With all of the talk about possible consolidations of deaneries and parishes, finding new purposes for underused buildings and otherwise looking for new ways to carry the faith to more people, the pastoral planning process in which the Archdiocese of Hartford is involved is fraught with emotion.
Even though people may understand why pastoral planning is necessary when they see the statistics, it isn’t always an easy pill to swallow emotionally.
Enter Peter Salovey, the president of Yale University, who, in 2004, published a book with co-author David R. Caruso that outlines for managers how a relatively new science called emotional intelligence can be used to improve a workplace environment. In The Emotionally Intelligent Manager: How to Develop and Use the Four Key Emotional Skills of Leadership, Salovey and Caruso demonstrate that emotions aid thinking and help people make good decisions, take action, solve problems, cope with change and succeed. Emotional intelligence, they say, fosters empathy for those caught up in transformation in work and other environments.
Pastoral planning is a significant change and a culture-shaping process, bringing with it a wide range of emotional fallout and consequently a need for effective leadership, especially among those who are or will be leading people through those changes. Thus, familiarity with Salovey and Caruso’s work can broaden understanding of the emotional landscape and help lead people through the big changes inherent to pastoral planning.
Traditionally, emotions were viewed as immature, chaotic and haphazard displays of behavior that were not compatible with “higher order” reasoning and thinking. It was deemed best, therefore, to keep emotions out of the workplace. As a result of many years of research in the area of emotions, however, we now understand that emotions play a significant, positive role in the workplace — and in all of life, for that matter. Salovey and Caruso show how developing an awareness of emotions and learning emotional skills can, in fact, complement one’s reasoning skills.
In the Gospels, it’s easy to see that Jesus was not just some stoic pragmatist. He chose, rather, as C.S. Lewis so aptly states, “to be incarnate as a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane.” Or, consider the scene in Mark’s Gospel where he heals the man with a withered hand in the presence of Jewish elders who were trying to find cause to discredit him. “Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was restored.”
How does this apply to the faithful in the pastoral planning process?
Did you ever feel regret after making an important decision? Did you think, “If only I ...” or, “I should have ...”? If this sounds familiar, then developing emotional awareness and skills can be of great value. To help with this, Salovey and Caruso have developed a set of instructions they call the Emotional Blueprint, which consists of four discrete abilities: identifying how people feel, using emotions to aid thinking (because thoughts impact feelings and vice versa), understanding the causes of emotions and managing emotions in decision-making to optimize choices in life.
Here’s how using the Emotional Blueprint played out in a series of meetings I had with 40 people from two parishes that were preparing to merge. From discussions that had already taken place, I learned what challenges I would be facing. I was excited, as well as a bit nervous, but awareness of my feelings was vital to helping me achieve each meeting’s objectives. In addition, I made it a point to learn all that I could about each parish group, including how each felt about the proposed merger (identifying emotions) and, most importantly, how I needed them to feel (using emotions) in order for our talks to be successful. I would have to contend with a wide range of emotions. Some people were angry and some were curious, but the overriding emotion was fear of the unknown. All progress hinged on my ability to allay their fears and help them feel safe and, ultimately, confident about the merger. This understanding guided my contribution to the conversation in ways that enabled participants to stay engaged throughout the process (understanding/managing emotions) and, ultimately, merge into what is now a new, thriving and spiritually vibrant parish.
As we continue our evolution as people of faith, developing the habit of applying both head and heart (thinking and feeling) will be of great benefit when making important decisions. Pastoral planning is, in fact, a change process, and understanding the impacts of our decisions will go a long way in helping us navigate the choppy seas of change.
The hard fact is that many of the more than 1,100 buildings that are within our archdiocese will need to be closed or repurposed. Taking into account how the people affected are feeling is key to helping them navigate the change fearlessly and positively.
Asking the four simple questions that make up the Emotional Blueprint can go a long way toward solving problems:
• Identify emotions — How are people feeling?/How am I feeling?
• Use emotions — How do they want to feel?/How do I want to feel?
• Understand emotions — What caused the emotions they are/I am feeling?
• Manage emotions — What can I do to help them feel the way they want to feel?/ What can I do to feel the way I want to feel?
Deacon Ernest Scrivani is director of the Office of Pastoral Planning.