Reflection On Dr. Jenny Brown’s Time With Us

As December ends, the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center (LMPC) likes to use this time to look forward to the New Year and reflect on what the Lord has done in 2023 so far. One of our greatest joys is hosting training workshops for attendees to enjoy, and it brings added joy when those attendees are familiar faces.

Our Advanced Clergy Clinic (ACC) is a wonderful opportunity for our graduates of Leadership Development Through Family Systems (formerly Clergy Clinic) to come together year after year. It is our joy that those who gather continue to express positive sentiments about the training. Having concluded the first session of ACC in October, we have had time to reflect on the wonders presented.

This October, we were able to host Dr. Jenny Brown, Director Emeritus and founder of the Family Systems Institute (FSI) in Sydney, Australia. Dr. Brown shared her insight on Bowen’s “I” position in a refreshing way. She described how developing one’s own “I” position can become an act of humility that aids in serving others. By focusing on your own stance, you can allow space for others around you to become responsible for themselves in a beneficial way.

Another point Dr. Brown shared that benefits relationships is to talk to people in your close circles as people. We often forget that there is still so much to learn about the people we love! Rather than assuming you know what someone thought about a certain event, ask the question “How did you experience ____?” It is easy to get stuck on the labels we give those we love – mom, brother, partner, etc. – but it is our responsibility to stay curious about who they are as a person, rather than focusing on their label to us. We must resist the temptation to talk about others, and instead refocus on talking with someone about how they are experiencing their life.

To summarize, Dr. Brown shared refreshing insights from Bowen’s theory. Dr. Brown’s presentation struck a chord with all of those in attendance, as many participants stated her presentation as being a highlight for them. The two points that stuck out to me as a view were as shared above:

  1. The “I” position is an act of humility that serves others, and
  2. We must stay curious about those in our lives.

It is a blessing to have such transformative learning opportunities like this. The LMPC is thankful for Dr. Jenny Brown, and we look forward to the insight we are sure to gain from Dr. Israel Galindo in February.

McKayla Barbour

Advanced Clergy Clinic

There is still time to register for our two final sessions of 2023-2024 ACC!

Learn More +

Anticipating our fall Advanced Clergy Clinic speaker, Dr. Jenny Brown

Jenny is Director Emeritus and founder of the Family Systems Institute (FSI) in Sydney, Australia. FSI has been providing training and clinical services in Bowen family systems approaches since 2004.

In June 2021, she stepped down from her leadership role but she continues as faculty. Jenny is committed to contributing to FSI events and mentoring emerging systems thinkers as demonstrated in her new Parent Hope Project endeavor.

In 2022 she was awarded the Polly Caskie research award by the Bowen Center for Family for the Study of the Family in Washington, DC, honoring her work with parents and the family projection process.

Jenny’s best-selling book “Growing Yourself Up: How to bring your best to all of life’s relationships” is now in its second edition. She has also published a primer on parenting called “Confident Parenting: Restoring Your Confidence as a Parent by Making Yourself the Project and Not Trying to Change Your Child”.

While she is with us Jenny is going to be digging deeper into Bowen theory as it relates to defining a self – The I position. This is a key skill for maintaining a calm presence and connection with parties in a triangle without adding energy from your own reactions.

This subject follows on nicely from discussions in last year’s Clergy Clinic about triangles, among other teachings from The Leaders Journey. Here is an interview by two authors on the subject of triangles in Jenny’s book.

Come to Advanced Clergy Clinic prepared to learn about your best next steps!

Churches: Plums and Pills

Where are all the staff? So many businesses seem to be a shell of themselves. Staff are around and working hard, but there is a general sense that there are just too few of them. Maybe you have experienced this as well. While many things have returned to pre-pandemic conditions, American employment certainly has not. During lockdown, many Americans reflected on their career priorities and came to life-altering decisions. Some decided to retire, while others decided to leave a current job that no longer suited them. Between April and September in 2021 alone, 24 million Americans walked away from their jobs, an all-time record, commonly referred to as the Great Resignation.  

Seeking to understand why this has been occurring, researchers from MIT took a deep dive into the data and found that “toxic culture” has been driving the exodus.1 They identified these five key attributes of a toxic workplace: Disrespectful—defined as a lack of consideration, courtesy, or dignity for others; Noninclusivedefined as inequity around LGBTQ, racial, disability, age, or gender issues, or a tendency toward favoritism, nepotism or cronyism; Unethical—characterized by unethical behaviors, dishonesty, or a lack of regulatory compliance; Cutthroat—described as having backstabbing behaviors and ruthless competition; and Abusive—refers to bullying, harassment, and hostility.2 While attrition rates are high on average, they are not universal. Pinpointing the elements of toxic culture in an organization can help leaders focus on addressing the underlying issues that lead employees to resign. 

