Continuing my ongoing reflection on my life. In a recent conversation with a good friend, I was asked "Where is Arthur?" Not in a location or geographical sense but in the sense of spiritual journey. Since my life is so often bounded by the classroom, my response took me there and the ongoing journey of life as a teacher. I began to reflect on a particularly powerful formational time in my more recent past. As I begin to re-engage my Blog, I thought, I should share about SHAPE.
It seems odd to me that one of the most foundation shaking and formational events of my life should be so, suddenly, not a part of my life. There is a “before SHAPE” and an “after SHAPE” divide in my life. For those who may not know what it is, SHAPE (an acronym for Sustaining Health and Pastoral Excellence) is a national ministry of the Church of God, born out of a Lilly Foundation program called Sustaining Pastoral Excellence. (I could also include the Lilly Endowment in my list of amazing life changing entities; between the Continuing Conference on the Liberals, the Conference on Illuminative Evaluation, the Gathering Storm Initiative, and Sustaining Pastoral Excellence, they have afforded deep life change, growth, and learning opportunities for me that have initiated new formation in my journey.)
As significant as it was/is in the life of pastors in the church, it was also in my own. It’s a long story and I think I won’t tell it in detail. But the essence is this: as it became clear to us that a trained coach was the key to successful life and ministry change through SHAPE, an exceptional leader in the life of the church, Jeannette Flynn, made a far reaching decision—those of us on the national staff, involved in and committed to SHAPE, were to be trained in order to be the coach trainers as SHAPE spread out across the US. I can’t explain what a far-reaching decision this was—for all of us. It encompassed a significant commitment of dollars and time and energy AND transparency and vulnerability and pain and joy—the proverbial “tears and laughter.” But we walked this road together. It was a challenging road—pleasurable and painful—but so deeply worth it. I can’t speak for the others, although I believe their stories parallel my own, but through the experiential training, lead by the amazing David Ferguson and his staff at Great Commandment Ministries, SHAPE took me into myself, my faith, my relationships, my gifts, my inadequacies and vulnerabilities. Tears and laughter. Laughter and tears. Honesty and fear. Abundances of both. Deepening relationships. Honesty to the point of discomfort and, nearly always, joy. Assessment. Affirmation. Probing. Coaching.
I am changed forever by this experience. My work in the classroom is changed forever by this experience. My relationships are changed forever—as is my marriage. SHAPE is one of the hardest best things in my life. I carry it with me as I walk into the classroom; as I enter into conversations with friends and colleagues and students. It is no longer, formally, part of my life. For some reason that I don’t know, my work with SHAPE is not needed here in the Northwest—neither by the national work nor by the district. Actually, since I offered it to the WPC and the religion department here, I guess it is not needed there either. But I carry it with me. It is in my heart and, I hope, in my life and relationships. SHAPE was and is a great grace in my life.