Phase 1 of this research began with qualitative analysis of a series of interviews with members of the UU community in the San Francisco Bay Area. My goal was to increase my understanding of the responsibilities of UU ministers as well as the education needs of SKSM learners, most of whom are studying in order to become ministers. This chapter describes the participants of this portion of my research, the methods I used to gather and analyze the data, and the model of UU ministry in order to demonstrate how these processes led to the development of the objectives for Sex and Shame, Spirit and Power.
The description that follows is an account of how my understanding of my learners’ needs developed. While many of the details will not apply to other groups of learners, I think that this level of information provides a context for both the course objectives that emerged from this phase of my research and the story of the semester that is described in Chapter 6- Teaching the Class. This is especially important given that I am not a member of the UU community and I did not have the advantage of working with a community with which I was already familiar. It seems likely that teachers working with groups that they know might find less time- and labor-intensive methods of developing their courses. However, I suspect that no matter how an educator comes to understand the needs of her learners, the application of that knowledge can follow a similar process through a deep awareness of what the learners need and through critical self-reflection to allow the course objectives to emerge.
For this portion of my research, I recruited a total of eight participants and the interviews took place in March and April, 2003. Six participants were affiliated with Starr King School for the Ministry (SKSM): two were current SKSM learners, three were SKSM graduates (one was a hospice chaplain, one had been ordained but had not yet been hired by a congregation, and one was providing spiritual counseling in private practice) and one was a SKSM professor. Of the two participants who were not directly affiliated with SKSM, one was working with a congregation and one had retired from the ministry and was working as a relationship coach and workshop facilitator.
During these interviews, the age, gender, sexual orientation, race and religious background of the participants were often mentioned and/or discussed. However, since I did not ask for demographic information from all of the interviewees, I have not included that information in this dissertation. From my observations and from what the participants disclosed, the majority of them were women, four were lesbian or bisexual women, most came from middle- or upper-class families of origin, most were between thirty and fifty years old, and most were white; based on my observations at SKSM and my conversations with members of the SKSM community, this is representative of the SKSM learners in general. Since the group was small and was a convenience sample, I believe that demographic information would not shed further light on the role of the UU minister.
Participants were initially recruited through an email announcement submitted to “Starr King This Week,” an email list that members of the SKSM community can voluntarily receive. Further participants were recruited through word of mouth and other UU minister email lists. Interviews took place in locations convenient to the participants, such as offices, cafés, and their homes, lasted approximately one hour, and were tape recorded. In order to maintain the highest level of confidentiality, I personally transcribed all of the interviews. Participants signed an Informed Consent Form and were not compensated for their time.
There was no single term that the participants used to describe the people with whom they worked, in part because of the different contexts in which they worked. Congregational and parish ministers referred to congregants, parishioners or members. The hospice minister and the spiritual counselor talked about clients. In my analysis, I have chosen to use the word “client” as a general term to describe any community member interacting with a UU minister in any setting. While this was not the word that all of the participants initially used, when I referred to “clients,” they all understood what I meant by it and generally agreed that it was a useful “catch-all” term, especially when making the distinction between serving a client during pastoral counseling and serving parishioners during other ministerial responsibilities.
The interviews followed an Interview Guide format. The Interview Guide allows a balance to be found between consistency and flexibility by allowing the interviewer to adapt the form and the order of the questions to the circumstances while helping ensure that the basic lines of inquiry are consistent across interviews (Patton, 2002). Initially, I had two assumptions about the role that ministers play with respect to sexuality issues that turned out to be false. The first was that UU seminary learners need in-depth sexuality information in order to provide appropriate support to their clients, and the second was that UU ministers provide interpersonal counseling. The original Interview Guide reflects these early conjectures. As the process of gathering information progressed, I was able to recognize where my preconceptions had little or no relation to the actual situation and to take advantage of the flexibility of the Interview Guide to adjust the questions I asked in later interviews. This is consistent with Patton’s description of this method.
