Monday, September 17, 2012

Creativity and Theological Field Education Supervision

Creativity and Theological Field Education Supervision

We gathered two, three, five then seven women on a perfectly beautiful Saturday morning, seven sane women giving over a perfectly beautiful Saturday morning to Name Game, Dr, Know-It-All, Peeves and Rants - all manner of jumping, shouting, laughing, ridiculous [from and "adult" perspective] games.  On a perfectly beautiful Saturday morning seven sane women played games for three hours.  Why did we play games for three hours on a perfectly beautiful Saturday morning, you might ask - [beware - here comes the paradox] - because we had work to do.   We had important work to do, official work to do, pressing work to do.  We had to design a program and devise an implementation strategy, including time line - now.  So for three hours we played together.  Then we broke bread together.  Then, and only then, did we begin to work on our project.

Creativity shakes up our linear thinking, creativity encourages us to connect, creativity call us to knowing in ways that engage multiple senses and intelligences.  Creativity is integrative.

"But I am not creative!"  Yes, I hear the wail from here.  Have you wondered why children don't regularly proclaim, "I am not creative!"?  Because children have not been thoroughly starched, pressed and folded into the uniform box shape of adulthood.  The good new is that starch and folds can be washed right out - go play in the rain for five minutes, seriously.  You will be amazed.  I do not paint, sculpt, dance, act, or sing (I was the only student invited not to join the high school chorus), and yet I am discovering creativity.

What in the world does this have to do with theological field education - the serious business of preparing the next generation of religious leaders?  First of all, at its best, this work in not business but art and craft, knowledge and openness, planning and improvisation. The Free Online Dictionary declares that "inspire" and "breathe" have common Indo-European roots.  Found in the Hebrew Bible "ruach" means variously breath, wind, spirit.  Is it possible that creativity and Spirit are kindred? Is it possible that clearing space and time for Spirit is necessary to to enter the holy stream of the ongoing work of creating?

But what about those seven sane women and our irresponsible playing when we had Important Work To Be Done?  By 3:00pm on that perfectly beautiful Saturday, we had collaboratively created an innovative program, implementation plan, and time line - with an hour to spare.  In the midst we discovered joy in community.   Joy in community, innovative common work, inspiration, permission to breathe, Spirit space - and a most important piece - permission to mess up, look silly and learn from what "adults" usually hide in shame.  Might this be what life-giving religious leadership is all about?

"Creativity is contagious, pass it on" – Albert Einstein
Trudy Hawkins Stringer

Friday, August 31, 2012

Tilling the Soil for Planting: The First Few Weeks of Supervising
by Viki Matson

The first few weeks of a supervisory relationship are crucial to setting the tone for the remainder of the experience.  If you are like me, we tend to get impatient for the good stuff – those times when we can really dig deeply into questions of theology and practice –  when we feel like we are making a difference in the life of someone who is venturing onto a path that for us is well worn with time and love.

Even though it might feel like not much is happening in the early weeks, let me remind you of how central these weeks are, and perhaps remind you of some best practices that will get your supervisory relationship off to a good start.
First and most obviously, it is important to show up.  Signal to the student early on how important this time is, and keep your supervisory appointment.  Use these early weeks as an occasion to get acquainted with the student.  Using your best pastoral sensibilities, invite them to make themselves known to you.  Listen, listen, listen.  Ask artful questions.  Gently probe and prompt.  Begin to get a sense of your student’s personality, humor, stories, and keep track of the questions they are living with.  Find out the ways Divinity School is both deeply satisfying and deeply challenging.  Invite their trust, and demonstrate by your faithful presence and listening, that their trust in you is well placed.

I also find it helpful in these early weeks to do what we can to reduce anxiety.  Our pedagogical philosophy is that the best learning happens when students feel safe.  Model for them a kind of supervision (there is an art to this) that communicates love more than judgment, conversation more than critique, and mutual growth more than an expert/novice relationship.  Let your time together be marked by a kind of sighing your way into a comfortable way of being together in which the threads of trust are gradually strengthened.

It can be appropriate, in these early weeks, especially, to let yourself be known.  Each supervisory relationship has its own character, and there are countless right ways to do it.  I would invite you to consider to what extent it would be appropriate, even helpful, to share something of yourself in this relationship.  Often these relationships have a quality of collegiality, an unexpected gift to be celebrated.  Being mindful of the power differential that is undoubtedly present, be wise and intentional about letting yourself be known.  Model self-awareness.

And finally, consider getting out of the office.  Take a walk.  Get a latte.  Meet for lunch.  These small efforts signal to the student that you place a high premium on this time.  They experience you acting in ways that tells them (as well as other folk) that this regular weekly time is important.

I think of these early weeks of supervision as rather like the early stages of planting a garden.  We might walk around the yard a time or two, sleuthing out the place that is just right.  We might pore over seed catalogs and even sketch out some rough draft plans.  We might begin to make sure we have all the tools we need for this work.  And of course we plant some seeds.  The fruits (and vegetables!0 we are sure to experience in the coming months would not be possible without this early work.




