Activity 5: Anxiety in The System

Activity 5: Anxiety in The System
Activity 5: Anxiety in The System

Activity time: 10 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers and tape
  • Optional: 30 small, wrapped candies and a basket, bowl or candy dish

Preparation for Activity

  • Draw a large soup pot on a sheet of newsprint, and post.
  • If you do not have a co-leader, recruit a volunteer to serve as brainstorming scribe.

Description of Activity

In this activity, participants identify issues-internal and external to the congregation-which heighten anxiety in both members and leaders. Approach this activity playfully, encouraging light-hearted competition and laughter, to ensure it does not itself raise anxiety.

In his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Edwin H. Friedman explores the phenomenon of anxiety in individuals, institutions and society. He draws on the work of Dr. Murray Bowen of Georgetown Medical School to suggest that the speed and quantity of change as well as the inability of institutions and individuals to absorb the anxiety can cause an entire society to experience a chronic anxiety. This chronic anxiety renders people unable to think creatively or move past internal barriers, which limits their ability to respond to change in a healthy way.

Tell participants that you are going to make a "soup" together that will be a metaphor for some of what we and members of our congregation experience on a day to day basis. Ask your co-facilitator or a volunteer to scribe while the group creates the "soup."

First, ask participants to name all of the changes that they and other members of the congregation have had to adjust to in the last decade; some of these may be technological, some societal, some having to do with personal life transitions. Encourage people to keep naming things, even when there is a lull. You might offer a small candy for each answer as a way of encouraging people to keep naming. Have the scribe write the items in the soup pot. It is not necessary that each word be legible from a distance. More to the point will be the sheer number of changes written in the "soup."

Continue this exercise for four minutes, encouraging general light-heartedness, but always being aware that some items may be serious. Acknowledge serious items, but do not let them overwhelm the process.

Next, invite people to name all the things they worry about or think other congregational members worry about. These may be related to home, the congregation, safety, world affairs or any other realm of life. Continue to encourage as many responses as possible, while your scribe tries to capture them all in the pot (with increasing difficulty!). Continue this exercise for four minutes. Encourage general light-heartedness. Be respectful of serious worries, but do not let them overwhelm the process.

After you have created your anxiety "soup," invite people to sit and admire the creation. Say, "This is the medium in which leaders must work. It is up to each of us to keep from being overwhelmed by that soup."

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