As the data collection advanced, I began to analyze the transcripts using Grounded Theory. I chose this method for a variety of reasons. First, it focuses on the “process of generating theory rather than a particular theoretical content.” (Patton, 2002, p. 125) Grounded Theory allowed me to explore the question of how UU ministers work, since I had very little understanding of their roles when I started. Generating a theoretical model to describe their responsibilities was an important prerequisite to designing a syllabus, because it would help ensure that the content of the course was relevant to their needs. Secondly, Grounded Theory requires researchers to recognize bias and maintain flexibility while immersing themselves in the data in order to remain sensitive to the patterns that emerge (Chenitz & Swanson, 1986; Strauss, 1987). Awareness of biases and a willingness to remain adaptable are also important in teaching (Menges & Rando, 1996). I believed that beginning this project with an analytic method that had this fundamental similarity with education theory would help each phase of the project support the whole. Similarly, I expected that a research method that required me to keep my assumptions as explicit as possible would help me to overcome the disadvantage of not having colleagues who were equally involved in the project.Thirdly, Grounded Theory is also well-suited for building theory that supports responses to social problems (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) and I anticipated the possibility that social problems specific to the UU community around sexuality might emerge during this phase of the research. I expected that a method that has been well-established as being useful for identifying and addressing community concerns would help support the transformative aspects of education, as it has supported other fields (Chenitz & Swanson, 1986). Fourth, because it encourages the researcher to remain open to change, I expected that Grounded Theory would facilitate the evolution of the Interview Guide as the project progressed. I planned to use my experiences in the earlier interviews to develop questions for later interviews that would tease out information that might not have been apparent with a less flexible method. Finally, Grounded Theory requires that the codes used to analyze the data flow from the language used by the participants as much as possible (Strauss, 1987). In order to do this, it is necessary to explore what the participants mean when they use key words. I expected that this would accelerate my ability to understand UU culture and help me employ appropriate language throughout the semester. All five of these assumptions regarding the utility of Grounded Theory for this phase of my research were borne out by my experiences.
In order to develop my understanding of the role of the UU minister, I engaged in qualitative analysis of the data from the depth interviews, transcribed from audiotaped recordings, utilizing the generation of Grounded Theory, commonly called the constant comparative method (Chenitz & Swanson, 1986; Glaser & Strauss, 1967). The purpose of grounded theory is to generate a theory that “…explains basic patterns common in social life.” (Chenitz & Swanson, 1986, p. 3). This method was developed from a theory of human behavior known as symbolic interaction (Blumer, 1969). Symbolic interaction focuses on the meaning of events to people in common, everyday settings. Meaning is derived from social interaction; that is, human beings act toward people and objects in their world based upon the meanings that these things have for them. Individuals align their behavior with others and others’ expectations of them. Learning of shared meaning is thus accomplished and becomes appropriate to the group and has meaning in the group. In grounded theory, both human behavior and interaction are studied. Grounded theory is particularly suitable for the study of emerging social phenomena in preliminary, exploratory studies (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).
The specific operations used in generating grounded theory includes the substantive coding of data, grouping like codes into conceptual categories and their characteristics or properties, the writing of memos, and the saturation of categories. Analysis begins by coding the first interview, that is, noting major themes, often in the words of the participants themselves, in the wide margin of the transcripts. Words that best capture the essence of the meaning of the participants are also written in the margin. Analysis proceeds by comparing the second set of qualitative data (the second interview) to the first set. Here, for each code, similarities and differences in responses are noted. These are written in the margins, and if extensive, were written up in an informal memo, headed by the code. As each set of qualitative data becomes available, this process is repeated, so that relevant codes increase in scope and depth. In this early phase, related codes are noted and are clustered together and given a name to denote this grouping. This is called forming categories. Memos are written about the category and labeled with the name of the category. As this process is repeated, characteristics or properties of each category are noted and either added to the appropriate memo, or an additional memo is written. Thus, the substantive coding facilitates the development of conceptual categories from actual events or indicators in the data.
Memos that are written continuously during the analysis stored analytical ideas as they emerged. Headed by the relevant category, they contain references to the actual data, yet allow the analysis to proceed on a conceptual level. Memos are sorted, reworked and integrated, to show the range and variation in each category. The process thus allows for systematically building relevant categories from all interviews, the sources of data.
Saturation of categories takes place when new categories stop appearing in the data, that is, when major patterns are recurring. As patterns among categories form, they become more dense, until core categories emerge, i.e. those with the most predictive and explanatory power. This is done by grouping like categories together (as previously, with the like codes to form a category) and labeling the larger category. This, in effect, serves to collapse a large number of categories into a smaller, more manageable number. The final dense categories explain most fully the action on the scene (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). The final core set of categories backed up by the supporting substantive categories (backed up by the codes) described the process of attaining the role of the Unitarian-Universalist minister. This process, depicted in the flow chart, occurred in three phases, 1) Facing Daily Pressures; 2) Developing Caretaking Skills; and 3) Influencing Others; it is explained below.
