I’m sorry to be missing our congregational retreat at The Mountain this year toward the end of October. Sadly, it conflicts with another obligation I have that weekend that I want to tell you a little about.

It began with a retreat I took at the beginning of my sabbatical called “An Academy for Leaders” run by the Center for Courage and Renewal. This organization uses principles developed by Parker Palmer to help people, as it says, “find the clarity and courage to bring our true selves to our life’s work.”

In this workshop, the focus was on people who serve as leaders in many different settings. There were about 30 people involved. We met for a long weekend, then broke into groups of five for monthly telephone conferences. The program concludes this month with another weekend retreat in Minneapolis.

In planning out my sabbatical, it seemed to me that it would be valuable to use some of my time away to focus on what my role of leader in this congregation demands of me. And what I like about the approach used by the Center for Courage and Renewal is that their retreats don’t hand you handy mantras or tricks to accomplish your goals. Instead, they invite participants to find their center for acting within themselves.

As they put it, “At the heart of authentic leadership is the courage to be fully human, to take risks, to care deeply, and to take action even in the midst of change and uncertainty.”

So, the time we spent together was involved in reflection and sharing, mediated by a process of asking each other open and honest questions. The process can be challenging because it invites us to ask questions of ourselves that we’re not used to asking. But by the same token, it is also freeing because what we center in on is the truth within us that motivates us in our work.

We were asked to reflect on such things as what energizes us and what depletes us in our work and steps to keep each of us using our strengths in our work.

In my case, for example, I told my group that what energizes me is collaborating with others to create something new that awakens hope and new energy in others, essentially all that’s involved in building community.

What depletes me, on the other hand, is when I feel that I am in trying to organize something or motivate people I am “pushing a string,” finding people are unwilling to take part or engage at a significant level. A learning that emerged for me was to make sure that my efforts stay focused on that which is mine to do, not taking on too much or giving energy to that which doesn’t engage others.

There is more to say and more to come, but I hope that gives you a flavor of the kind work that I’m pursuing in the hope of continuing to grow into a leader who is effective and acts with integrity.