Leading Congregations During a Time of Trauma

The Rev. Ellen Ekevag studies organization development in her spare time. As one does.

Actually, the interest is not unusual for someone who serves as associate for ministries on Bishop Jeff Lee’s staff and is steeped in the methodology of the College for Congregational Development, which applies the insights of organization development to building strong Christian communities. But it gives a distinctive flavor to her leisure reading.

“When the [COVID-19] pandemic hit, I think for a sense of comfort and control, I started to research how to create resilient and agile organizations in a time of trauma,” Ekevag says. “I was interested in how we live in this time when we are in the midst of a trauma that is going to go on for a while.”

She came upon a 2007 article in the journal Psychiatry that offered what struck her as a useful five-part framework for clergy and lay leaders now guiding their congregations through a slow-burning crisis: Promote Safety, Promote Calm, Promote Self and Collective Efficacy, Promote Connectedness and Promote Hope.

“I like the word ‘promote,’” says Ekevag, who is working toward a certificate in organization development at Benedictine University in Lisle. “You can’t make somebody calm. But as a leader you can promote calm.”

Eventually she shared the framework with her diocesan colleagues, who liked it well enough to recommend that Lee make her the featured speaker on one of his weekly webinars with diocesan clergy. Ekevag, who is just concluding a stint as co-rector at Emmanuel Church, La Grange, made her presentation on May 6, and her slide deck is now available on the diocesan website.

In her presentation, Ekevag rooted each of the five components of the framework in scripture and suggests a series of goals and the tactics necessary to achieve them.

The presentation emphasizes providing people with solid information, “leaning into our rich tradition of prayer and worship” and giving people tasks at which they are equipped to succeed.

“Clergy and lay leaders know their church best,” she says. “I want people to take this tool and use it to their system and culture and the emerging needs of their people.

“In my own context … we’ve been focusing on connecting and then giving people ways to do that, setting up small groups that are charged with connecting with each other. We can come out of this more connected than when we went in.”

Ekevag says her clergy colleagues told her that they found the framework useful, and that several said it gave them a language and structure for what they were already doing instinctually.

“The framework gets at questions we are all asking,” she says. “How do we create more agile and resilient congregations? How do we prepare our churches to meet the new normal? How do we faithfully lead during a trauma?”

Download the slides (en español) of the Rev. Ellen Ekevag’s presentation on Leadership During Trauma.