Aren’t congregations supposed to be peaceful havens amidst the turmoil of life?
At their best congregations take the conflicts and struggles from the world and transform them in healing and productive ways. But in order to do this, they need to connect to the violence, betrayal and despair in our world. The most transformative congregations are not harmonious refuges isolated from the outside world, but connected places where energy can shift in healing ways.
Two basic tools can help this to happen effectively.
In congregations the intersecting energies of many people’s lives and experiences become a part the community. This energy sometimes is expressed as excitement and motivation, sometimes as tension and anxiety.
In practical terms, the energy manifests on a wide continuum. Like random bursts of static electricity, unmanaged human energy can appear as friction passed back and forth between people, causing discomfort. Or like a lightening bolt, it can produce serious but unintended injury when for example one person’s sudden outburst triggers flashbacks to another person’s childhood trauma.
At another level, like a taser gun or an electromagnetic bomb, sometimes church members intentionally focus destructive energy through character assassination or by dismantling a program or initiative that they don’t favor.
On the other hand members can manage and direct energy for useful purposes much like a current or circuit of electricity. This could present as brainstorming and developing new initiatives, coordinating outreach to sick members or joining forces to work towards social change in the larger community.
What churches and other congregations do with their energy makes the difference between creating a healing and spiritually renewing environment or one that escalates tensions and creates even more destructive forces.
In the end it is the managed movement of energy that makes change possible. We can start to guide the way energy moves and shifts between people and direct it in healing rather than destructive ways by using two basic principles. It takes only one person to start the process.
1) Welcome the energy, whether it presents itself in positive or negative ways.
This principle may seem counterintuitive. It’s a natural reaction to want to push negative energy away so it won’t hurt us and our loved ones. This seemingly protective move can make situations worse.
Sustaining peace comes about as a result of identifying anxiety and working through it. It does not occur from avoiding tension or pretending it doesn’t exist. That only sends negative energy underground which is far more destructive than open acknowledgement of unrest or conflict.
Tension and unrest are merely one expression of energy. Sometimes they become necessary elements of a transformative process.
When negative energy is visible and openly expressed in your presence it is time for Step #2.
2) Become a grounding presence. (“Eleven Tools of Grounding Leader”)
Becoming a grounding presence involves working to contain, direct, manage and control negative energy. Think of it as making your way through a storm to the calm in the center, then holding yourself or your group there as long as you can, watching all the frenzied, reactive energy blowing around, but not being blown over or harmed. Imagine grounding the storm and harnessing the energy for productive purposes.
It takes training and practice to become a healthy conduit for the energy of tension and anxiety, or to help your organization to do this, without escalating a storm.
It starts by finding your personal and communal center. What are those core values and principles that do not depend on what other people or organizations think or say or do? What is the essence of your identity as a community that that isn’t changed by the way other people spin around you, nor by the mundane or chaotic happenings of the world? (“Spinning the Center”)
Next manage personal anxiety, understand and work through your own reactivity. (“Negative Reactivity: A Head to Toe Awareness Tool”, “To Feel or Not to Feel” , “Managing Anxiety Through Action”)
Finally work as a team to support and strengthen each other as you manage energy in healing ways.