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Alumni Speaker Series Addresses Challenges of Congregational Leadership

By April 6, 2021October 29th, 2021No Comments
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CTS has hosted several Alumni Speaker Series events over the last year, which have addressed a variety of pressing issues facing members of our community and the broader public. Learn more about the Alumni Speaker Series events to come and watch recordings the previously held events here.

The most recent Alumni Speaker Series event, “The Impact of 2020: Shepherding Grieving Congregations,” spoke to an especially important yet difficult topic that many CTS alumni have had to navigate in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic. April Ervin, Director of Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving, said that the Alumni Engagement Taskforce decided on the topic because “the pandemic and resulting loss of life has had such a definitive impact on us all. For many of our alumni and students in church leadership this has been magnified as they support their congregants through this difficult time and also manage their own grief journey.”

Joining the conversation moderated by Ervin were Aimee Laramore, Philanthropic Strategist for CTS’s PhD Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric, Prof. Christina Davis, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology and Marriage and Family Therapy, and Deb Brandt, Certified Funeral Celebrant and Creative Grief Coach and Educator.

In the conversation, Brandt reported that every death from COVID-19 impacts at least 9 people, but the ripple effects typically extend far wider. Alongside the loss of life, Brandt also mentioned the significance of “living losses,” referring to the things that we’ve lost in our individual and congregational lives as well as what we’ve lost by not being able to grieve and mourn as we are accustomed.

One of the consistent themes of the conversation was the need to find ways to process grief together in community. In light of the continual waves of trauma that the pandemic has brought on, often without the opportunity to pause and grieve with one another, Brandt, Davis, and Laramore all spoke to the importance of finding ways, especially in congregational life, “to honor the losses, again and again, and to call out the names of those we love and have lost.” Davis further encouraged congregations and individuals to find ways “to slow down and breathe, to step back, to pray, to acknowledge and honor what has happened to us and our loved ones.”

Brandt, who has written, taught, and led workshops on grief and mourning, offered a number of recommended resources for congregation and community leaders:

Recommended Reading

  • Atul Gwande, On Being Mortal
  • David Kessler, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief
  • Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy, and their Own Family
  • Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living
  • Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, David Kessler, et al, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss
  • Jerry L. Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss
  • Alan D. Wolfelt, Companioning the Bereaved: A Soulful Guide for Caregivers
  • Alan D. Wolfelt, Death and Grief: A Guide for Clergy
  • Alan D. Wolfelt, Creating Meaningful Funeral Ceremonies
  • Alan D. Wolfelt, Reframing PTSD as Traumatic Grief: How Caregivers can Companion Traumatized Grievers Through Catch-up Mourning

Recommended Articles and Online Resources

Continuing to address the challenges of ministry leadership, the Alumni Speaker Series is beginning a series of four events about ministerial self care. Its first event on the theme, “When the Well is Dry: Ministerial Leadership Burnout” will take place on April 8 at 1pm. Joining Ervin for that panel will be Prof. Robert Saler, Associate Dean and Director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at CTS, Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley, Senior Pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church and current CTS PhD student, Rev. Rebecca Burrow, Founder of Building Reconciliation, Inclusion, Diversity, and Gender Equity (MDiv ‘08), Rev. Nicholas Orange, Owner of Family and Community Partners (MDiv/MAPF, ‘10), and Rev. Miki Mathioudakis, Chaplain at St. Vincent Hospital (MDiv ‘00). Register for the upcoming event here.