Note: It is a common practice when quoting interviewees to include a short description of the person being quoted. However, due to the size of the UU community in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have chosen to not do so out of concerns for the participants’ confidentiality.
As I developed my analysis of the Phase 1 interviews and came to understand what UU ministers are expected to do by their communities and SKSM, patterns and relationships among themes began to emerge. I have summarized the primary dynamics that I found in the data in the flowchart. The arrows indicate primary ways in which one issue or experience connects to another, although the actual relationships may be quite complex and cyclical rather than strictly linear or causal. Each box on the flowchart represents a theme that arose in the interviews, either spontaneously on the part of the participants or in response to questions that I formulated throughout the process of the interviews and analysis.
In the lower section of the flowchart, I have placed the daily pressures that ministers generally face, as well as the interpersonal and the intrapersonal issues that arise such as their workload or misinterpretations of their role. Naturally, a rectangle labeled projections of authority & reactions to them glosses over the complex nature and the wide scope of these issues and similar claims can be made for any of the individual pieces of this section of the flowchart. However, while the specific nature of these pressures and experiences will vary widely among individuals, as well as among ministerial roles (a hospice chaplain working with individuals and families in medical facilities faces different challenges than a parish minister with a congregation of 300 does), there were similarities among the participants’ responses to diverse questions.
For example, many of the participants talked about the workload and the challenges of working with competing needs and interests:
“…[t]he problem with ministry is we’re often overworked and doing any kind of thing we perceive as extra-curricular gets sort of put down at the lower level when you have a board meeting and a million other things to do.”
“The theoretical ratio for parishioners to ministers is 100-150 to 1, but it’s never that. So imagine having 100 or 150 people, y’know, who are clamoring after your time and people are busy dying and people are getting married and people are discovering that their child is gay…”
One former minister described having learned to set his own priorities from seeing what choices some of his colleagues made:
“…I saw ministers who did that, who thought of themselves as therapists or counselors and y’know, they could have a 10 or 15 member caseload and that would be all they could do. So I wasn’t willing to trade that off…”
From these and similar comments, it became clear that whatever the context, ministers face an immense workload that they must find ways to adapt to. While the details vary enormously with the chosen area of ministry, all of the participants discussed ways in which they learned to juggle the many demands made of them.
Almost all of the participants linked the topic of these everyday pressures with the minister’s psychological pressures. The participants described both the skills that can arise from working with an awareness of one’s own wounds, as well as the risks that can arise. For example:
“I can feel the wounded-ness of a person and empathize because I have the same wounds, or similar wounds, or my own [wounds].”
“…if you’re insecure, you’re in trouble…if you’re going into ministry out of personal need, don’t do it. If you’re going into it to be of service, great. But if you think you’re gonna satisfy your [psychological] needs as a minister, you’re in for a rude awakening.”
This is a particularly important issue for ministers around issues of transference and countertransference with clients:
“the congregation has all kinds of projections thrown your way.”
“Unitarian-Universalists come with all different kinds of expectations about ministerial authority. Some of them assume the minister has authority simply by being in the role. Um, those tend to be newer UUs or people who have come out of more traditional settings where that was the case. The minister, by virtue of his or her, usually his, role, um, was assumed to have a certain amount of authority.”
“[O]bviously the best way to, to respond to anything is from a position of empathy. Um, that's no guarantee because even if you’re empathic, they can still um, misconstrue what you’re saying, misunderstand what you’re saying, hear what they want to hear, not what’s actually said.”
The topic of client transference and ministerial countertransference became a source of much data on the participants perception of shame.
Of all the boxes in the flowchart, the only term that did not emerge from the participants was “shame-bind.” While the topics of shame (both the minister’s and the client’s) and the minister’s response to shame yielded much information, very few participants had a detailed language or theory to describe shame. This is fairly common; for a variety of reasons, since many people are not able to discuss shame in general, much less from a personal perspective (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). However, participants did describe their experiences and observations in ways that were consistent with many of the models that have been developed in order to attempt to understand shame, which supported the use of Kaufman’s (1996) term, shame-bind even though the interviewees did not use this phrase (see below, Analysis of the Flowchart- Using the Flowchart to Develop Course Objectives, for a definition and discussion of this term). Using Kaufman’s designation allowed me to encapsulate the information in a more compact and useful form while remaining true to the data.
