A quick word from St. Simons

I am currently at our wonderful UM retreat center at Epworth By The Sea with my fellow bishops and the General Secretaries of our boards and agencies for a retreat lead by Dr. Christine Pohl about the practice of making and keeping promises. It’s been a great event so far, and I wanted to share some of what I’m experiencing through the story from our friends at UMCom printed below:

St. Simons Island Learning Retreat Continues

The residential bishops’ and general secretaries’ learning retreat continued on Monday at Epworth By the Sea, beginning with Dr. Christine Pohl leading a study about the practice of making and keeping promises. Each day, Dr. Pohl is sharing one of the practices that she explores in her book, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us.

Dr. Pohl says no community can endure without trust, and trust is based on fidelity. Fidelity, faithfulness and covenant-keeping are all central to God’s character. Covenants and promises involve expectations for both parties, but God continues to be faithful even when we are not.

Dr. Pohl shared the Biblical story of Jesus preparing his disciples for his death as an example. The disciples promised they would not forsake Jesus, but within a few hours, had broken that promise. Often our betrayals are not as dramatic as that of Judas, but rather more like Peter—not an overt betrayal, but a failure to keep our promises in small, less dramatic ways in ordinary moments. Opportunities to be faithful are often small. Yet in this story, Jesus never lets go of Peter but loves him to the end.

Keeping and making promises, fidelity and commitment are central to our relationship with God, but also to our relationships with one another. Our relationships are held together by our promises to one another. When we fail to keep our promises, people feel disappointed or even betrayed. Betrayal is devastating to our trust.

Communities do not always handle disagreements well, says Dr. Pohl. Christians who disagree over moral or theological issues can turn on one another, and these disagreements can be interpreted as betrayal. It is impossible to sustain community if people don’t “stay at the table” and try to work things out. Efforts to understand alternate viewpoints are acts of respect.

Pohl said that to strengthen the practice of promising, it’s important to tell and retell our stories, to rearticulate our commitments. Making commitments public helps strengthen them. Assessing the kinds of commitments we should make, being careful about the promises we ask for and finding ways to celebrate acts of fidelity and promise-keeping are other ways to strengthen our promises.

Attendees at the retreat participated in a Service of Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant, led by Bishop Cynthia Harvey.

Following the worship service, participants resumed their discussion of adaptive leadership, led by Marty Linsky of Cambridge Leadership Associates.

“Leadership is a risky activity,” said Linsky. He said that one’s scope of authority is constituted of the expectations people have of you. If you stay within your scope of authority and do what others expect, there is no risk. If we do what is expected of us with a high level of competence, we are rewarded for that in various ways – but that is not the same as exercising leadership.

A reason that people often don’t exercise leadership is because it is dangerous activity. “One of the questions to ask yourself is how to spend more time than you have in the past dancing on the edge of your scope of authority on behalf of what you care deeply about,” said Linsky.

He said that opportunities for leadership come for each of us every day. The question is whether we see those opportunities and take advantage them, and whether we do it skillfully.

Linsky posed a challenge: think about what you care about and whether it’s important enough to take more risks than you’ve been willing to take in the past. Can you push that boundary on behalf of what you care about and do it in a way that maximizes the chance that you will be successful and minimizes the chance that you will be pushed aside? How can you be true to your values and act on them, but do it in a way that pushes the boundary really smartly so that you don’t end up on the outside?

Predictability and consistency is a resource for exercising authority –but there is a difference between exercising leadership and exercising authority. Linsky says our scope of authority shrinks and expands depending on what’s going on, and you don’t know if you are bumping into the line until you meet resistance.

Linsky also discussed the difference between technical problems and adaptive challenges. Adaptive issues are not susceptible to easy answers because they can’t be “fixed.” They are not technical problems related to facts information or knowledge. Adaptive challenges are about beliefs and values, and people’s identities – “what’s in their hearts, not what’s in their heads.”

Adaptation means giving up some values which have been important in the past, some traditions, some ways of being in the world. The process of adaptation in human organizations is difficult because it is a process of loss, of giving up something that was important or highly valued. The question is “What do we carry forward and what do we give up?” These learnings generated discussion that was carried out throughout the remainder of the day.

One Comment on “A quick word from St. Simons”

  1. Lee says:

    She was my professor for Christian Hospitality class – absolutely a wonderful Christ follower! You are blessed to be with her on the Island.