Notes on Servant Leadership

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By Watson A. Bowes Jr., M.D.

Although I had read Sevanthood, Leadership for the Third Millennium by Bennett Sims several years earlier, my first introduction to formal Servant Leadership training occurred in the spring of 2006 in association with my connection with the Johnson Intern Program, Inc.   In the previous year the Rev. Tim Patterson had spoken to a group of parishioners at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill about the Servant Leadership School in Greensboro, and there was some but not sufficient interest to develop a program of Servant Leadership training for parishioners.  At the time, however, The Rev. Susan Gladin had become the Executive Director of the Johnson Intern Program, a program of spiritual and vocational discernment for young adults that had been started by The Chapel of the Cross in 2000.  Susan believed that Servant Leadership training could be incorporated into the Friday trainings for the Johnson interns; and with the assistance and leadership of John Vernon, a Chapel of the Cross Parishioner, who had taken a number of the Servant Leadership courses in Greensboro, the ten-week introductory SL course was developed for the Johnson interns and several interested community members.  CDs of presentations by Tim Patterson were the basis for each weekly session.  I had the privilege of joining this ten-week introduction to Servant Leadership with the Johnson interns and the others who took the course.  The introductory Servant Leadership classes have been foundational in the Johnson Intern Program curriculum each year since that time.

This year I am taking the introductory course this fall (my third time) with eight Johnson Interns, and seven other individuals who signed up for the course.  The course under the direction of Susan Gladin has been modified slightly each year to accommodate new facilitators and a few new readings; but the basic structure of the course remains the same.  The course is enhanced by a presentation by Ruth Anderson once or twice each year.

My personal experience with Servant Leadership has been transformational and has introduced me to creative and meaningful ways to deal with personal, professional, family and community challenges.  The readings in the Servant Leadership classes including those by Richard Rohr, Henri Nouwen, Bennett Sims, Parker Palmer, Killian Noe and others are challenging and inspiring.  And upon rereading these essays with each subsequent group in the SL classes that I take I find new meaning and new perspective.  The discussion in the Johnson Intern Program Servant Leadership classes and enhanced by intergenerational mixture with approximately the same number of young adults and more senior non-intern participants.  Additionally, in association with the Servant Leadership training the Johnson interns are introduced to contemplative practices; and it was with a group of interns several years ago that I began the practice of Centering Prayer, which I continue to the present time.

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