As an example of how shame-binds emerged as a topic of discussion, one participant discussed her feeling ashamed for having a negative reaction:
“And I was really embarrassed because here I was, this extra-liberal, y’know, ministerial type and I was having this reaction…And it, it really caused me to have a values crisis. I was embarrassed because I wasn’t supposed to be ashamed or feel bad about this and I did.”
This bind between the emotion of shame and an internalized definition of what a minister should be is one example of how countertransference can arise for ministers. Another participant described trying to keep conversations with clients from exploring areas that she found challenging:
She could feel her urge to avoid the “squishy” topics rather than explore what makes them challenging; this degree of self-reflection and self-awareness is an important skill that many of the interviewees discussed.
“it could be that I’m reluctant to really hear where they’re headed. Um, or they’re tapping into my own squishy areas. Um and I can feel myself keeping the conversation on a surface level or suggesting ways to interpret it that put a little positive spin on it or something like that.”
While the interrelationships between everyday pressures and psychological pressures can be complex, all of the participants discussed the importance of responding to them based on an accurate understanding of the role of UU ministers. Rather than serving as a therapist or authority figure, a UU minister “offers the model of how he or she lives.” As another interviewee phrased it,
“… if ministers are about anything, they’re about living an authentic life in relationship with self, others, and spirit.” As part of this process, the UU minister helps clients overcome barriers to their own authenticities by offering the resources they need to support that process: “I haven’t felt that I needed to fix anything, solve anything, or do anything in particular…except perhaps help them decide if they need more help.”
“the usual framework for a minister when somebody comes for pastoral counseling is that they should not do, they should not meet with an individual more than 4 times. And that by and large, ministers and religious leaders serves as the threshold for individuals to get their proper care. So they're really much more of a referral agency…”
“my role is to…help them find the right questions and to find the path to pursue them.”
From these, and similar comments, it became clear that UU ministers do not actually offer counseling. Instead, they offer validation, support and access to resources. As part of these processes, their responsibility is to remain heartfelt and open to the client in order to forge or strengthen the interpersonal connection, as discussed below.
In order to build and foster interpersonal connection, the foundation for the role of the UU minister is maintaining and modeling authenticity while responding to internal and external pressures; unless the minister is acting from authenticity, the connection with the client will not be genuine. Some of the topics that arose during the interviews centered on the mechanisms that ministers can take to help find their own balance and maintain their authenticities. The practices that participants described as effective for taking care of themselves and supporting their authenticities are located in the middle section of the flowchart.
Just as in other helping professions, the ability to take care of oneself is clearly seen as the starting point for taking care of and supporting clients:
“[I]t’s all around the issues of self-care. Ministers are not taught how to take care of themselves. And if you are driven by negative patterns and by shame or guilt, you’re gonna get into trouble.”
While this may seem obvious to some, what is less clear is what steps can be taken in order to resolve these negative patterns. Embodiment, mindfulness and self-awareness form a trio of skills with definite overlap in their scope. Mindfulness was described as the first step, since awareness of one’s experience, intuition and reactions is a prerequisite to responding to them, rather than reacting from them:
“Obviously, the first thing you do is you note it…the noting of it is actually quite functional because as soon as you note it you can go ‘oh, OK, this is happening and I need to get to my supervisor as soon as possible.’”
“at the worst level, what happens is you act out in some way. At the moderate level, what happens is, you’re ashamed that you’re ashamed and you try and scurry off that territory as fast as possible. At the healthy level, you notice the feeling, you accept the feeling, you’re willing to explore it, maybe not in that moment, but you notice that it's there. And um, and you’re ok with the fact that you're feeling it and it doesn’t run you or alter your healthy behavior.”
