Leadership in Ministry Faculty Coaches Marcuson and Josund Share Insights About Clergy Responses to COVID-19 Part 2
When the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders caused our spring Leadership in Ministry (LIM) sessions to close, our seventeen faculty members quickly strategized. The spring coaching groups are meeting virtually. We asked faculty coaches from the Portland workshop, Margaret Marcuson (MM) and Julie Josund (JJ), to share insights from their coaching experiences.
In what ways do you perceive anxiety is being expressed or manifested in those you coach or in your clients?
MM: I see a lot of overfunctioning. Some are overwhelmed. I see some avoidance of anxious church members and leaders.
Do you see pastoral leaders functioning in different ways as a result of the COVID-19 challenges?
MM: I don’t know if I’d say different—I see them bringing their usual strengths and finding their usual traps in response to this extra-intense situation.
JJ: In contrast to Margaret’s observation, I see some participants who are noticing and labeling themselves as newly underfunctioning. This is a judgment-filled term, which they are apologizing for and seeing as a troubling weakness. But it may also be a good behavior for chronic overfunctioners. Perhaps they are doing less mega-functioning more than ‘under’-functioning. It would be interesting for LIM faculty to discuss this.
What has been your approach in coaching clergy and ministry professionals during this time?
MM: Challenge them to think through what is their responsibility ( and what isn’t). Help them think theory in relation to their specific setting and the wider situation. Stay curious with them and encourage them to cultivate their own curiosity.
JJ: I was also impressed that while COVID-19 is certainly vibrant it did not take over the case studies presented. Each of the pastors in my groups brought experiences and concerns that they have been working on and wanted to continue to work with LIM coaching and BFST. Life and ministry continue. Everyone was grateful to be able to gather virtually, though some were annoyed at having to be doing so much of life in this new medium. The ongoing benefit of Bowen work was named by all.
One is tempted to ask how this COVID-19 crisis relates to Bowen’s concept of societal regression. What are your thoughts on that?
MM: I’ve been thinking about it as one giant global case study in how the human race responds to a huge challenge. The question prompted me to look at Bowen’s book, and the chapter, “Society, Crisis, and Systems Theory.” His concluding paragraph, about the environmental crisis, includes these sentences: “Our society is oriented to the use of cause-and-effect thinking and instituting crash solutions directed at symptoms which lull people into the belief the problem is solved. Man’s disharmony with his environment is a long-term evolutionary process and if it continues man may exterminate himself. The thesis here is that man is not going to change the environment enough to correct the disharmony, and that the ultimate change will require an order of change in man he is not yet able to contemplate.” We can see all the usual behaviors of blame, quick-fix mentality (a vaccine will not solve the deep societal divides, especially economic, exposed more fully by this crisis), herding (for example, the anti-shelter-in-place demonstrations in various states.
What have been the most effective leadership behaviors or functioning you’ve seen during this time?
MM: In a number of my coaching clients, with LIM connections and otherwise (but all with years of working on themselves): Clarity about roles and responsibilities—their own and others’ ability to claim what they like about this time without guilt. Being present to the crisis without spiraling a story about the future (too much). Finding ways to take care of themselves (including managing exposure to the news).
We often harken to the pictograph of “crisis” as being threat and opportunity. What opportunities have you seen pastoral leaders move toward?
MM: Her is one example: one pastor said, “My church has talked about streaming worship for 10 years, since before I got here. We figured it out in 48 hours.” He was pretty light-hearted about it. I think the people who are doing best are able to step up their responsibilities without taking it on in a burdensome way—to be somewhat light about it, at least after the first shock.
What words of encouragement or challenge are you telling your coaching group participants?
MM: I’ve been talking about the 1918 flu epidemic, to remind people this isn’t the first time churches have faced a pandemic. A historical perspective helps us step back from the overwhelm of the moment—humans have been through this before. I’ve also been saying that the work is the same as always: focus on yourself and your functioning.
The LIM workshops focus on Bowen Theory as a “theory of practice for ministry.” In what ways do you see the theory being a resource for pastoral leaders during this crisis?
MM: As I mentioned, a focus on functioning helps leaders avoid spinning their wheels on what they can’t control. It helps them bring their best selves to the crisis, which is the biggest contribution they can make. It gives them a way to protect themselves from the spinning anxiety of others.
JJ: I am so impressed by one of our long time LIM participants who received a new call possibility in the midst of Covid19. The anxiety of the moment could have caused him to jump at this opportunity, which at first glance ‘solves’ many of the problems, and issues he lives with. Instead, he kicked into “BFST thinking” and calmly and thoughtfully made a long term choice that was best for him.
This post is part of a short series. Read part one here.