When Practice and Awareness Meet

By Meck Groot, Joe Sullivan

Art models building blocks

The point of a community of practice is for people who want to get better at something to learn from each other through regular interaction. Even people new to a field can help the group learn. Their observations and questions can identify unrecognized practices and raise awareness of which practices are actually working.

Often awareness sets practice in motion. But when Rev. Elea Kemler told us she joined Spiritual Leadership for Culture Change because she wanted to know "how other congregations are doing this Spiritual Leadership thing," we began to understand that sometimes practice precedes awareness. That is, sometimes, intentional reflection on one’s ways can reveal the underlying practices.

Over several years, we have had multiple interactions with Rev. Elea and the people from First Parish Church of Groton. When they show up to our learning events, they consistently show enthusiasm and affinity for the practices of Spiritual Leadership. They attend with open minds and open hearts. Their new website reflects much of the same. As does their recording of "Prayer for the Queer Kids (YouTube)." Here are people who have been practicing Spiritual Leadership for some time, whether they call it that or not.

So, we were delighted when they accepted our invitation to a recorded conversation focused on "being in right relationship with change" through the Spiritual Leadership practices of "faithful risking" and "doing our inner work." The conversation in fact brought to light all of the practices of Spiritual Leadership weaving into their ways of being church. Their attention to “practice, practice, practice” is an expression of their values and mission – and thereby they shape and reshape the culture of the congregation.

They thought they knew little about "how to do this Spiritual Leadership thing." We invite you to listen (YouTube) as the team explores with us what they actually know and how they practice.

Notice how:

  • “Doing Our Inner Work” practices appear in explicit expectations of people to go deep and to be real with one another;
  • “Centering in Gifts” practices replace the dominant culture focus on competence in creating a welcoming spiritual home for a wide breadth of giftedness;
  • “Tending to Tradition” practices involve grappling with hard questions of harm and long term commitment to dismantling oppressions, as well as accountability to marginalized and displaced peoples;
  • "Covenanting" practices grounded in values and mission enable liberating trust among leaders that empowers them to move forward; and feed deep mutuality of belonging to one another; and
  • “Faithful Risking” practices weave through all they do in collaboration with other practices to yield the “spacious grace” which creates fertile ground for transformation.

What stands out to us from the conversation is how awareness and practice inform each other. Sometimes the practice comes first in which case naming it can reinforce the behavior. Sometimes the awareness comes first and can invite the behavior. There's examples of all of that in the conversation.

Finally, we invite you to consider how your congregation might, like Groton, already be engaged in the practices of Spiritual leadership — maybe without even knowing it. Let us know what your awareness reveals, and join us in upcoming community of practice gatherings.

About the Authors

Meck Groot

Meck Groot’s lifework has largely been at the intersection of faith and social justice. She has delivered her gifts in administration, teaching, consulting and facilitation as a UUA employee on district and regional staff in New England. Her passion has been to inspire and support vital,...

Joe Sullivan

Joe works with churches of all sizes on a range of congregational life matters with a special interest in helping congregational boards be more faith-filled, mission-focused, and accountable in their practices. Joe joined the UUA staff in 2012 as District Executive for the former Northern New...


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