“I say to myself, I’m, so this is what I feel now. That’s all. This is what I feel now… and just to be present and usually to slow down. I mean, that’s a good moment to slow down…”
From these, and similar comments, it became clear that mindful awareness is an important skill for ministers to have. Participants with more professional experience also discussed “burnout” as a result of not taking care of one’s own needs first. The middle row of three boxes in this section, embodiment, mindfulness and self-awareness describes a range of tools that ministers can use to stay present with their clients and focused on the moment. Some participants mentioned meditation practices, yoga, exercise, prayer and other techniques for fostering the ability to remain present and/or embodied. Others discussed self-reflection, journaling and developing emotional skills in order to avoid getting lost in their internal experience.
All of these practices have the goal of supporting the minister’s authenticity. For many, this includes the ability to be supportive of others while remaining transparent in communicating one’s own emotional processes and concerns, as well as the ability to be non-defensive in communication and open to connection to others. All of the participants emphasized the importance of deepening one’s capacity to be authentic as part of their personal and professional missions:
“Nothing else works but to live from that center...So, a sense of living with joy and fulfillment comes when I’m living that meaning-centered life. Personally and relationally. So I’m always trying to get back to [my center.]”
“[W]e live our lives, so often, out of this fearful sense that we can’t show up. And if ministers are about anything, they're about living an authentic live in relationship with self, others, and spirit. So if we don’t live that authentic life, nothing we do is any good.”
“I think it’s really important for ministers to find a way to stay real in terms of their own behavior and self-understanding.”
For many participants, the intellectual understanding of the importance of authenticity leads to a commitment to a daily practice of deepening their authenticities.
The lower section of the flowchart describes factors that can hinder authenticity, while the middle section describes steps that UU ministers can take in order to move into their own authenticities. However, as leaders in communities, they are also expected to use their skills in service to their clients. The influences that ministerial authenticity has on clients are shown in the top section of the flowchart. The two main ways in which UU ministers use their authenticities in service to their clients are through getting out of the way and modeling authenticity. At first, it seemed to me that the participants had multiple perspectives on what each of these mean, but as the interviews progressed, I came to understand that while their descriptions varied, the underlying themes were consistent.
For some participants, getting out of the way meant that their personal issues and concerns do not interfere with the interaction. In describing how clients have responded to her actions, one interviewee said:
“And I've had people say ‘I feel like there is a spaciousness. You’ve cleared, a clear space where I can put my stuff without having to get your stuff out of the way first.’”
Other interviewees described it as “being present” or empathizing with the client. Several of them discussed how this can be especially challenging when their own emotional reactions and judgments arise:
“I have to work real hard to put it aside. Um, it feels, I feel a little impatient, I feel a little um, ineffective. There is a place where I get that. Where my judgment comes [in]…”
Being able to be aware of the “chatter that goes on in your head” without letting it take over the interaction is a key skill that arose throughout the interviews.
At the same time, UU ministers also model authenticity for their clients. As one person described it:
“The great challenge, the greatest challenge of being a minister, I imagine this is true for therapists too, and doctors and other helper-type people, but it’s extremely true for ministers, what does a minister have to offer? A minister offers the model of how she or he lives live. And that’s really all a minister has to offer. We volunteer to be public human beings.”
This is consistent with the observation made by Cranton & Carusetta (2004) that part of authenticity is both “showing consistency between values and actions [and] relating to others in such a way as to encourage their authenticity.” (p. 7) The goal implicit in both of these descriptions is that the client’s authenticity will be encouraged and supported by his relationship with the minister who is acting from her authenticity.
It is crucial to recognize that modeling authenticity does not depend on masking one’s humanity. In fact, some of the interviewees specifically addressed the need to work with one’s own experiences as a wounded healer, i.e. an imperfect human being with individual experiences, strengths and weaknesses. For example, one person described her interactions with a minister in this regard:
“[H]e sort of modeled a level of comfort and openness and integrity and, and having good boundaries himself. Um, he self-discloses enough that you sort of see him as a person, but at the same time isn’t so self-disclosing that you start to question if he’s using the [interaction] for his own needs.”
