I am leading, what I am doing. Its hard to write about…not because I don’t want to talk about failure on my part or mis-perceptions on their part. But because I don’t want to be public with their emotions, their comments, and their feelings, which need to be respected and held between us.

So, without saying much more, I will aim to write about how I felt, how I feel. Like I said, I was not as calm and self-differentiated as I hoped to be. I imagined myself inviting them to speak, talking notes, and listening gracefully. I imagined myself taking a few moments to respond and share with them my take on the dynamics at play. All of that happened….just not calmly. My voice, I think, revealed the contained emotion I was holding back: the desire to cry, the desire to be angry, the desire to say, “Where have you all been?”

I had my report, given to them months ago, laying out everything I hoped we would to do over the next six months. In that previous meeting we discussed this report point by point and agreed to all of it, with a few amendments. And this is what we have been doing in the months since that meeting. I wanted to say, “Does no one remember discussing and agreeing to this? I did say, “Given that we agreed to it, I have been living into this exactly.” and, “I intended to free you up from some of the day to day burden in order to enable you to think more creatively…but rather than become creative the freedom raised your anxiety and unhinged you… So, here is another itinerary of where we are going.” And again, I laid out a (revised) plan to proceed forward.

Now, what is it that I am trying to do? I am trying to get them to think creatively about who we are and craft a vision of who we are as a parish. They struggle to recognize how the vision work is as important as their fiduciary role in parish leadership. Actually, the vision work is more important at this juncture of new leadership, because everything else hinges on this work. So, I said, from the vision, once we have articulated it, we can design our strategy to live into that vision, as a parish, as leaders, as staff, as committees. From the strategy will come goals – for the parish, the leaders, the staff, the committees. From the goals come our course of action for the next program year, possibly the next five program years. Once that work is done, the hope is we will have more cohesion between all the various fabulous committees and work we do – the right hand will know what the left hand is doing. We will have a means (vision, strategy, goals) by which to articulate who we are, what we do, what we hope to do, and the impact we are making, and hope to make, on the world around us.

This really is a fabulous community. I stand in awe of what is accomplished. All I want is for it to be conveyed more comprehensively, cohesively, and clearly. Well, that and I want us to function with trust, with collegiality, and as a team working together, not as individual silos….It really should not be this hard.

But the reality is, shifting the paradigm from: individual committee work that is disconnected from any sense of a cohesive whole, ie silo mentality to: team work that is connected to a cohesive whole; is the biggest, scariest, least understood, process for this group. And I get that. Which is why I wanted to manage my feelings and express what needed to be said without fueling the anxiety.

It occurs to me that this group of long retired folk, gifted and brilliant as they are, never experienced vision work in the work place. In my previous church, as we did vision work, they all had done something like this in their jobs. The corporate world has adopted vision work, team leadership, collegiality – but none of these folk ever experienced that, they retired before that became a working model. So. I am beginning to understand just how foreign this all is.

Alban Institute says that as leaders we have to adapt (temporarily?) our leadership style to fit the desired leadership, or at least the familiar leadership style, of the church. I have had to adapt from mutual collegial, to authoritarian.

It’s tough on both of us – me and the leadership team. I don’t like being authoritarian, but I can. And clearly they don’t want me to really do this (be authoritarian), even though it is the familiar way….so we are working to change the leadership culture….and it is producing anxiety….To some degree this shift has been articulated, but it needs more discussion…something we will do in our winter retreat on Mutual Ministry, which is being led by someone other than me.

Over the course of the meeting my emotions calmed, from a low simmer, to a non-anxious presence, and I then was more like I hoped to be.

My hope is we will move forward crafting what needs to be done and continue to do the hard work of building trust in one another.

Do I feel better since that meeting. Yes. and no. I am glad we had it and could lay on the table the current of anxiety, that is always helpful. I’m glad I had that document in writing showing, at least from my perspective, that I have been doing what I thought we agreed too. I am not sure where the meeting will lead us and if it will serve to build greater trust. And, mostly I suspect, as is often the case, the work will continue to be a challenge for another couple of years until the leadership paradigm is shaped and takes hold and is embraced by everyone who holds a leadership position.


About Terri C Pilarski

I am an Episcopal priest serving a delightfully progressive, interesting, creative congregation. I have been married more than half my life to the same man. We have two grown children, plus two dogs and two cats, although the number of four legged household members changes from time to time. I love to garden, knit, read, and play on Facebook or with my blog. I have been a practitioner of daily meditation since I was nineteen. I practice yoga five days a week and walk every where I am able too.
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16 Responses to How Did I Feel?

