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Through the Generations

In what ways are you like your parents and grandparents?

I have the short stature of my father’s mother, facial features like my mother, eye color like my father. I also have one grandmother’s directness, the other grandfather’s intensity, and my father’s creativity. As middle children, my mother and I are people-oriented and know how to build community.

The attributes of our parents and grandparents are numerous and diverse, as are the characteristics and influences passed through the generations of our religious communities.

However, we don’t just pass on only qualities, but also ways of coping, responding to others and making decisions. Like my grandparents and my parents I went through a divorce. The resiliency, and ability to make something valuable of that difficult and stressful period in my life also came from forebears on both sides of the family.

Patterns of relating to and interacting with others repeat themselves throughout our lives and through the generations of our families.

Murray Bowen, the psychiatrist who created Family Systems Theory, taught that emotional patterns are transmitted through many generations, therefore when a person understands how her mother related to her own parents, that person gains insights into her own patterns of behavior. This understanding allows a person to consciously change ways of interacting and decision-making styles if desired.

Edwin Friedman author of Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue carried this concept to the life of congregations. Congregations also develop characteristics and ways of relating that are passed through history.

In one church, the pastor is revered. Members consult him or her for every decision and almost always follow the pastor’s lead. In another church, members continually feel suspicion that the pastor has an ulterior motive that isn’t in their best interest.

Looking deeper into the histories of these congregations, we will find that these ways of responding to clergy could go back many decades and have origins in events that are long forgotten by some, and not even known by others.

As in families, when layleadersand clergy study and reflect on the patterns they see repeating through the generations, they can make conscious decisions to continue the ways of relating and interacting that work, and to change those ways that tend to be destructive.

The Congogram Process guides leaders of congregation in uncovering and recognizing these patterns and making thoughtful decisions about what to change and how best to go about that work.

When you understand the multigenerational transmission process and do the hard work of studying how patterns manifest in your own life and in the life of your congregation, you can make the world a better place, not only for yourself, but for all the people you interact with.

We can make God’s love bloom, one family and one congregation at a time.

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