This highlights the relationship between modeling authenticity through limited self-disclosure and getting out of the way, as well as the importance of finding a balance between the two. For some ministers, developing the skills to maintain this equilibrium is integral to their personal development:
“…[I]t’s been, it’s really good spiritual practice. Of how to be there and be open with somebody who pushes my buttons…”
Rather than trying to pretend that judgment doesn’t exist, the goal that many of the participants held was learning to overcome the hurts that block compassion:
“I think people can feel whether you’re suppressing judgment or whether you truly receive them. And so I think I have an openness of sprit and an acceptance and um, a pretty deep well of compassion and love for my fellow human being that’s genuine and I think that they feel that. So that’s part of it, it’s not something I have to do, it’s just there. And that might be because I’ve done a lot of my own work and healed a lot of my own shame. And it's still there somewhere and it gets tapped into sometimes…”
As these quotes show, whether it’s approached as a spiritual practice, self-care or professional responsibility, working with and healing one’s wounds was clearly seen as integral to modeling authenticity. When this is combined with getting out of the way, the next steps in the minister-client interaction can take place.
When the minister models authenticity, she develops a degree of credibility with her clients. This is different than authority, which is often externally granted and can create an “us/them” dynamic between ministers and clients, although some participants described ways in which it can also be used constructively. However, the credibility that flows from modeling authenticity emerges from the client’s observation that the minister’s authenticity brings her joy. In turn, this inspires the client to seek his own authenticity.
Meanwhile, there is a parallel dynamic that many of the interviewees described. Witnessing is the act of being present and accepting of another person without judgment. By maintaining and deepening the relationship with the client in the face of challenging emotions, the minister“let[s] them know that they’re loved in that human sort of way.” Many of the participants discussed the ways in which “we’re not socialized to expect love,” or in which we are shamed for being who we are and are therefore not worthy of love. When the minister sustains the connection with the client through the act of witnessing, the client is able to heal their shames which have told them that they do not deserve that connection and support. In turn, this allows her to become attuned to the “Divine Love [that] is always pouring forth.” For UUs, helping clients come to understand that this connection to the Divine is always present is at the core of role of the UU minister:
“[W]hen we can get that we are not ultimately alone, and that human beings are stand-ins for the Divine, and vessels through which Divine Love pours, all kinds of things just melt. Truths can be told, hearts can be open, I mean, I’m always working with people to opening their heart and working with what are the blocks and the fears. And the blocks and the fears are about ultimate aloneness. And that is grounded in the belief, the framework that our ultimate reality is aloneness. Y’know, that's the existential core of our secular society that still drives us. And it’s not so.”
To use Kaufman’s (1992, 1996) terminology, the minister maintains the interpersonal bridge, even as the client struggles with the shames that threaten it. This enables the client to heal her shames, which helps her become aware of her bridge, or connection, with the Divine.
There were two primary assumptions I originally made that I discovered to be generally inaccurate. The first was that UU ministers were called to provide sexuality education for their clients and the second was that they offered interpersonal counseling. These assumptions were partially reinforced by the first two interviews, both of which were with SKSM learners who work with adolescents and youth, and were planning to continue their work in youth ministry. As the later interviews took shape I realized that while there is great diversity in the types of UU ministers, for the most part, neither in-depth sexuality education nor counseling are their responsibilities.
Instead, UU ministers engage in pastoral counseling, a short-term process through which clients can be directed to long term counseling or alternative sources of information as needed. While there was some variation among participants as to how many sessions the “average client” needs, they believed that a maximum four to eight sessions was appropriate. This is consistent with the literature on pastoral counseling (e.g. Green & Lawrenz, 1994). Many concerns can be addressed within that limit, and the remainder warrant referral to another provider, such as a therapist or other counselor.
The participants described two primary reasons for these limits. First, most ministers have such a large workload that attempting to engage in therapeutic interactions often leads to burnout. Maintaining boundaries around counseling allows ministers to focus their limited energy and time on other concerns which are more appropriate, especially when working with a congregation with many members. Secondly, most ministers have little or no training in dealing with psychological issues. Given the range of concerns that clients might bring them, the participants generally recognized that it is more effective for ministers to have extensive lists of resources to offer clients, as well as knowing how to research further support as needed. UU ministers are most effective when they facilitate this process by acting as a gateway or a threshold, rather than as a service provider.However, none of this implies that ministers would not benefit from sexuality education. For a variety of reasons, there will frequently be situations in which a client’s concerns or issues trigger feelings of shame for the minister (Nathanson, 1992). In order to remain authentic and connected with the client, ministers need to be able to recognize that their own shames are coming from within, not from the client. As Nathanson (1992, 2003) has observed, attacking or blaming the person who has triggered our shame is a common defensive reaction; several participants described experiences in which they had observed this between a minister and a client. One of the ways that people can learn new responses to this dynamic is to learn about sexuality. Rather than preparing them to provide sexuality education, a more relevant goal of sexuality education for ministers is to help them understand and overcome their sex-shame binds.
