From the District Superintendent

Leadership in the Midst of Change

Posted 15 September, 2019 by Kathleen Overby Webster

Two leadership learnings I experienced this summer have me thinking...

First, as part of the Cabinet's annual retreat in July, we visited the new American Civil War Museum located at the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. This newly built museum is a result of the 2013 merger of the American Civil War Center and the White House and Museum of the Confederacy. A docent led us on an informative, though too brief, tour of the exhibits which tell the complex story including north and south, enslaved and free, male and female, soldiers and families, and the build-up to and the fall-out from. Following our tour, we were privileged to meet with the museum's CEO, Christy Coleman, for over 90 minutes, until well past the museum's closing time. What an incredible and fascinating conversation about leadership in the midst of change!

She recounted her own journey as an African-American woman leading a civil war museum in the former capital of the Confederacy. She shared the vision and timeline of the merger of two distinctive museums, the challenges of different board and staff cultures, and even unanticipated learnings. The vast archival holdings of the Museum of the Confederacy had been intentionally gathered by the Confederate Memorial Literary Society as relics from all across the country beginning in 1894. But what began as "a tribute to" evolved over time to become "a museum about," what had been entirely volunteer run became professionally curated, and the character of exhibits began to change from that of a shrine to that of a modern museum showcasing multiple perspectives with exhibits such as Before Freedom Came: African-American Life in the Antebellum South. The American Civil War Center opened in 2006 to tell the entire story of Union and Confederate, enslaved and freed, soldiers and civilians. Christy Coleman said that it was surprising that the full history could also found by intentional searching in the artifacts and memorabilia held by the Museum of the Confederacy.

When the new vision for the American Civil War Museum emerged from the two predecessor museums, it wasn't only about displays. The two governing boards had different make-ups and constituencies. One was almost entirely female. There was at least a generation's difference in the average age of the boards and staffs of each site. Community engagement was another key area of difference. She said that when sorting out a way forward with a new and shared vision that addressed these differences in large and small ways (including how many facial piercings is appropriate for a docent), it was important to remember that "people won't come to a museum if they don't see people who look like them."

We around the conference table could not help but compare that museum world with the church. Are our distinct histories and congregational cultures allowing the full story of God's amazing grace to be told? Will folks in our neighborhoods find church people who look like them?

Second, our kitchen renovation was recently completed! We are glad, as the dust settled that we love its refreshed look, the "behind the walls" upgrades, and some new efficiency. But it was more costly and way more time consuming than originally planned. In the life of our church, where is renovation happening? Are the changes cosmetic, on the surface, or is deep system impact happening in less visible ways? And is it requiring more of our time and resources than we originally planned?What are you pondering?

In the peace and hope of Christ,Kathleen