Today I gave a reflection to the Council of Bishops on regulating our anxiety and understanding the stress across the church. Years ago I had the blessing of studying for a year with Ed Friedman, the family systems theorist. Friedman wrote,
“The overall health and functioning of any organization depends primarily on one or two people at the top, and this is true whether the relationship system is a personal family, a sports team, an orchestra, a congregation, a religious hierarchy or an entire nation” (Generation to Generation).
In a season of stress we are called to pursue self-differentiation. Self-differentiation is the capacity of the leader to discern his or her clear position, to be able to state this clearly and to stay in touch with others in the system (not withdraw). A self-differentiated person knows where she ends and where others begin—she is not fused with them. Self-differentiation is more helpful than charisma or consensus.
To the degree that we are not dependent on the praise or even support of the relationship system, we can become more detached, even as we are present. To the extent that the leader can become detached, he makes the field less anxious and promotes creativity. In healthier systems there is a greater range of responses to the stress. When the anxiety level is high, the system is more reactive and less thoughtful. When the anxiety level is lowered, the system becomes more thoughtful.
The bishops are called to claim a vision for the church, to make disciples of Jesus; to speak prophetically, which connects the gospel with alleviating human suffering, and to be passionate about the unity of the church (Book of Discipline, 403).
We will exercise this calling in the coming days primarily through conversations, honoring people across their differences, and presiding in a way that upholds the values of fairness and equality. The 864 delegates who are arriving from across the world will deliberate, discern and act. The work is in their hands. We are here to support them.
I have been interviewed by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, AP, USA Today and NPR. The headlines are often inflammatory, and I have no control over the others who are interviewed. I have attempted to talk about who we are as a global church, how the decision affects people in the pews, and how the decisions will be made.
Tonight the members of the Commission on a Way Forward had dinner with the Council of Bishops. It was a gift to introduce these 32 persons to the bishops, and for the bishops to hear their voices. It was a gift to offer words of gratitude for them, along with colleague moderators Sandra Steiner Ball and David Yemba.
The Commission report will be given early in the General Conference, on Sunday morning. The report can be found in the Daily Christian Advocate, which you can access by simply googling those words.
Tomorrow is a day of structured and guided prayer, concluding with Holy Communion and Anointing with Oil, for healing.
My prayer is that we will stay in communion with each other, and that Jesus will heal our brokenness. My prayer is that bishops will be mature spiritual leaders in the days ahead who live in the peace of Christ and trust him for the well-being of his people.
Today was a very good and a very full day.
Blessings to you all.
Resident Bishop, Florida Conference
President, Council of Bishops
United Methodist Church
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