School for Leadership Training Workshops
Tuesday & Wednesday, January 9-10, 2024
10:45 – 12:15
Title: Leading Difficult Conversations
Presenter: Rev. Dr. Sarah Ann Bixler, Assistant Professor of Formation and Practical Theology,
Associate Dean of the Seminary, and Conectere Program Director and Co-Principal Investigator
Description: Conflict exposes what we hold most dear. Engaging well in difficult conversations
requires listening for "the song beneath the words,” as leadership expert Ronald Heifetz
puts it. This is a sacred opportunity for compassionate attention and discovery of
deeply-held needs and values that can lead to a sense of harmony and reconnection.
This workshop draws from the theories of adaptive leadership and nonviolent communication
to offer concrete tools that help leaders pay attention to themselves, individuals
and social systems in the presence of God. Within this attentive posture, it becomes
possible to lead communities through difficult conversations in ways that disarm rather
Title: Moral Discernment within Community
Presenter: Rev. Dr. Jacob Alan Cook, Academic Program Director of the Pathways for Tomorrow
Grant, and Visiting Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, Eastern Mennonite Seminary
Description: In this workshop, we will envision faith communities as spaces for developing both
personal agency and social responsibility—and for promoting these life-giving values
while deliberating on moral questions. Current ideas from Christian ethics, moral
psychology, rhetoric, and other fields will help us explore the sometimes hidden sources
of misunderstanding and conflict as well as other barriers to agreement and collaborative
action. Ultimately, we will experiment with practices for reflecting on our own intuitions
and deep convictions and engaging diverse perspectives with curiosity and compassion.
Title: Understanding Polarization: the good, the bad, and the useful
Presenter: Rev. Melissa Florer-Bixler, pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church, chair of L'Arche
North Carolina, steering committee member in broad-based organizing in her county,
and an author
Description: Polarization is used to describe a lot - from disagreements to divisions. What is
polarization and how does it impact ministry and relationships? This workshop will
explore what polarization is and isn't, and will provide insights for pastors and
community leaders who hold together diverse groups of people.
Title: Preaching in a Divided Church
Presenter: Rev. Jim Joyner - Ordained elder in the Virginia Conference UMC with 20 years’ experience
as a pastor and preacher in area churches
Description: Increasingly, people curate what they hear and read - whether it’s news, opinion,
or beliefs - so that it aligns with their currently held worldview. How do we preach
on divisive issues when each listener expects us to defend their predetermined position?
How can we challenge people to wrestle with the complexities of the Biblical witness
so that they can grow beyond their entrenched, culture-war positions? Is it possible
for our preaching to promote unity of spirit in our faith communities in a culture
that is determined to divide? In this workshop we will explore ways to meet these
challenges of preaching faithfully and prophetically in divided churches and a divisive
world. We will share hard-won wisdom from our experiences and develop frameworks for
how we each might move forward in proclaiming the gospel in our context.
Title: Building Bridges with First Responders
Presenter: Rabbi Jeffrey Kurtz-Lendner, serves as the rabbi of Beth El congregation in Harrisonburg,
and volunteer chaplain with the Harrisonburg Police Department
Description: As faith leaders we may wonder, “How should my community interact with first responders?”
Many of us have first responders as friends and family or as members of our congregations.
Still others encounter these public servants through community events or when there
is a critical incident. Sometimes we hear stories from our own parishioners who have
incredibly positive experiences with first responders. Other times our parishioners
have experienced actual or perceived trauma when interacting with first responders.
Sometimes our own histories or ideologies may influence our interactions with first
responders. This workshop will provide resources and tools to better understand the
needs of first responders so that we can enhance our ministerial roles in interacting