Both participants who had extensive experience working with adolescents and young adults reported much more need for sexuality education for ministers in general than did the other participants. Given the developmental stages of adolescence as they relate to sexuality, this is not surprising. However, the fact that these interviews happened to be the first tended to reinforce my assumption that ministers need to provide sexuality education before later interviews offered an opportunity to deepen my understanding of the diversity of ministerial roles. In general, sexuality education was not seen as part of the minister’s job. Similarly, for the hospice chaplain who counsels the dying and their families, other considerations arose that were specific to that setting. Since my model of the role of the UU minister describes the common themes that arose throughout the interviews, it illustrates an “average” experience that will not precisely fit any individual minister’s experiences, much less any specific type of ministry.
One of the most dense topics that arose in the Phase 1 interviews was the importance of understanding the role of the minister as a facilitator and witness, rather than a guru or authoritarian figure. This is a particularly challenging issue since many members of UU congregations come from other faith traditions, some of which stress the authoritarian nature of their religious leaders. As a result, they may pressure their ministers into taking a more directive stance, and seminary learners from these heritages may carry these patterns and habits into their UU ministry. This is made more complicated by issues of transference and clients who project authoritarian roles onto the minister, as well as some ministers' proclivities to accept or create those kinds of relationships. However, respondents consistently described their obligation to serve as a role model and to help people connect to the Divine on a personal level, rather than controlling their clients’ access to it. Acting as a threshold means using a variety of tools to help clients through transitions, rather than behaving as a gatekeeper who manages spiritual resources and connection with the Divine. The difference between authoritarianism as a “minister knows best” attitude and authority flowing from a wealth of experience and wisdom was one way that interviewees made this distinction.
In order to provide effective pastoral counseling, ministers need to be able to recognize when their personal concerns, emotional triggers or experiences are interfering with the process. The ability to set one’s own issues aside for future exploration and focus on the client was described by most of the participants. The skills needed to do so are included on the flowchart in get out of the way. This became one of the areas of focus for development of the syllabus. The ability to acknowledge and respond to shame without attacking or blaming the client who may have triggered it was recognized by every participant in this phase of the project. Getting out of the way also included not letting one’s defensive reactions, judgments and fears interfere with the act of witnessing.
However, issues of ministers’ countertransference, as well as the often immense workload can challenge their ability to respond in the most helpful way. As a sexuality educator, there is little I can do to directly address the issues of workload, but through these interviews, I became aware that if I could help seminary learners understand the role of shame with respect to sexuality, they might be more able to explore and understand their own shame-binds and avoid or reduce their issues of countertransference, which I believed would help them learn to remain focused on the client. In addition, the same skills may also be applicable to other shame-binds that may arise in connection with other areas, including their workloads. According to Kaufman (1996), experiences of shame that follow repetitive patterns create an “internalized linkage,” or bind. For example, shame can be bound with affects such as anger, fear, disgust or sadness, as well as with drives such as hunger or sexual urges. The bind can then be triggered by the affect or the drive alone, creating a strong and indirect form of control over the self. Every participant talked about ways in which shame binds can hinder, and even sever, the relationship between the minister and the client. I asked the later interviewees if they believed that ministers would benefit from understanding the mechanisms of shame in order to develop skills that would maintain the connection with the client, and they were strongly supportive of the idea.
During the analysis and development of the flowchart, I developed the following objectives for the course:
By the end of this class, learners will be able to:
Since United States society attaches so much shame to sexuality (e.g. Hastings, 1998; McClintock, 2001; Nathanson, 1992), I decided to make an exploration of sex-shame binds one of the main focuses of the course. My hope was that by helping ministers to deepen their understanding of such binds and to develop new skills to respond to them, I would foster their ability to deal with the psychological challenges they face, both from clients and within themselves. This would, in turn, help them create new tools with which they and their clients could explore these issues within an appropriate context. The first objective of the course reflects this goal.
