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Mid Council Relations

Mid Councils Newsletter | January 25, 2016


fourth edition, second issue


musings from the road

There has been a crisis in Jazzercise in Peoria. Now, I imagine you have not heard about it on the national news or anything, but for the several dozen women whom this effected, it was serious enough that they might have expected to see it there!

A little background. Jazzercise has been around for decades. It is an aerobic form of exercise that is based on dance moves and is set to Top 40 music. When it started, the (mostly) women who were the clients of these independently owned locations probably actually listened to Top 40 music in their cars. Now, at least in the places where I do Jazzercise (Peoria and Louisville) I would say that there are not many of us who go to Jazzercise in the morning and then have to wait on a rope line in the evening to get into a club where the latest dance music is played. When I have mentioned to people from time to time that I go to Jazzercise, I often hear them say  “ Oh, is Jazzercise still around?” It kind of evokes the days of Jane Fonda in her leotard with leg warmers and a sweat band around her forehead. Nevertheless, for those of us who find it to be a form of workout that keeps us coming back, it is important.

Last fall, Armageddon happened at the Peoria facility. There were three people teaching there (including my daughter whom I introduced to the program when we were in need of more teachers. I knew she would like it and I figured I had paid enough for dance classes for her over the years that this would be a way she could pay me back—by becoming a teacher so there could be more classes.) The owner of the facility who is one of the teachers got a full time job as an elementary teacher. Another teacher took a fulltime job at the visitors’ center of a large manufacturer in Peoria which shall remain nameless. The third teacher—my daughter—became a visiting professor at a college located an hour from Peoria. That meant that the most popular class time (9:15 on Monday and Wednesday mornings) had to be eliminated.

You would have thought that the three teachers had decided to stay home eating bon bons and watching the fourth hour of the Today show or something worse. The women who usually attended that class became hostile to the point of carrying off some of the exercise equipment before the class was over with for good. These are mostly women who are either themselves fairly highly educated or have daughters who are. They might have celebrated with their teachers for finding employment that used their educations. Instead, they left in such high numbers that the facility has had to close. (Luckily there is another facility that is nearby and some of us have made the change—new place, a little bit different atmosphere, but same good work out.)

Of course, all of this made me think about congregations and the way they sometimes react to changing circumstances. Here is one of the things I noticed. The women who had been at the Peoria facility for some time were very territorial while it was still open and were not welcoming to our sisters from nearby when they came to work out with us. I never felt very welcome there. I just kept my head down, sweated for an hour and went home. When I started going to the other facility, I found them to be only marginally more friendly. I overheard two of them talking one day. “Have you met any of the Peoria people who have started coming here?” “No. They were never friendly to us so why should we  be friendly to them?” I guess the Peoria group (the big sisters in this scenario since it is the mother ship of the franchise around here) had set the tone for Jazzercise forever more in Central Illinois. Just so, the DNA of a congregation is often set and even if people from that congregation merge with another or the founding families have all died out it seems to continue on. It is very hard to break this kind of cycle.

The other thing that reminded me of congregations was the narrow-minded nastiness that ensued when the “9:15 ladies” had to make a change in their routine. These are almost all women who were not planning around their working hours to get there. They had more flexibility in their schedules than some of us do. But this was “their” class and it had to either stay the same or they would not participate at all. Surely you have dealt with this kind of situation in some of the congregations you serve. The time of worship changes. The congregation merges with another and they have to decide “whose” communion set to use on which communion Sundays. No one really needs a full meal at 3 p.m. after a funeral anymore and the five ladies who are left to prepare it complain bitterly about having to do it, but if the pastor tries to suggest maybe coffee and cookies would suffice, there is an all-out war in the church. “The way we have always done things” may need to change for very good reasons, but it still is uncomfortable and we do not want to have to do it. In many congregations there is more than one person who would say, “Can’t they just wait until I am dead to make these changes?”

What is your counsel to the congregations or presbyteries you serve when they get caught in this kind of struggle? How do you support the leaders as they face the onslaught of pain and anger and resignation? What practices of resilience do you encourage (and do you practice yourself) to provide strength and perspective in the face of this? In the book “The Art of Possibility” the authors suggest that in the face of failure or discouragement we teach ourselves to say “How fascinating!” and find what we can learn from it. I saw something on Facebook the other day that reminded me of that. It said that when something unhappy or unexpected happens to us we simply cry “Plot Twist!” and move on.

—Sue Krummel


(3) Comments

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  1. Change and fallout in congregations and presbyteries As congregations and presbyteryies face change, thinking through unintended consequences can be one source of help to name, honor, and manage the anxiety and grief. Stakeholders and key leaders together begin to imagine what some of the resistance and consequences, intended and unintended, of change might be. Then wondering together if this changes, what might happen? who might be affected? Such a sharing would invite participants, leaders, and key stakeholders to think through the possible outcomes -- good, bad, and ugly -- and then to imagine more than one possible response to each. Another way to name, honor, and manage anxiety in the face of change would be story telling, sharing ways that a certain practice or community is valuable and has shaped the life of individuals and community. Listening deeply to those stories may help identify the deeply held beliefs and values that can be celebrated and cultivated, as well as grieved and, if need be, put to rest. Such story telling may also help name the changes and consequences bringing them to the surface instead of festering deep within. As a member of a Certificate in Missional Transformation Coaching program through the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina, I am studying ways the practices such as these can help carry congregations through times of change into the new life that God promises.

    by Chris Denny

    March 23, 2016


  2. Great post, Sue. Pastors and Presbyters can play a tremendous role in situations like these. One of the best answers to your questions is the answer you provided (“Plot Twist!”). Modeling a sense of humor, stability and confidence, you help others roll with change simply by a contagious attitude. I’m part of a Transformational Coaching certificate course through the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina and wanted to share some other ways I’ve learned that we can help lead through change. See: Shein’s Corporate Culture Survival Guide and Beverly & George Thompson’s Grace for the Journey 1) Acknowledge the loss and show how the good of the change can outweigh the bad. 2) We can’t force change (like military, business and gov), so less “onslaught of pain, anger and resignation” if we involve the congregation in deciding how to respond to need for change. I frequently offer my congregation a choice: I say we can either give up on seeking new members, which would be nice for me to only focus on preaching and pastoral care…OR we can do the more difficult thing of putting some collective effort in trying to connect to our changing community. They keep picking option 2. 3) Leadership of Presbyteries and congregations can reframe situations. Heritage ex: “the church reformed, the church always in need of reform” (as our contexts change). Bible: God can be trusted to lead us through change (Israel in wilderness, NT: gentile ministry) 4) Consult your common vision before acting. A vision that poetically articulates “why we are here today” is one of the BEST support leaders can possibly have (especially if the presbytery/congregation worked, with God, to come up with it). If you don’t have a vision (most don’t), take the time to get one. I recommend our Presbytery’s program using coaches instead of a pastor reading a few books and attempting this on a weekend! Face it, without a vision, we’re lost and can either ask (God) for directions, or stubbornly drive on in circles hoping to do it your way. 5) IF you have a vision, you can now enjoy experimenting! Try bold new things that seem to match the vision. Tell folks its okay if the experiment fails, you’ll still learn something! This takes a LOT of pressure off of both parties. Our church and presbytery are both in this phase right now, and it is exhilarating and fun.

    by Evan Harrison

    March 1, 2016


  3. I think you have to give people a reason for the change, then make sure they agree with it before implementing it, and they should honestly feel like they have a choice. In other words you have to do a lot of work up front, communication and listening, before making any changes. My 2¢s as a former redevelopment pastor.

    by David

    January 25, 2016


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