At our April Bi-District Clergy meeting, Tom Berlin energized the crowd with his update on the Way Forward Commission. Tom was uncharacteristically upbeat about the future of the denomination, saying that he has hope for the first time in a long time. The process that the Commission is going through fascinated me. They started by building relationships within the Commission. At meals, they intentionally sit with people they do not know, getting to know each other as persons, rather than as “representatives of positions.” Rather than getting stuck, like lava, in positions formed long ago, they are finding new channels through the divisions that have “stuck” us Methodists for so long. Tom says that he is hopeful that we can “refound” the United Methodist Church—going back to our scriptural and Wesleyan roots, but writing a new story about who we are on a clean sheet of paper.
When the Commission met in DC recently, Tom invited a historian from his congregation to organize a “leadership tour” of DC, visiting:
The Lincoln Memorial to remember leadership at a time when our nation’s division was so great that we went to war;
- The FDR Memorial to remember leadership at a time when our national numbers were so bad that a narrative of decline and despair gripped the nation; and
- The ML King Jr Memorial to remember a time of leadership that embodied Micah 6:8—walking humbly with God, seeking justice.
Someone asked Tom what he is reading to help him in this journey. “Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict” by the Arbinger Institute,” he replied. I too have found Anatomy of Peace and its successor, Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box, to be transformative reads. Working with this material has helped me check my tendency to judge others, which puts me in an “I-It dynamic. When I can get out of my own internal narrative (or “box”) of thinking, “I am better than…” I am freed to have an “I-Thou” relationship. I confess that I do not always catch myself, but I am becoming more self-aware, and that is freeing.
Graham Standish contrasts “lava leadership” (which gets stuck) with “water leadership” that flows and finds a channel around; under; or through obstacles (Humble Leadership, 86). Hearing Tom speak, I felt I was seeing “water leadership” in action, creating new possibilities for our denomination. My hope and prayer for every church, pastor, and lay leader in the District is that we allow the full power of the Holy Spirit into our lives, flowing through us like living water, discovering that God is already at work in the midst of our deepest trials and our biggest obstacles. Our job is simply to “join with” what God is already doing.
Yours in Christ,