Facing the past can be difficult personally and congregationally. It’s hard work to acknowledge both what we’ve done and what we’ve failed to do, to paraphase the Book of Common Prayer. Yet, as our contributors this week remind us, without engaging the past honestly, there’s no healthy way that we can move into the future. 

Dave Odom of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity cautions us about the way that secrets about the past can haunt congregations into their futures. In “History, Forgiveness and the Internet,” Charles Hambrick-Stowe balances the gift of divine grace with the challenge of digital memory. And, finally, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove implores American Christianity to reckon with its complicated racist past. We’ll finish this week with some catalyzing questions and a description of one of the newest titles in the Alban library. 

Welcome to the Weekly. 

Concealing the past doesn't undo it

Concealing the past doesn’t undo it

Dave Odom writes, “When we decide to hide the past, the energy required to hold back the truth takes focus away from what is happening in the present. Keeping a secret often means that we will repeat the same mistakes, because the only thing we have allowed ourselves to learn is to remain silent.”

History, forgiveness and the internet

History, forgiveness and the Internet

An ever-increasing number of congregational leaders are incorporating digital presence into their ministries. Some are learning, though, that the gift of wider reach also comes with greater scrutiny. As the former pastor of First Congregational Church in Ridgefield, CT, reminds us, when the past is online, it’s hard to erase.

Resources to respond to the coronavirus

Reckoning with American Christianity’s history with race

When we start exploring white American Christianity’s historic and contemporary entanglement with institutionalized racism, we discover how we have been misreading the Bible all these years. It’s history we have to face if we are to find the future God intends, writes Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Questions for reflection

Congregational leaders, both as individuals and as teams of leaders, have an opportunity to model how we face history honestly and hopefully. We invite you to use these catalyzing questions with your leadership teams.

Obviously, they require a level of vulnerability and trust that isn’t present in every congregation; it’s worth asking if your leaders are ready to wrestle with these kinds of questions.

  • What story or time period from our congregation’s past do we highlight when we tell our history? What is it about that story or period that makes us celebrate it?
  • Conversely, what is the story or time period from our history that we skip over in telling our story? What is it about that story or period that we would rather ignore?
  • When in our congregation have we faced hard things honestly? How did we do that? How did it go? What did we learn about ourselves as a congregation?
  • If there was one thing you could change about your own life story, what would it be?
  • When have you faced hard things about your own past? How did you do that? How did you care for yourself as you did? What might that mean for your congregation?

From the Alban Library

Emotional Intelligence for Religious Leaders

by John Lee West, Roy M. Oswald and Nadyne Guzmán

Religious leaders require tremendous skill in emotional intelligence, yet their training very rarely addresses how to develop the practical skills needed — from self-awareness to resilience. Emotional Intelligence for Religious Leaders draws on the latest research in business, psychology and theology to offer religious leaders the information and tools they need to increase their emotional intelligence and enhance their relationships, communication and conflict management skills, spirituality and overall well-being. The book offers both a deep understanding of how to develop emotional intelligence and also prescriptive insights about how to practice it that will be helpful for religious leaders in many settings, including congregational ministry, lay ministry, spiritual direction, pastoral counseling and more. 

Before you go…

One of my mentors told me early in my ministry, “you know, Nathan, congregations tell a lot of stories about their past; some of them are even true!” I think he adapted that phrase from some old joke about preachers. Regardless, it’s stayed with me. 

All kidding aside, as we’ve seen in the articles in this edition, telling the truth about who we are and who we’ve been is a vital practice for a healthy future. It’s never entirely easy. Sometimes, it can be gut-wrenchingly difficult. But, it’s worth it in the end. 

Until next week, peace!

Nathan Kirkpatrick

Managing Director, Alban at Duke Divinity

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