  1. Mary Beth says:

    Glad you were able to get to where you wanted to be. Indeed, what a challenge to this group, to have a work model so entirely foreign to them introduced.Once again, this resonates for me, both in my work life and in my responsibilities in a similar group – we are going thru a strategic planning process and our rector will likely retire within 5 years. Change is coming. I pray to stay centered, learn from your wisdom, focus on Christ.

  2. Barbara B. says:

    Some people are so deeply entrenched in their old ways of thinking — what an uphill battle. I’m sure it must be such an energy drain on you. You really ARE doing good work though!

  3. Sherry says:

    What strikes me so wonderfully here, mompriest is your deep concern that this go well. Your thoughtfulness and caring are so apparent. Truly, I’m sure in the end all will go well. We in my parish are about to change, our rector has retired, a couple of weeks ago, a replacement has not yet been found and our asst. rector is carrying on with all the duties. We too will be in for change, though I am new enough that it will not impact me as severely as those who have been there for years. Thanks for such a lovely post.

  4. Gannet Girl says:

    Well, I hav no idea what self-differentiated means, but it sounds to me like you have a wonderful grasp on what is going on. I love your insight into what your parishoners would have experienced, or not, in their workplaces, and how that carries over to their understandinng of church leadership.

  5. mompriest says:

    “Self-Differentiated” means being able to see the situation for what it is and not make it personal. It means being able to remove the personal from the group anxiety and enabling a sense of the bigger picture. It means not taking personally the things said and the emotions expressed but being able to place those in the context of the entire situation. So, even though this was directed at me personally and how I am leading, it was also not really about me, but about the anxiety of the group as we try something new.Maybe some of my friends working in psychotherapy can define it better than I have?When we as leaders (or parents) can be self-differentiated, we are able to help the group (child, family) move to the place, the behavior, they need to be and express.

  6. Songbird says:

    You are able to articulate this with such depth, I know it must have been helpful to them, even if it feels foreign initially.

  7. Gannet Girl says:

    Thanks. I looked it up — one of those concepts we know without knowing the jargon. I found some really interesting stuff online (for which a situation in my extended family right now could be a best-selling textbook example).Anyway, it sounds like your work with them was inspired.

  8. Katherine E. says:

    Wow. Sounds like you REALLY handled it well. I admire that greatly,mompriest.

  9. karlajean says:

    Thank you for this post. I so appreciate your integrity and the way that you honor your congregation, and how the present ministry can be challenged, communal and collaborative. Your insight into the cultures of leadership they come from is really key. What a fortunate congregation to have you as their pastor. Peace, and blessings to you.

  10. I think your insight about the difference in corporate culture (doing vision work) for the generations is really accurate and profound. I hope they start to get over their anxiety enough to move forward step by step.

  11. some days this thing, this high and holy calling to ministry… feels like a league of inadequacy all the way around. but that’s not true is it? God’s gifted us all – and gifted us differently. to be able to be with them and help them learn to “see” and vision… well it’s everybit as important as a mother helping a child learn to hold that big fat crayola and color on blank paper… rather than in a coloring book. it’s about using the imagination and letting the images of who we are spring forth. hang in there… they’ll start coloring, they’re just scared because the lines on the pages have been moved around…

  12. Rev SS says:

    So many congregations like yours .. wish they all could have you or someone with your expertise and grace to lead them

  13. Jennifer says:

    You’re a thoughtful, generous leader. May you feel more and more thoughtfully and generously embraced as a leader in the days to come.

  14. Purple says:

    Thank you for sharing. I’ve decided becoming self-differentiated is a life long process. And when not everyone works at that…it skews the picture quite a bit. Hang in there…you are doing good work.

  15. Thank you for being so honest and open. Your story is a very familiar one which many leaders in transition will recognise. Best wishes and good luck.

  16. What good hard work you are doing! I admire the tenacity of your love for those you work with and what you do.If these are older folks maybe it’s more a challenge in learning each other’s language. I know from talking to my mom every day now that there is a degree of suspicion for our new fangled ways of languaging things in her generation. And on my part, frustration that she seems stuck sometimes. Self differentiation is so hard for me. Ruins my narcissism. 🙂

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