Moving into Strength in Tough Times: Conclusion on how to heal a wounded church (or other messed up organization)
“It’s like Night and Day!,” say the two people with whom I worked most closely at St. John’s. A few months into the new minister’s tenure, there is much excitement about where the church is now and its potential for the future. What a far cry from where we started!
If you’ve been reading my blog posts you may recall that I’ve written about St. John’s Church before. This church was in trouble when I began working with it. As I wrote previously, 2-3 years prior to my beginning work with St. John’s, people who visited routinely said, “There’s something wrong there. The energy is all off.” And those who feel an affinity for the land said, “It’s like there is some ancient energy there that is clouding everything.”
Clearings, Anchoring, and Healing Past Intergenerational Trauma
The first part of my Mending Webs work with St. John’s included clearing the land and the church itself; changing the anchor (the person who anchors or navigates the whole web, or system). In this case, the anchor we put in place energetically was the interim minister to the congregation. As I worked, more and more past trauma began surfacing. Much of it was deep intergenerational trauma. We were also dealing with the ongoing relational effects of a failed search for a new minister the prior year. Read more about how Mending Webs worked with those issues at this link.
Within a few months, there was a new clarity and purpose. At the same time, pain from old wounds was boiling up in every area of the church. Fractures in leadership were also more and more visible, especially between the governing board of the church and the committee that had been convened to search for a new minister. There were also tangled relationships with the larger regional church governing body.
Using Mending Webs, I worked with the lines of power and communication within these groups, and in the church as a whole. What was remarkable was that I would do a session, and two weeks later, major shifts had happened, such as a change in leadership on one committee, and people switching roles within another committee.
While I was working with the leadership, I was also doing healing work around the church’s anxiety and fear. By the time I wrote my last post, there had been a big shift there as well. They had gone from resignation and fear to quiet anticipation and hope.
More than that, after a nationwide search, they had narrowed the field to two candidates, both of whom the regional church and the local search committee felt would do well. Read more about that phase of my work here.
In the interviewing and calling (hiring) phase, I worked with the church less often. We did Mending Webs sessions at key points, such as right before each of the on-site interviews, at the point when the governing board was about to vote on whom to call, on the interim minister’s last day, and when the new person came on board.
Reweaving and adding to the web
In each session I did some reweaving of various webs to help the leadership and the whole congregation be ready for the new minister (and for the minister to be ready for the congregation).
One of the last key pieces of my work with St. John’s was energetically placing the new minister in the anchor or web keeper role (my term for the person who is the energetic navigator of the system or web) and connecting him energetically with the leadership and each member of the congregation.
Stirrings of old power
Right around that time, a few of the old power players started to show signs of reasserting their old power roles. Each time that happened, we did the web work to energetically keep the lines of power clear for the new minister.
One of those was a prior minister who had been the de facto anchor or web keeper when I first started my work with the congregation. About a month before the new minister was to start, the prior minister and his wife began to shift into their previous roles of being the center of attention and power. At this point, I disintegrated the energetic threads of the web they were weaving. Within a week, they were back into their proper roles as members of the congregation rather than anchors.
What was interesting was that the congregation never followed their lead. Because the congregation was already connected energetically to the new minister, there was no pull to go back into the old dynamics.
Stressful times and a stronger sense of community
I am pleased to say that my work with St. John’s is truly done. Within a month of the new minster’s installation celebration, churches and other public places were starting to shut down due to the pandemic. The new minister has kept people connected, moved the congregation to an online format for worship with relative ease, and is helping them look beyond their own walls to serve others in this very stressful and challenging time.
The primary people I worked with in this transition put it this way: “It’s like night and day. All the muck is gone. No one is coming in to try to take over. The new minister is a great leader – and has done a great job with some of the more problematic people. With one person, in particular, he is absolutely clear about what they are up to, and is looking for the right project so they can use their talents, feel valued, and contribute to the whole instead of sowing division.”
From trauma and brokenness to outreach
In fact, we had set up a few times to check in to see if the church needed one or two more sessions as they made the transition to their new leader. Those sessions have not been necessary. In some of the most challenging times we have witnessed in this generation, the congregation hasn’t just moved forward, but there is a stronger sense of community, and a deeper connection with one another among the members and leaders alike. They also have a vision for how they can truly serve those in need in their area that is beginning to move into practical action.
What’s more, the regional governing body couldn’t be happier. At one time this church was a powerhouse in the region, but it hadn’t been for a number of years. When I started working with St. John’s, the regional group also couldn’t envision the congregation getting to the point where they could do a national search, and attract really good candidates. In fact, they were concerned that the church was so unhealthy that they would have a second failed search. They are now hopeful that with the current robust leadership, this church, now deeply rooted in the community, can resume its ministry to and with those who are in need through its strong social outreach programs.
Gratitude and Awe
I am also absolutely thrilled! As I worked with this congregation and kept seeing dramatic shift after dramatic shift, I was constantly in awe and gratitude. Mending Webs took a broken and grieving congregation that was barely surviving much further than I could ever have imagined.
None of us could have envisioned this outcome when we started. It is truly the Divine at work.
PS: My online Mending Webs online course is starting in August! The class is filling up fast: registration opened 10 days ago, and we’re already close to half full. The early bird deadline is July 9.
If you feel called to learn how to Mend Webs, I would love to have you join me. Here is the link for more information and to register. I am so excited to pass on this work, as all of us (and the world) have such need of it.
What amazing results from this work! And what a blessing to have been able to bring it to such a positive point before the challenge of the worldwide pandemic. We need all of our ministries and care organisations to be especially robust at this time. Thank you for telling this hopeful story, Mary.
Thank you, Juliet! It is truly a blessing. The timing was amazing! Yes to robustness in any kind of service organizations — especially right now. I have a passion for helping organizations get to that healthy place — and even more: to teach people how to work with organizations in this way.