When They Prayed
FROM THE BISHOP DAVID GRAVES   I chose the theme of our 2023 Annual Conference session, “When They Prayed,” based on Acts 4:31: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they ...
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The Leader's Presence

August 19, 2013


I recently traveled to Dallas, Texas and returned on a Delta flight. The weather was inclement somewhere and caused flights to be delayed. A cartoon caricature would show me rushing through the airport with my countenance moving through various shades of green. My medication for motion sickness was a true blessing. My plan was to board the flight, settle down, stay perfectly still, and then sleep.

Sometimes when we least want or expect it, God has another plan. 

The lady sitting next to me began talking as soon as we made eye contact. She was chatting away about missing her flight. I was half listening and half praying to keep my composure on the plane, and am not sure when I fell asleep.

The airplane cabin was unusually cold. I awoke to the lady sitting next to me leaning slightly against my shawl. As I offered it to her, I explained that the shawl was a gift from fellow clergy women.

In a brief second, things changed. Charlotte shared that she was nervous but thankful to God for the flight. She recently moved to a new state with her husband and son. Her routine physical resulted in a colon cancer diagnosis.

She inquired and discovered that I am a United Methodist clergy person. At that point, Charlotte began to explain how much she appreciated The United Methodist church. She grew up Episcopalian but attended United Methodist churches and married at Lovely Lane Chapel at Epworth By The Sea. She described her wedding day as one of the happiest days of her life.

When I shared the location of the Office of Connectional Ministries we both just stopped for a moment. The conversation took a deeper turn as she talked about her faith, her relationship with God, her belief in Jesus Christ, the desire to be a part of a loving faith community and her prayer to see her son’s life unfold.

I asked her permission to pray and gently took her hands. There, on a crowded flight with a baby crying in the background and the people sitting directly in front of us now turned around, we prayed. She spoke of visiting Epworth once again when she’s well enough, keeping in touch, and making a strong effort to take her family to church. 

My anti-nausea medicine never worked; I was three shades of green and grateful. Completely self-focused, fumbling to get on the flight, and anxious about my immediate physical situation there was a beautiful opportunity to share and receive a gift from God with another human being. The gift was a reminder of the opportunity we all have to grow in our ability to have a non- anxious leader's presence.

In the book, “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What,” author Peter Steinke shares concerning the Leader’s Presence:

People may vary considerably in how they address emotionally challenging events. On the lower (immature) side, people are reactive.They blame more often; they criticize harshly; they take offense easily; they focus on others; they want instant solutions; they cannot see the role they play in problems. On the higher (mature) side, people are more thoughtful and reflective; they act on principle, not instinct; they can stand back and observe. They are responsive. Intent and choice characterize their behavior. 

The leader’s capacity to be in conscious control over (to respond to) automatic functioning (reaction) affects the well-being of the whole community. The leader’s presence can have a calming influence on reactive behavior. Rather than reacting to the reactivity of others, leaders with self-composure and self-awareness both exhibit and elicit a more thoughtful response. Ultimately, we discover how we handle ourselves is a significant factor in anxious times.

In my opinion, Steinke challenges us to begin looking at leadership through a lens that includes a real review of thought patterns and behavior. As clergy and laity, leadership is not separate from the challenges we face in life. Anxiety, a natural human response, is present for everyone and originates from various places, whether church, family, health or a host of other possibilities.  

Without moving too quickly through this reflection (we need time to consider the author and wrestle with the argument), I offer this scripture:

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It is wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:6, The Message

How do we keep it all balanced? Let’s see what the author has to say in the next article. 

Blessings and Peace,

Denise Walton

Rev. Denise Walton serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at denise@sgaumc.org.


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