Leading congregations in times of anxiety

This week the Alban Institute is featuring a resource and discussion on how clergy can effectively minister in congregations experiencing significant anxiety about their future.

A key insight is the appropriation to congregation life of lessons taken from attachment therapy:

“Congregations grieve because members and groups have lost significant defining points. Anxiety escalates as people sort through the realities of loss, their intense feelings, and the uncertainty of their future. And anxiety escalates further as a congregation and its leaders wonder how to (1) care for people who are grieving deeply, (2) respond to people who are grieving similar losses differently from each other, and (3) relate to people who are not grieving the changes at all because they feel no sense of loss. Pondering all the change, loss, and grief, members may become anxious about the congregation’s undefined future and doubt whether its leaders have the necessary gifts to lead the congregation into unknown territory.

Many congregational members and leaders are familiar with the overlapping perspectives of authors who have written about the processes of naming and grieving losses. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler- Ross, the most familiar theorist, identified five stages that terminal patients and their families typically experience to cope with impending death: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (On Death and Dying, New York: Macmillan, 1969). From my work with attachment theorists, I have come to appreciate a dimension beyond acceptance that provides a deeper fulfillment to grieving people. I refer to this as attaching anew. Attaching anew is not the same as reattaching; developing the capacity to attach anew requires hard work.

Clearly, the possibility of reattaching is tantalizing to grieving people and congregations. Reattachment would restore broken bonds and lost relationships, terminate the intense feelings of sadness and anger, fear and despair, and would allow congregational members and leaders to avoid the expressions of anxiety that disrupt relationships and distract the congregation from its ministries. Reattaching would allow us to return to the stability we enjoyed in the past and halt grief.”

Read the full article here. There’s a round-table discussion linked at the bottom of the article if you’d like more information.

Past Posts