I was privileged to spend Apr 26-28 with the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, an extraordinary group of folks. Here are some highlights written up by Canon Frank Logue.

Dr. Chuck deGroat speaks to the clergy gathered for their spring conference at Honey Creek.
Clergy Encouraged to Self Examination, Healing

The Spring Clergy Conference, which ended yesterday at Honey Creek, encouraged clergy to take up the hard inner work of self examination in order to better deal with difficult people in ministry. Dr. Chuck deGroat taught from his book Toughest People to Love. DeGroat is an Associate Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, and Co-Founder and a Senior Fellow at Newbigin House of Studies, San Francisco.

DeGroat’s stance is that people are not problems to be fixed, but image bearers to be know by a God who pursues you. He told the clergy that rather than falling into the trap of becoming narcissists with a messianic complex, they are to relax and be attentive to God’s rhythms, instead of trying to be the savior. The antidote to the problems most of us face is to deal with the hidden parts of ourselves we are afraid to show others. Relationships he noted are the most life-giving forces in the world and also the most wounding. We are both wounded and healed through connection. DeGroat said, “The best way to get to know yourself is through the mirror of another.”

DeGroat taught of the public self we present to other, which is known to all. He also spoke of the private self, which is known to family and friends. Beyond this is the secret self known to you alone and the hidden self known only to God. He described how each of us comes to build up the public self and that this is necessary. But then the risk each persons feels is that this false facade will be exposed. Yet he said, “This is not your deepest you, which remains hidden with God in Christ.”

He taught that people have deep investments in these highly edited versions of themselves and quoted famed preacher C.H. Spurgeon who said, “Take off your masks; the church was never meant to be a masquerade.”

In working with people who prove to be difficult for us, deGroat said, “Each person you meet has a story of how he or she became the person they are. Curiosity and empathy are great tools in uncovering that story.” In being curious about someone’s story, we should honor the mask as we invite him or her to a deeper vulnerability.

Clergy broke into groups of three several times during the conference to do some of this work of sharing from their deeper selves. During the last session of the conference, deGroat challenged the clergy to name losses as a spiritual discipline. He said, “God uses pain, loss, and humiliation to strip us of our false self.”

He encouraged clergy to write an autobiography of loss, by taking six months to a year in naming losses in your life. Describe in writing the loss and experience the pain of that loss, whether of a job, a relationship, a goal never achieved. This is a means of opening one up to way God uses loss for our spiritual growth. He said, “We don’t have to do this perfectly. We need people who can hold us accountable in this journey of fits and starts.” But the journey matters for God wants each of us whole, undivided, no longer hidden.

In addition to this powerful teaching, the conference centered around worship in the chapel with daily Eucharists and a service of Evening Prayer. The sermons by the Revs. Dave Johnson and Lauren Flowers also grounded our work in scripture in meaningful ways.

An album of photos is online here: Spring Clergy Conference. The Fall Clergy Conference this September 27-29 will be for both clergy and their spouses.

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