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What does a leader do in times of congregational stress and tension?
Jeff Hawkins, executive director of HOPE CSA and the director of clergy and congregational care for the Samaritan Counseling Center of South Bend, brought participants in the northeast region some helpful answers during his luncheon presentation on November 9.
"The Chief Solution," Pastor Hawkins said, referring to Jesus' strategy during the great storm on the lake with his disciples, is to be a "calm, courageous presence," to break the vicious cycle of easily-transmitted anxiety. Anxiety is an automatic reaction to threat, real or imagined. And, in fact, it may be quite useful in the short term for self-preservation. BUT, elevated, prolonged anxiety chokes the life out of people, groups and congregations. It chokes mindfulness, the capacity to learn, curiosity, consideration, focus, patience and hope. That's because it is a physiological event: it chokes the activity of the brain's frontal cortex.
A calm, courageous presence can create space , room to think, to slow down, to consider, to move hopefully and healthily. This is like the Hebrew word yasha, or open space and sometimes translated "salvation." Hawkins noted strategies for dealing with stress and tension in creative ways including honesty, collaborative consultation, learning together, assertive versus aggressive leadership, principled response, staying connected, curiosity and light-heartedness. And, he noted that it is very rare that anyone can form and maintain that kind of presence alone.