Dearest First Pres Family,

This past week, I received an email from my dear friend, the Rev. Glen Bell, who works at the Presbyterian Foundation. In his work with PC(USA) congregations around the country, Glen learned that the challenges and opportunities facing the church today are many and yet very similar.

In the realm of challenges, most pastors reported the same answer…their members are struggling to adjust to “the sudden shifts accompanied by uncertainty, isolation and fatigue.” I think we can all relate to this feeling of exhaustion over the relentlessness of change.

Yet in the area of opportunities, the responses were more varied and abundant. They included the following: “a more porous and inclusive sense of belonging; rich ministry presence onsite, offsite, and online; a broad realization that the church truly matters; flexibility and success in new initiatives.” I have also heard these themes echoed within my conversations with so many of you.

As we transition into yet another new normal, it is important for us to stop, ponder, and ask ourselves these big-picture questions. In their book, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading, authors Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky encourage leaders to “get on the balcony” to gain perspective. While the metaphor of the balcony is in reference to a dance floor and not a sanctuary, the same lesson applies within the church context. Sometimes you need to get off the dance floor, step away from the action, and get a bird’s-eye view of what has changed/stayed the same/evolved.

In their Survival Guide for Leaders, Heifetz and Linsky write:

Leadership is an improvisational art. You may be guided by an overarching vision, clear values, and a strategic plan, but what you actually do from moment to moment cannot be scripted. You must respond as events unfold. To use our metaphor, you have to move back and forth from the balcony to the dance floor, over and over again throughout the days, weeks, months, and years. While today’s plan may make sense now, tomorrow you’ll discover the unanticipated effects of today’s actions and have to adjust accordingly. Sustaining good leadership, then, requires first and foremost the capacity to see what is happening to you and your initiative as it is happening and to understand how today’s turns in the road will affect tomorrow’s plans.

In light of this reality, this month, the staff and I are going to be spending a considerable amount of time on the balcony.

We know the world has changed. We know the church at large has changed. We know First Pres has changed. We know we have changed. And so instead of just dancing along as if nothing has happened, we are going to move to the balcony and ask God, each other, and ourselves how we can best lead the church and our various ministry areas in the coming year. As we do this, I ask that you surround your beloved staff with prayer, love, support, and patience.

Hoping you all get some time on the balcony as well,

Rev. Dr. Charlene Han Powell
Senior Pastor and Head of Staff

P.S. My family is heading to the East Coast for the next few weeks! I will be preaching at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and enjoying time for study and sabbath. See you all in August!