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Strength for the Journey Conference recap

The weekend of September 24/25, 2010, 125 people from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, including the Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl, provisional bishop of the diocese, attended a "Strength for the Journey" conference presented by the CREDO Institute. Inc. at the Sheraton Hotel in Arlington.

From Friday noon to Saturday afternoon, these survivors of schism listened, talked, laughed, cried, sang and prayed. With the help of a team of presenters, they worked hard at defining, describing and coming to terms with what they had experienced in the diocese, some for decades, others for the past few years as the former leadership worked steadily toward their goal of leaving The Episcopal Church while retaining its name, property and assets.

A video about the conference can be seen here, and photographs of the conference can be seen here.

Presenters included:

  • The Ven. Richard I. Cluett, Jr., B.A., M.Div., deputy to the Presiding Bishop for Pastoral Assistance to Reorganizing Dioceses; Archdeacon Emeritus, Diocese of Bethlehem, Allentown, Pennsylvania;
  • Mr. Bob G. Stice, B.A., M.A., M.Ed., LPCC, psychotherapist and consultant to the Diocese of Rio Grande, Albuquerque, New Mexico;
  • The Rev. Brian C. Taylor, B.A., M.A., M.Div., D.D., rector, St. Michael and All Angels Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico;
  • The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, B.A., M.Div., associate director, CREDO Institute, Inc., Sagamore Hills, Ohio;
  • Dr. Glen Kreiner, assistant professor at Penn State University and a researcher into Episcopal identity.

The presenters offered information and tools for understanding and working through the experience in the Fort Worth Diocese, an experience both shared with and very different from the experiences of the three other dioceses whose former leaders left The Episcopal Church San Joaquin, Quincy, and Pittsburgh. "Strength for the Journey" conferences had been held in each of those dioceses prior to the conference in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

The participants were seated at round tables of 8 to 10. The conference opened and closed with prayer. Brian Taylor talked about "The Exodus Experience," setting the experience here in the context of scripture. Glen Kreiner talked about Episcopal Identity and how to turn "pains into gains." Gay Jennings talked about the similarities in people's responses to natural disasters and "ecclesiastical disasters." Bob Stice talked about resiliency and "journeying from hurt to health." Then Brian Taylor closed with a "toolbox" of spiritual resources. Each presentation was followed with discussion among participants at their tables. People were encouraged to move around during the conference so they could get to know people from other parishes and "get out of their comfort zones." The day ended with a Q&A session with the presenters and Bishop Ohl.

Brian Taylor shared some of his experiences in the Diocese of Rio Grande under prior leadership hostile to The Episcopal Church. Then he talked about four separate movements in "The Exodus Experience" captivity and oppression, crossing into the unknown, the apparent end, and new life. He talked about these movements in three settings for the Hebrew people, in the Paschal mystery and in diocesan life.

Glen Kreiner outlined what researchers have learned about Episcopal identity and offered techniques for turning pain into gain, such as reframing threats as a growth opportunity and working to prioritize common ground. He talked about how to leverage and value differences instead of trying to avoid the difficult conversations on tough issues. Instead of always assuming "same" means "good," we should work to think of differences leading to dynamic tensions which can lead to growth opportunities for all sides of those differences.

Both Kreiner and Bob Stice emphasized that "trust is built through behavior, not through words." Stice also described "resiliency" as "something you DO more than something you HAVE." Some of the primary factors of resiliency are strong supportive relationships, optimism, cognitive flexibility, ability to manage strong emotion, active problem solving approaches rather than passive/avoidance strategies and, perhaps most importantly, a strong spiritual/religious base.

He said ways to build resiliency include working to make connections, reframing challenges so they do not seem insurmountable, using creative thinking, and asking a lot of questions, such as "what would be different ways of looking at this?" or "what if I did the opposite of what I've been doing?" or "What would be the outrageous solution," or "what is amusing about this?"

Gay Jennings talked about the classic stages of response to a disaster: the pre-disaster stage when some may see what's coming and try to warn others, who typically deny anything is wrong; the moment of the disaster, which is immediately followed by the "heroic" stage, when people respond to help one another. The "honeymoon" stage of community cohesion is next, followed by disillusionment, which can involve exhaustion and depression. That stage is followed by coming to terms with what has happened and working through grief. This moves toward the final stage reconstruction and a new beginning.

She reminded listeners that "all disasters are local," meaning that each person, each parish may experience the same disaster differently. She said that "no one who sees or experiences a disaster is untouched by it." And she said that disasters have "both an individual and a collective impact." Finally, she said that "in a disaster, spiritual questions always surface whether or not you are religious."

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