The Dance of Shared Ministry
I'm sharing my "charge to the congregation" for the installation of Rev. Meredith Garmon at the Community Unitarian Church of White Plains, NY on November 10, 2013.
You begin with your body leaning slightly forward. It’s an intentional way to move in the world, really, with your body’s center of gravity taking the lead, and the rest of your body poised to follow. Your steps are deliberate and measured. You stay in tune with your partner so that when it is time to move in a different direction, you will be able to move together. The dance of shared ministry invites both of you to pay with the edges of your comfort zones.
The leader steps forward, paying attention and responding to both potential obstacles and opportunities. The follower’s corresponding steps are dependent on trust in the leader. The leader attends to the body language of the follower so that the follower feels guided and not pushed. The follower learns to live into the discomfort of not seeing the path as clearly as the leader.
This dance requires both partners to communicate clearly. But in spite of even the best communication, the dancers will have missteps, …entanglements, …unintended pauses. Some of the steps may be familiar, even habitual, but other steps might feel awkward at first. But when you are able to step into the flow of give and take, of awareness and adjustment, the dance of ministry becomes fluid and organic.
The embodied experience that I describe is taken from my experience of learning how to tango. Being in covenant together is a lot like a dance. There is give and take. Occasionally you step on someone else’s feet or they step on yours.
As my charge to the congregation, I’d like to share some Dance Floor Etiquette (PDF) that might guide you in this new shared ministry.
- Always try to enter the floor from an area that will not interrupt the flow of the other dancers already on the floor.
The ministry of a congregation is organic, holistic. As you make space for new programs and ministries, make sure they fit the mission and vision of your congregation.
- Always move counter clockwise around the dance floor.
The most effective congregations have all of their leaders leading toward the same vision. You need to make sure you don’t have a leader or ministry that is not in alignment with your goals.
- No parking on the dance floor.
If you there is a ministry that you are not excited about but there is energy and flow among others, please move off the dance floor and learn to enjoy watching others flourish even when it’s not your passion.
- Stay in your lane.
Set up clear expectations and understandings about the roles of minister, board, staff and other leaders. Even with shared ministry, you need clarity about who is ultimately responsible for the different areas of your congregation.
- Do not lift your elbows.
On the dance floor, having your elbows up is an aggressive way to claim your space. You want to have good boundaries between ministries outlined with covenants, bylaws and some key policies. Poor boundaries can function as institutional landmines.
- Do not stop dancing if you make a mistake.
In the movie Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino reassures his dance partner before they step out on the dance floor – "There are no mistakes in tango. Not like life. If you get all tangled up you just tango on." The same is true of your covenant with your new minister. If you get all tangled up, you just forgive yourselves and one another and begin again in love.