School for Leadership Training Workshops

Workshop Schedule

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 than divide.


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 with them.


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