A couple of weeks ago I attended the East Central Community of Practice Spring Gathering at Hueston Woods in OH. The East Central CoP is one of our CoPs that drew from the history and strength of the old region and has weathered the transition to become a vibrant and engaged CoP.
The gathering had a robust program based on new research on trauma. There was time for student consultations, fellowship and laughter over meals, and intention in celebrating the transitions of members present.
In recent months I have been diving into the question: what makes a vibrant CoP? What factors enable a CoP to make a difference to the life of its members and to the life of the organization? I saw a few of these factors on display in the ECCoP.
- Ongoing attention to matters of identity. The practice of spiritual care and education was front and center at Hueston Woods last week. There was valuable didactic content, and participants wrestled with how the information pushed, and stretched, and expanded their own experience of the practice. Clark Echols, a pastoral psychotherapist member from Cincinnati, encouraged the group to consider the ways that CPE Supervisors and Psychotherapists can benefit from closer relationships with each other. As the group considers this, they are negotiating both the practices around which they gather, and the community, or those whose investment and engagement ensure the vitality and growth of the practice. These are vital components of the identity of the group and its members.
- Willingness and space to have difficult conversations. As the ECCoP focuses on the practice of spiritual care and education, and as they attend to matters of identity within the group, they are also negotiating the ways that they relate to the larger organization of ACPE. Over the past months, members of the group have had strong reactions to some of ACPE leadership’s strategic decision making. They have turned to their CoP as a place to vent, clarify, and mobilize support. Members of the CoP work hard to hear one another’s concerns, and to develop meaningful ways to address them. These conversations are not easy, and in some instances, there is not a clear path forward. But the relationships are strong, and they are navigating the challenges together.
- Generational growth. The ECCoP makes a concerted effort to attend to its newer members and to make room for new perspectives. Level I/II students were encouraged to seek consultation. New CECs were acknowledged and welcomed into the process. Retirements were acknowledged. I was quite moved when one of the CoP’s elders publicly acknowledged his own decision to step aside from some conversations to make room for newer voices, while he was committed to remaining engaged in the practice and engaged with the community.
- Accountable leadership with clear roles and responsibilities. The ECCoP is led by a Convener and Convener-elect, and an event planning team of six. Joanne Morris and Mark Feldbush are Convener and Convener-elect. When transitioning from a region to a CoP, EC leadership created a one-page document that describes membership, leadership, and processes within the CoP. This document provides enough of a guide around which the work of the CoP can focus, without being overly cumbersome.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the characteristics of a vigorous CoP. I would love to hear from you: what markers of health are you noting in your CoP?