Wednesday, February 29, 2012


The "F" Word in Theological Field Education Supervision



"I don't have time*!"  "I can't find the time!"  "They** won't give me time!"  How many times have we heard – and said - the same thing?  As mid-term approaches, I hear this Greek chorus in the halls of the academy.   In my recent conversations, this mysteriously missing time is time for attention to life of/with/in Spirit – time for the "F" word, formation, spiritual formation - life forming of/with/in Spirit.  I call this missing time the tyranny of "when" – "when I finish the semester" – "when I turn in my senior project" -  "when I graduate" – "when I develop this new course" – "when I finish this book" – "when I get through Advent" – "when Easter is over" – you get the idea.  We all do it.  Futurity will provide the elusive missing time.  Except that it won't, can't. defines the "F" word as "the act or process of forming or the state of being formed." (  This tidy definition points to tensions inherent in "practicing spiritual formation."  Is formation the "act or process of forming?  Or is formation the "state of being formed"?   Well, yes – and no – and it depends.  Look closely at the definitions.  Remember active and passive voices from old school English grammar?  "The act or process of forming" situates agency within.  "The state of being formed" locates agency externally.


Theories of the social construction of self suggest that we are continually participating in the forming of our larger culture, as we are simultaneously being formed by that culture.  Formation is dynamic.  It is neither exclusively active nor passive but an integration that refuses binary definitions.  It is process; it happens in self in community. Spiritual formation happens whether we attend to it or not.  Without attention this formation can become malformation that leaves us still searching for that mysterious missing time.


What does this mean for supervision in theological field education?  Well, as the movie title goes, "It's complicated."  Intentional spiritual formation is not a set of practices or disciplines that we can give to a student to enact.  It is not direction that we can give another to follow. Neither is intentional spiritual formation something best unmentioned and left to the student's own devises (It seems that culturally we have tried that with human sexuality to less than salutary results.)  I suggest that spiritual formation is relational, intentional, mutual engagement of/with/in Spirit.  Intentional spiritual formation requires the courage to risk engaging that which "blows where it will."   Intentional spiritual formation requires self-aware vulnerability.  It requires transparency and honesty – with ourselves and with one another.  Intentional spiritual formation has no hierarchy of "experts" but is a democracy of journeyers.  It is not just students who are challenged by Rilke's advice to:


Be patient with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.  Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.                   Rainer Maria Rilke



Intentional spiritual formation invites us to "STOP in the name of love" (a nod to Diana Ross and the Supremes), to listen for Spirit in and among us.  To stop "buying, finding, saving, spending, giving, losing" time, to refuse time – and life – as a commodity and to engage it as gift, a gift of love from a God who is Love.


This understanding of "spiritual formation" may well open itself to charges of not being rigorous enough, demanding enough, even sacrificial enough.  My experience is (yes, I am appealing to a particular epistemology) that life provides plenty of rigor, opportunities for sacrifice, and demands.   Only in learning the practices of loving are we equipped to live into the fullness of our creatureliness within creation, to be life-giving.


So, what are we to do about spiritual formation as supervisors of students of practicing theology?  STOP, breathe, listen, risk transparency, live our questions, love every day with intention.  Practice these actions in relationship with our students.  Sleep.  Begin again.


Trudy Hawkins Stringer




*Time - noun) Middle English; Old English tīma;  cognate with Old Norse tīmi;  (v.) Middle English timen  to arrange a time, derivative of the noun; akin to tide1 


**My high school English teacher, Corrine St. Clair King Guild, referred to this usage as "the old, indefinite 'they'."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How is your On-Line Pastoral Presence?

Part of the “new normal” about the context in which we minister is the reality of social media. Whether we have fully embraced the likes Facebook and Twitter, or whether we reluctantly are coming to embrace these new ways of communicating, social media has become something which we ignore at some cost to our effectiveness in ministry.

For most of our students, one of their places of “residence” is the virtual neighborhood of Facebook and other social ministry outlets. For us to be unable to converse with them about ministry and social media is to not take seriously their lived context. Many of our students work with youth and young adults. Tweets and status updates are the currency of this generation.

So the question is not, “are we in favor of social media or not?” The question has quickly become, “how might we establish an on-line pastoral presence?” or “How might social media become one of the pathways along which we minister?”

These are the sorts of conversations we’ve been having with our students and supervisors lately, and I invite you to join the conversation here. Our pastors are telling us that daily or twice-daily check-ins on Facebook help them know their parishioners in ways never before imagined. Our students are teaching us that often, on-line communication is the portal that leads to important face to face conversations. Both generations are teaching us that one without the other (face time as well as an online presence) are important.

What are you learning about social media? About yourself? About how to authentically cultivate a pastoral conversation on-line?\

Please join our conversation in this space so that one day we might talk about it face to face!

Viki Matson

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Leadership and Power


In the midst of holiday garlands and end of the semester grading, carols and case studies, I received a very "Official Appointment Advisory Form."  Hurriedly I clicked on the e-mail, opened the document – mainly to see how long I could put off attending to it – but the first question peaked my interest.  It read:  "What missional factors have you considered in making your appointment request and how does your pastoral leadership contribute to these factors?" (Italic mine)  Leadership – I was intrigued.  We talk about leadership, we even teach about leadership.  We enact leadership every day, but do we have/take time to think deeply about the leadership we practice.


This ecclesial form offered me the opportunity to think more deeply about leadership.  Below are some strands of my evolving understanding and practice:

Leadership is no longer a set of practices to be mastered and implemented.  Leadership is not about exerting power over the other(s).  Leadership is a way of being – in honest, intentional relationships.  Leadership requires listening often- both to others and to the quiet whisper of Spirit - they frequently merge into the same voice.  Leadership is not all about me.  What a relief.  Leadership is about relationships. I experience this as a liberation to love that fuels a more authentic leadership. 


Power understood as relational, contingent, and open-ended is risky and rich with possibilities rather than certainties.  Like manna this power spoils when we try to hoard it, to amass a stockpile against possible threat.  This power is expectant.   Perhaps that is why this ecclesial form came during Advent…


Trudy Hawkins Stringer