The third week of July, I was at the Mountain Retreat and Learning Center in Highlands, NC serving as faculty for what was called Southland UU Leadership Experience (SUULE). This was a four district collaboration. Southwest Conference, Mid-South, Thomas Jefferson, and Florida districts came together to develop this revamped version of leadership school for congregations in the Mid-South, TJ and Florida districts.
What made this truly an experience was the immersing of the participants into a case study congregation about the same size of congregation that they currently belong. Each congregational group had to name their congregation, develop a mission statement, and define for themselves the values of the congregation.
There were lectures presenting the history of congregationalism in this country. This history was not just a dry reading of events but a delving into the values of our founders as found in the Cambridge Platform of 1648. There were presentations on Systems theory as it pertains to congregations. There were presentations on worship theory. Four avenues were available in which to process all of this information. These were congregational groups, student led worship services, chalice circles, and an optional spiritual practice group. Woven through all of this was James Luther Adams five smooth stones of religious liberalism along with what became a mantra for us, SUULE leader Connie Goodbread’s “Faith Development is all we do. Unitarian Universalism is all we teach. The congregation is the curriculum.”
All of this information was synthesized in examining the case studies of the various sized congregations where the ‘members’ of the congregation were asked to identify triangulation, homeostasis forces, roles and other factors being played out in the system of the congregation. None of the scenarios were far fetched as the case studies were compilations of congregations across our faith tradition.
It was indeed a leadership experience to allow these participants an opportunity to step back and look at a congregational system functioning given the skills and mindsets in the scenarios. The real learning will take place when these individuals return to their own congregations and begin noticing the same tendencies at work. How will they respond differently now that they know and can recognize self -defeating behavior.
I strongly recommend congregations to find the money to be able to send two or three people from the congregation to this event next year. Having a team from the congregation attend will ensure the possibility of transforming our congregations into healthier systems. All congregations regardless of size or health will benefit from such an infusion of wisdom and skills. This is money spent as an investment in the future of the congregation. It will be held again next year August 8-12 2010.
At the bottom of the SUULE web-page is this quote by Rev. Frank Thomas:
“Leadership is the spiritual process of discerning what one believes (clarity), acting on that belief in the public arena (decisiveness), and standing behind that action (responsibility) despite the varied responses of people (courage).”
SUULE certainly began that process of leadership development for its participants this year. At this moment, if I am asked to serve again as faculty at SUULE, my answer will be a resounding YES. Blessings,