In my early days of working as a chaplain at a treatment facility for young people with mental illness and behavioral disorders, a battle erupted around the chapel services I offered. Front line staff, who were responsible day-to-day for the health, safety, and well-being of the residents, were concerned that young people attending chapel would use the opportunity to pass notes to each other and make plans for nefarious activities. Activities of particular concern were ones that would bring young men and women together to sneak away for dalliances or, worse yet, to run away together from the facility. They wanted me, the new chaplain, to offer gender-separated chapel services.
I was ready for this issue to arise, as my boss had warned me that staff often raised this concern. When the issue was finally brought to me, I didn’t resist or make excuses for why I wanted to do what I wanted to do: I listened. The front line staff were the people who were responsible for these young people almost 24 hours a day, knowing them at their best and their worst. Their concerns were real — young people did go AWOL, and they did sneak off to have sex, which sometimes resulted in teen pregnancies.
Despite my understanding of these serious concerns, I had a strong knot of feeling in the pit of my stomach when I thought about separating boys and girls into different chapel services. I didn’t agree what what was being brought to me, but I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere with a defensive, knee-jerk reaction to the real concerns of others. So I didn’t try to avoid that internal discomfort: I felt into my own hesitation and resistance and reflected on WHY I felt like I just could not make that change. Then it dawned on me — worship at its core to me is about embodying the Kin-dom of God. The Kin-dom of God is inclusive of all and excluding none. Segregating by gender or anything else violated that core commitment to radical inclusion.
I proceeded with just the single service, seating boys and girls on different sides of the chapel. When the issue arose in subsequent staff meetings (more than once), I shared my why — the vision I had for chapel and what it was doing for us on a deeper, spiritual level. The protects usually stopped arguing after that.
I tell this story because it demonstrates the process I just taught in my recent webinar series, Mindful Teams in Times of Change. Let me give you the quick recap:
Know Your Why. There is a deeper reason why you do what you do. The longer you do a thing, the harder it often is to articulate the why. Being challenged, like I was in this story or in the way we are being challenged amidst this pandemic, provides the perfect opportunity to reflect deeply on why you do what you do and articulate its core purpose.
Feel Discomfort. What I felt in this example was the sting of the potential loss of a core value. But when I felt into that discomfort, I could have just as easily realized I was only afraid of losing power and control over that chapel service. Regardless of the outcome, feeling into the discomfort, the potential loss, etc., is crucial for moving forward.
Grow in Vision. Having felt into discomfort and reflected on your core purpose, you then can take that purpose and reinvent that thing you do in light of any constraint that you face. In the above example, I could have also decided to create the separate chapel services and found a way to live into the vision of inclusive worship that I held as the core purpose.
In these days of pandemic and civil unrest, we may be feeling ourselves forced to or called to make radical changes to what we’ve always done. This is a good thing. The circumstances invite an uncomfortable, but often fruitful, opportunity to articulate core purpose and build or adapt what you do based on why you do it.
Are you feeling anxiety or worry as you move toward the change in season, change in work or family routines, or impending changes to fall and winter celebrations? Lean into that discomfort, connect with what you love about your rituals, and start to design new ones during my 4-week online retreat, Reinventing Ritual. Starts October 22. Discounts available. Learn more.