Saturday, May 31, 2014

Becoming a Keeper of the Questions

by Kathy McGowan, Congregational Life staff member

Several years ago I ran a program in which I trained and supervised citizens to advocate for children involved in abuse and neglect proceedings in family court. The volunteers needed to interact with many different types of people and various large systems. These advocates had the most challenging volunteer job I have ever known. They had to collaborate with lawyers, judges, social workers, foster care parents, parole officers and psychologists, in addition to the parents of the children, who were usually poor and often had mental health and/or addiction problems. The extensive months of training I provided were often inadequate.  When they were struggling I often found myself saying to them, “Remember, you are the keeper of the questions.” As long as they kept the long term health of the children in mind and kept asking the important questions in a timely manner, they were doing their jobs; they were keeping others on track.

I like the title, "Keeper of the Questions." In the fantasy world of Kathy McGowan, the Keeper of the Questions has a place of high status. It is a position to be respected and honored. In our congregational lives, this role falls to our leaders. In order to be a Keeper of the Questions in our Unitarian Universalist context, we are required to get up off the dance floor, so to speak, and move onto the balcony where we have a better view of what is happening. Once we have acquired a balcony view, we can then find out which questions need to be asked.

Leaders are often involved in decision-making that requires this kind of exploration. It takes a solid leader to be able to stop and say, “Are we asking the right questions?” Often we come to the decision-making process from something that happened on the dance floor. It can seem like a logical next step to make a decision, but if we have not gotten that “bird’s eye view,” it is likely that we have missed a key element about how this decision might effect the entire system of the congregation.

Once the good questions have been asked, you might be surprised at the answers you get. If the questions are strong enough, and the process clear and thorough, the thinking generated can take you far. Do not be afraid of the creativity that is unleashed. Embrace the Keeper of the Questions.