Many members and friends of WUUC are still trying to make sense of the resignations of Rev. Lois Van Leer and Rev. Jaelynn Scott a few months ago. I have heard people in the congregation asking themselves a lot of questions: Did we, as a congregation, do something wrong? Did I, as an individual, do something wrong? Did our ministers? While we may never be able to entirely satisfy our desires to have these questions answered, one of the important tasks of Rev. Diana Smith, our interim minister, is to help us “acknowledge our grief and conflicts” during this transitional time. There will be opportunities for us to process these events with Rev. Diana as her ministry progresses.
For many members of our congregation, a great deal of trust was placed in one or both of our minsters and in the institution of WUUC itself. I believe some of the grief we are experiencing is due not only to the departure of our ministers, but also to some loss of trust in an organization that we expected to support, sustain, and be there for us, always. Was our trust betrayed? Is trust in a church the same as trust in its minsters? What is trust, anyway?
Brené Brown is a professor at the University of Houston and one of the foremost researchers on trust, empathy and vulnerability, with a slew of excellent books and TED Talks to her name. I have been reading, watching, and listening to her a lot recently, and believe that her work has something offer us at this point in the life of our church.
Brown’s research complements UU principles nicely. She is a proponent of wholeheartedness, being authentic, and valuing vulnerability. In Brown’s talk The Anatomy of Trust, she addresses the issue of how trust is built and what that looks like. She believes trust is a complex enough concept that to discuss it as a single entity is a disservice. Brown uses the acronym BRAVING to explain how trust can be analyzed by its components:
|Boundaries||I can trust you if you respect my boundaries and are clear about your own boundaries.|
|Reliability||I can trust you if you do what you say you’re going to, over and over again.|
|Accountability||I can trust you if, when you make a mistake, you are willing to own it, apologize for it, and make amends. And if I am allowed to do the same when I make a mistake.|
|Vault||What I share with you, you will hold in confidence. What you share with me, I will hold in confidence. I also see that you keep other peoples’ confidences.|
|Integrity||You choose courage over comfort, you choose what’s right over what’s fun or easy, and you practice your values and don’t just profess them.|
|Non-judgement||Both of us can struggle and ask for help. We won’t consider each other weak or incapable when this happens.|
|Generosity||Our relationship is only a trusting one if you can assume the most generous interpretation of my less-than-ideal behavior and then check in with me about it.|
I appreciate the way Brené Brown describes trust as having all these separate pieces. With our closest friends, our spouses or partners, we may be lucky enough to experience most of these aspects of trust, much of the time. In other situations, we may clearly identify a lack in one or more components. Which of these are applicable to our situation right now at WUUC? Three seem particularly important for us to focus on as we try to both understand the events of the past few months and learn from them.
The one that jumps out at me immediately is Generosity. In our interactions with our interim minister, I hope that Rev. Diana will practice generosity of spirit as she gets to know us—and that we will likewise be generous in giving her time to settle in and learn her way around our church. It’s a special situation, bringing in someone we don’t (yet) know well and trusting her during a tender time in the life of WUUC. Generosity may well be the greatest gift we can provide during her two years with us.
Another component of trust described by Brown that relates to the church is Vault, particularly as regards our Board of Trustees. We have elected these individuals to guide the church and see to its long-term well-being. As part of the Board’s work, there are many situations in which they cannot share all that they know with the congregation at large—and that’s part of the reason we trust them. Both the outgoing and the incoming Board members will be discussing with Rev. Diana what further information can and should be shared and processed more widely. For me, the hardest part is acknowledging that what I want to know is not the same as what is best for the congregation, or even legally or ethically appropriate for me to know.
Finally, I believe we all want and need to act at our highest level of Integrity as we process the events of the past few months. Many feel uncertainty, a sense of “I don’t even know what I don’t know!” We need to be open to listening to what we learn, accept what we may never understand, and be willing to do whatever work we need to do to move forward, individually and as a congregation. We can and will profess our values, and then live them, too.
There is clearly a reason why Brené Brown chose to use the acronym BRAVING to describe these components of trust. Being able to trust takes courage, and I have never found that in short supply at our church. We take stands, make speeches, attend rallies, and voice unpopular opinions. We are quietly courageous, too: choosing a school for our child that aligns with our values, donating money to causes we believe in, and even “just” being a member of WUUC. During this time of transition, some of us need to re-establish trust and be confident that we are placing our trust in the right places. Let us carry courage and trust forward during this time with our interim minister.
Co-Chair, Ministerial Transition Team