Knowing When to Hold Them


At the past Presbytery Assembly I shared a new Mission Statement for the presbytery:

Pursuing worship, service, and communities of justice, we are the Presbytery of Chicago, flourishing together by relating people, neighbors, and churches to one another in Christ Jesus.

Our vision is simple. Pursuing, Flourishing, and Relating. It is through these activities we are the presbytery of Chicago.

I will take the next few blogs to unpack the mission statement. The goal is to have a statement that energizes our congregations and committees. The mission statement is connected to our commitment to be a Matthew 25 presbytery. The Presbyterian Mission Agency describes Matthew 25 as a bold vision. To have energizing and bold vision is important for leadership. But there is another aspect of leadership we must also consider as we exit the pandemic and live into a new church reality. This may also be a time for leaders to hold their congregations and institutions.

In the Harvard Business Review article, The Psychology Behind Effective Crisis Leadership, Gianpiero Petriglieri describes the leadership posture of holding. “It describes the way another person, often an authority figure, contains and interprets what’s happening in times of uncertainty. When a leader is holding, “They think clearly, offer reassurance, orient people, and help them stick together. That work is as important as inspiring others.”

The concept of holding is taken from studies that show that children who are held grow up to become healthy adults who can respond in positive ways to difficult circumstance. There are times parents must hold a child and create a holding environment to provide comfort and confidence in times of crises. Petriglieri takes this concept of interpersonal holding and expands it to institutional holding, which includes policies that promote equality and fairness, promotes inclusive dialogue and communication that brings people together instead of polarizing them.

Holding is what I experienced when a session crafted communication to the congregation informing them that although the congregation experienced crisis, the session is responding, healing is taking place, and the church is learning from the experience. Holding is having a staff meeting after a staff member has been dismissed to remind the remaining staff that their positions are secure, the released staff is being supported, and the finance committee is working hard to make the church or institution is financially stable. This work of holding is very important. Without it, “Anxiety, anger, and fragmentation ensue.”

As we move into the vision God is calling Chicago presbytery to become, let us move forward in unison; supporting and encouraging one another, while holding each other as become presbytery together.

Rev. Craig Howard