[VIDEO] Confronting the “polycrisis”: Spiritual Ecology for Spiritual Leadership August 2023
We’re gathering interest from early-career spiritual leaders to join us and the BTS Center in Portland, Maine, for four days at the end of August.
Amid the “polycrisis” where multiple crises including democratic and ecological disaster converge, spiritual leaders are at an inflection point. They’re seeking to tap into their traditions to confront these crises and to provide their communities and each other with nourishment and strength.
Through immersive practices of nature connection, artistic expression, meal sharing, and storytelling, participants in Spiritual Ecology for Spiritual Leadership will engage in restful and comforting experiences while also reflecting on challenging questions.
In this conversation, we talk about the ground beneath this project, including why this is the moment for this work, why we’re focusing on emerging leaders, and how communities like this call forward “every possibility.”
Share your interest by May 26!
I’m Dr. Keisha McKenzie, senior vice president of programs at Auburn Theological Seminary.
And I’m Matt Deen, Pastor at Newfane Congregational Church in Vermont and Public Theology Fellow for Ecological Justice at Auburn.
Auburn Theological Seminary began over 200 years ago as a school to educate Presbyterian ministers. Today, we are a spiritual and educational force fulfilling a multiracial, multifaith, multigenerational and multiethnic democracy. We believe that social change requires inspired, connected, resourced, and effective leadership. And we identify and further these leaders as our unique contribution to a healing world. So I’m here with Matt to talk about one of our upcoming leadership opportunities.
This August, we’ll be co-hosting a second Spiritual Ecology for Spiritual Leaders gathering in Portland, Maine, in partnership with our friends at the BTS Center.
At the end of our announcement on our website, we quote Báyó Akómoláfé and say that this is a time when spiritual leaders must come together to create nurturing conditions for the imperceptible to blossom. What is so particular and significant about this time?
Well, I think what is peculiar about this time, Keisha, is a word that I’ve heard referred to as the poly crisis. We are facing, or actually rather embedded in the convergence of so many overlapping crises at once. We are facing a crisis of democracy. We are facing a crisis of ecological disaster that we have never registered on this scale before. So very many problems and challenges that we’re facing.
And so what is significant about this time is that leaders are sort of finding themselves at this inflection point, trying to understand what they have to offer and how they can bring what they have to offer from their traditions to this moment. And so one of the things that leaders in this facing the poly crisis often feel is that their traditions may not speak directly to the crises that we’re in. And so one of the reasons this work is so important is to offer space and an opportunity for leaders to gather together across so many differences and perspectives and to really find within their own tradition sources of strength and nourishment that can help them to cohere and to speak to this moment.
Why will this gathering focus on emerging leaders?
So this work is part of our commitment to emerging generations of spiritual and faith leaders. We want to shore them up not just, as you said, for the poly crises that are active right now, but also for the world that they’re entering as leaders and more influence over the course of their lives and careers. So Auburn’s invested the last decade and a bit working very closely with groups of established leaders or senior faith leaders.
But in this project we’re working with leaders at an earlier developmental stage after they’ve recognized their call to serve, after or toward the end of their seminary or ministry training in the few years of their community service, perhaps before their key relationships are set. All at a stage where mentorship and connection with peers and elders or wise guides would really add some formative value.
So, as I shared before, Auburn is committed to a multiracial, multifaith, multigenerational and multiethnic future. And one of the best ways that we can contribute to that future as an institution is by helping to shape the conditions and leaders whose presence and efforts will give that future the best possible chance for emergence.
What kind of work did you see successful participants doing last year in their vocational life, in their ministerial lives? And what are you hoping to see from applicants this time?
Well, it’s a really great question. I think a lot of the leaders that we recruited last year came to this really seeking that imagination, seeking ways to nourish their imaginations for what kinds of work would not only be needed, but would bring joy and delight and actually offer the kinds of relief that are needed in their callings and in their spiritual lives.
And to that end, we’ve seen leaders emerge from this experience, one connecting one with another, learning that they have in each other an invaluable source of community to draw on. And that’s one of the things that we do at this retreat, is try to nourish the bonds and to help leaders to understand that they’re not alone in this work that’s objective one.
But other opportunities that emerge from this work include participants having immersive experiences in nature, being able to see how the natural world, the environment around us, is actually a setting for the spiritual ecology within us and the work that we do. So there’s such a range of creative approaches to the work.
We have chaplains, interfaith chaplains, who came away from this experience more curious and more attentive to the ways that people in their context were really responding to the ecological disaster in their own work, even in end-of-life settings and so forth.
We have people, young leaders, who are trying to branch out across species and to understand how we can be better in better touch with our other than human kin who are also part of the healing work that needs to happen. They are part of what we might call the democracy of species. And so there’s just so many ways that this work speaks to the ongoing efforts to repair the world around us. But I’m really wondering, Keisha, what are you most looking forward to about our gathering time?
Well, this year, as last year, I think I’m most looking forward to guiding participants. Most of them will come from the New England area, and we’re going to reflect on our relationship to that land, its histories, and its stewards.
Myself, I’m a newcomer to the North American landmass, but some of my ancestors were brought to this hemisphere about 235 years ago. We, with the BTS Center, have been building some good relations with the Penobscot or Wabanaki Alliance people who’ve been in the area where the BTS Center is now for about 12,000 years.
So we’re looking for opportunities during our time together to connect participants with other leaders who are shaping their sense of accountability, mutual responsibility and care for this land, for the food it provides us, for the literal grounding and orientation that the rhythms of the land offer us and the land’s role in shaping us and the other species around us in our living and vibrant ecosystem.
I think that’s deeply timely and our responsible commitment-to-this-moment work that we’re going to be doing.
As a pastor yourself, what role do you think religious people and religious institutions can and should play in raising that sort of ecological consciousness? And why?
I think the greatest asset that spiritual leaders bring to these moments is their unshakable commitment to a vision of a world that has never existed. Their work is informed by a very deep sense of time and mission that transcends present accounts of what is possible or feasible and relatedly that I think, enables them to sit better with uncertainty and indeterminacy.
And I think that if you think about a lot of the problems that we face, a lot of the corners of this poly crisis are actually informed by this incapacity by a lot of folks to sit with indeterminacy. And I think that’s what spiritual leaders can and do bring to this moment is that gift, that ability to stretch that capacity so that folks don’t feel so threatened by what is unknown. And I think their traditions, myths, and sacred texts of these leaders inspire them to make the most of every possibility for connection, for liberation and collective thriving.
I really love the phrase of “making the most of every possibility.” Every possibility—like so much about the conventional news and the story of the moment, is fear about what’s possible or disbelief about what’s possible, really. So having the opportunity to gather folks around possibility and to support its conditions and to support emergence, that feels really right.
So thank you, Matt, for your partnership and friendship. We still have another week and a half to send in your interest form for the group. We’ll close that form on May 26 and start reviewing prospective applicants the following week. I can’t wait to see who joins us this time.
Nor can I. I’m just getting more excited by the day. Last year was such an incredible, rich experience, and I think this year is going to be the same. So thank you for your partnership, Keisha, and thank you to our friends at the BTS Center. This is going to be, I think, a really needed and incredible time of imagination and inspiration.