How to heal a wounded church (or other messed-up organization)

 In Blog

A number of people who came to visit or spent time at St. John’s church (not its real name)  in the past 2-3 years have said, “There’s something wrong there. The energy is all off.” And those who feel affinity for the land have said, “It’s like there is some ancient energy there that is clouding everything.”

The minister and someone with regional oversight of the congregation tried several times to hire someone to come clear the land and the buildings, but something has gotten in the way each time.  Finally, they came to me, and I have been partnering with them.

Two of my favorite aspects of my distance Mending Webs work is collaborating with churches who need healing, and work with the land.  Usually the church is in between ministers and there is always something that needs to be healed from previous ministers/pastors/priests.  

Underlying trauma

Often there is trauma under the surface.

This church has it all:

— a senior minister who never really left, and was still, knowingly or unknowingly, holding the reins more than a decade after he retired;

— an administrator who had been there 15 years and finally just retired, but who had been essentially running the church;

— a more recent former minister who had been removed for clergy misconduct, but whose actions were swept under the carpet, not allowing for the healing that needed to happen

— lots of unhealed pain and dis-ease that have festered ever since the removal of the clergy person

— the resulting masculine/feminine divides, which are also under the surface, but which are getting in the way of any kind of progress toward finding a new minister;

— groups that do not work together, or who appear to be ok on the surface, but never accomplish anything;

 a congregation that has no real coherence.

I always follow Spirit’s priority in what to tackle first, second, third, and so on.

Clearing the land

The first priority was clearing the land and the ancient energy that was overshadowing everything else.  Using the simple and safe clearing procedure that I teach in my Mending Webs course, I facilitated the clearing of the land and buildings as well as the removal and transmutation of that ancient energy.  Those who are attuned to energy immediately noticed a difference.

Who’s in charge?

One of the biggest events in the church’s history was a renovation that created the opening for this ancient energy to enter the church and land. The minister who oversaw the renovation is much beloved in congregational memory; he also retired in the area and continues to attend the church.  As I began working with the congregation, it became clear that this minister was actually the behind-the-scenes web keeper (my term for the person who is the energetic navigator of the system or web).

No wonder the interim minister was having facing challenges in every direction!  Interim ministers go in to congregations whose full-time minister has left, and do the healing work necessary to help the congregation grieve and let the past go, and to be ready for a new person to come in.

Changing the web keeper

Working with this dynamic was the second priority: I dissolved the former minister’s web keeper relationship with the congregation, and made the interim minister, who should hold that role, the web-keeper.  A day later, I received word from people attending the church that not only was the interim minister the energetic center of the worship service for the first time, but the former minister who had been holding that role was no longer the focal point of energy and attention; he had become simply a member of the congregation.

The energy has shifted

Even the interim minister herself, who says she doesn’t feel energy very strongly, has felt a palpable shift and now has the space  to do her work.

Of course, with some of the underlying issues resolved, all the under-the-surface unhealed wounds are beginning to surface — everywhere!  That is the focus of my current work.  I have a feeling there will be more to come in these blog posts.

Trauma and dysfunction are intergenerational

In the meantime, all of this illustrates two things I’m becoming more and more aware of in my web work.  First, trauma and dysfunction is usually intergenerational.

I’ve seen this dynamic over and over again, for instance, where a client with a huge amount of anxiety had an alcoholic ancestor a generation or two back, or some other traumatic event that influenced how their parents raised them, and so forth.  When you are healing trauma, you end up dealing with the whole family web.

We carry intergenerational wisdom

And second, as Kazu Hag, a Kingian nonviolence trainer and founder and coordinator of the Eastpoint Peace Academy says, “If we carry intergenerational trauma (and we do), then we ALSO carry intergenerational wisdom.  It’s in our genes and in our DNA.”

I have been working with this reality in my Mending Webs courses and individual sessions for a long time.  My clients who experience their own family trauma, have found that energetically (re)connecting with their full lineage can be life-changing.  While they may have a painful relationship with their immediate family, connecting with their intergenerational wisdom provides a stability, grounding, and strength that brings deep healing.

Drawing on intergenerational wisdom

As my work with this congregation continues, we are drawing on the intergenerational wisdom of the larger denomination, and the places where they have been healthy in the past.  I am excited not only to continue my work with this congregation, but also to continue to teach others how to do it. Be on the lookout in the next month or so for my next online learning opportunity!  

In the meantime, I encourage you to look beyond your immediate ancestors, whether the relationships are painful or life-giving, and connect with the intergenerational wisdom that is in your lineage.  Here is a simple practice to start with. 

Connecting with your intergenerational wisdom

Try this:

1. Think about the ancestors that you know (the non-traumatic ones!).  Are there any sayings that have been passed down from generation to generation? Any bits of wisdom or life advice?  Or maybe a joke or some funny story?

2. Spend a bit of time remembering — you might want to write down what comes to you, or draw, or find some object that reminds you of the saying or story.

3. Thank them for their wisdom:  you can simply say a prayer of thanks for what they have brought to you and/or your family; you can find an object that reminds you of them and hold it or place it where it will remind you of their wisdom, or some other gesture of thanksgiving and love.

And please let me know about your experience in the comments below!  

With love and gratitude,

Mary

PS: If you have family trauma and want to heal your intergenerational trauma and access your intergenerational wisdom, I have some spots open for individual work.  Check it out here. or book a  Discovery Call so we can explore how I might serve you!

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Showing 4 comments
  • Karly
    Reply

    Dear Mary,

    This article really touched me – all the ways things interconnect, the way trauma and wisdom are both carried in our generational lines, and the way energy can be felt. Thank you for sharing your experience with healing webs. I look forward to learning more!

    • Mary Shields
      Reply

      Dear Karly, I’m so happy that this article touched you! I find it so important to remember that we have intergenerational wisdom that we can tap into, and it’s not just the trauma!

  • Dru M Wielonski
    Reply

    I found your blog and have read thru it and the questions. Since it is the anniversary of my brother’s birth, he was first to think about and while I cannot connect with any trauma, at least at the moment, I suddenly realized that there is a copy of a painting hanging over my desk, painted by a member of the yacht club he belonged to. There are 3 sailboats with their sails filled with air, the sun probably setting in the background, and the artist added his boat # to one of the sails, in memoriam. I knew I had to have one and when it arrived I had it framed in a silver frame(my sister ended up with a silver frame also). And so I offered a prayer while studying that picture and remembering the good and healthy times that sailboat brought him. The other ancestor that came to mind was my maternal grandmother, the only grandparent that I spent time with over the years. I have an old rush seat chair of hers that I’ve hung on to, and while scrolling thru facebook this morning saw an idea of making a planter using an old chair. And that has given me an idea. Her father and grandfather were in the horticulture field and I would be honoring that ancestral trail. She was always a favorite of mine and we loved playing double solitaire. As I plan for the chair’s new life I will offer a prayer of thanksgiving for her presence in my life.

    • Mary Shields
      Reply

      Dru, thank you for sharing these moving experiences of connecting with the intergenerational wisdom of your brother and grandmother. This is beautiful!

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