The middle section of the flowchart represents the processes through which ministers can respond to these challenges through transformative processes. There was a wide range of tools that interviewees mentioned, such as prayer, meditation, yoga, exercise, therapy and art. The common purpose of these practices was to encourage one’s ability to stay present and embodied when faced with difficult experiences, especially emotionally charged moments. Given the diversity of techniques, I recognized that no single practice would be appropriate for all of the learners. However, I wanted the syllabus to include as many tools for reducing and responding to shame as possible so that learners would develop new skills to supplement the ones they already had. This became the second objective for the class.
The top section of the flowchart summarizes what ministers are expected to be able to do. The experienced ministers and counselors all described how these processes flow naturally from an interaction in which the minister is emotionally, mentally and spiritually present and authentic in interactions with the client. The underlying belief is that Divine Love is unlimited and ever-present, and that it waits for people to tap into it. Part of this assumes that people are, at their core, good and worthy of Divine Love simply for being human; this stands in a certain degree of contrast with faiths that assume that people are inherently sinful. Since the participants, especially the experienced ministers, all described witnessing and taking part in situations in which the client’s authenticity and connection to the Divine grew out of the experience of authentic connection with another person, the third goal of the semester was for learners to articulate their personal experiences with sex-shame binds and to explore how they affect spiritual connection.
In summary, the first objective was to learn the mechanisms of shame, the second was to learn new ways of responding to it, and the third was to transform shame into connection. This structure parallels the role of the UU minister in response to clients as described by the interviewees. As a result, the foundation of the course was deeply linked with the personal and professional goals of SKSM learners.
Within the field of adult education, there are five recognized major categories of learning goals: acquiring new knowledge; enhancing cognitive skills; developing psychomotor skills; strengthening problem-solving abilities; and changing attitudes, beliefs, values and/or feelings (Bloom, 1986; Caffarella, 2002; Kemp et al., 1996; P. L. Smith & Ragan, 1999). The course objectives described above focus primarily on the learners gaining new knowledge, cognitive skills, and problem-solving capabilities. I assumed that changes in attitudes, beliefs, values and/or feelings were likely to take place during this course, and that shifts in perspectives that would foster the learners’ authenticities would demonstrate the course’s success as a social action project. However, rather than make it a goal for the learners to achieve, I decided that I would be more aligned with the process of witnessing within the ministry to let this transformation emerge naturally during the semester, without imposing my definitions of what attitudes or values UU ministers should have. I decided that not making personal transformation a requirement of the learners’ success at meeting the objectives would make the syllabus design more responsive to the learners’ needs, and would resonate with their experiences as members of UU congregations and the ministry. An in-depth discussion of how these learning objectives were applied can be found in Chapter 6- Teaching the Class.
This analysis of the UU minister’s role was necessarily limited in both scope and depth, and a fuller exploration might reveal much more information. The time required to interview participants, transcribe recordings and analyze data placed definite constraints on what could be accomplished. In a review of articles assessing adult education program planning, Caffarella (2002) describes how “comprehensive needs assessments [are] rarely conducted as the basis for program development.” I expected that the question of whether Phase 1 had been sufficiently “comprehensive” would be answered by assessing the success of the class, but until that time, I had to rely on my judgment that I had come to understand the needs of my future learners enough to design the syllabus. However, one of the benefits of Grounded Theory is that it requires that researchers return to the data at multiple steps for confirmation of the emerging theory (Strauss, 1987). This strengthened the Phase 1 analysis and supported my decision to end the data collection due to financial pressures, as well as the need to submit the Phase 2 proposal to the Union Institute and University Institutional Review Board before the semester started.
Although the flowchart yielded important information for the purpose of course development, there are significant limits to the generalizability of these results. First, since there were only eight participants in the survey, large scale conclusions are not possible from this data. Secondly, six of the participants were affiliated with SKSM. Although this made the results more relevant as a step in designing a course specifically for SKSM, UU ministers from other seminaries might have differing perspectives or experiences. Thirdly, as a convenience sample, the Phase 1 participants may not be representative of UU ministers in general. All of the interviewees were sufficiently interested in this research to support it by meeting with me; UU ministers who are less interested in adult sexuality education might have different perspectives on the role of the minister. Fourth, there are many roles that ministers can hold within the UU community and for some areas of focus, there was only one experienced person interviewed. Exploring the experiences of ministers in each of these areas in greater detail might provide a deeper analysis of how they differ from the experiences of the congregational ministers who made up the majority of the Phase 1 participants.
Go to Chap. 5