That is the corporate world. What about the church? LMPC recently conducted a listening process with a large, mainline church that was concerned about staff turnover. Not the senior pastor, who was settled and managing programs well, but the music director, associate pastor, youth director and administrative staff, as well as a number of volunteers and committee members. Leadership wanted us to interview former employees and try to understand why they left. In a word, it was toxicity.  

Churches need to be intentional about their culture.3 Rabbi Edwin Friedman refers to some churches as plums (great places to serve) and others as pills (hard places to serve) and says that every judicatory leader knows which church is which in the region. Pills have toxic culture, are abusive, disrespectful and lack basic civility.  

Paul reminds the Ephesians to lead a life worthy of their calling in Christ, bearing with one another with gentleness and humility and forbearance, and speak the truth in love, i.e., create a culture of acceptance and belonging. Staff attrition can be a key indicator of the culture of the congregation. Adopting a covenant of behavior like the PCUSA document, “Seeking to be Faithful Together” can be a positive way to change the culture of a congregation. 

Jay Wittmeyer

The 20-Year Evolution of Clergy Clinic

One of the signature programs offered by Lombard Mennonite Peace Center is Clergy Clinic in Family Emotional Process. This has been offered for several decades with nearly two thousand clergy participants between Clergy Clinic and Advanced Clergy Clinic. In both programs, the focus is on Bowen Family Systems Theory which is a theory about human behavior and functioning. The concepts of Bowen Family Systems Theory are differentiation of self, emotional triangles, the family emotional system, family projection process, emotional cutoff, multigenerational transmission process, sibling position, and societal regression.

In our previous blog posts, we have used the metaphor of a toolkit and have shared about the “tools” we use through our programming. As with any tool, there comes a time when it needs to be sharpened or cleaned. Such is the case with our program Clergy Clinic in Family Emotional Process (the first year offering). In sharpening this program, we have changed the name of the first-year Clergy Clinic to Leadership Development Through Family Systems. The name change is to encourage anyone in leadership to participate in the program, not just clergy. The content of this program is accessible to anyone in a leadership role.

All leaders today face many challenges. In this time of increased anxiety and stress, our goal at Lombard Mennonite Peace Center is to help leaders focus on their own integrity, functioning, and the nature of their presence rather than seek quick-fix solutions or trendy techniques. In the book The Leader’s Journey (Herrington, Taylor, & Creech) the authors share that “Effective leaders will focus on their own lives, their own thinking, their own roles and responsibilities, their own part to play, and the log in their own eye rather than on the failures of others. They will learn to manage their own reactivity to the anxiety of society and to the anxiety of the people they lead…Leadership requires a different focus, away from society’s symptoms to our own convictions and beliefs. Leaders need the capacity to separate themselves from the surrounding emotional process, the discipline to be clear about their own principles and vision, the willingness to take risks, the persistence to face inertial resistance, and the self-regulation to stand in the face of reactive sabotage.”

An integral part of this program is an effort to understand multi-generational emotional processes in one’s family of origin and how those processes have shaped one’s emotional being. Participants begin to recognize how that emotional field might be affecting their functioning in their current roles including leadership in their organization. Bowen Family Systems Theory proposes that the more one can make differentiating efforts in their own family of origin, there is immediate carry-over in their leadership role.

What participants discover is that focusing on differentiation of self requires commitment to the lifetime project of being transformed by one’s life experiences and learnings. They recognize that it is a primary tool to depend on in their leadership roles. This understanding leads participants to continue after their first year of study and sign up for Advanced Clergy Clinic in Family Emotional Process.

We invite anyone who is in a leadership role to sign up for Leadership Development Through Family Systems. It is an opportunity to grow your emotional maturity and functioning, to work at defining self, and to regulate your reactivity in highly anxious and polarizing times.

Tammy Martens

Promoting Peacemaking – wherever and whenever we can

The Lombard Mennonite Peace Center focuses on training people across the country in biblical education regarding the principles of peace; conflict resolution training; and community building techniques. We also welcome opportunities to do this for a range of areas and stages in life.  Many people who take our workshops are clergy or lay people, but we also have participants from the mediation, counseling, and legal professions and the not-for-profit sector. 

For the past two months, we have been happy to host an intern from the DePaul University program in Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies, John Lindley. Under the instruction of our Executive Director John has been preparing scholarly materials for presentations.  He’s been able to sample two of our biggest workshops, the Mediation Skills Training Institute and Advanced Clergy Clinic, as well as our new one-day program, Restorative Conversations. Through the grace of a mediation client, he was able to see peace circles in action. He’s also gained a sense of the history of our 40-year-old organization by working in our archives. John is graduating this spring, and will be seeking some travel adventure before applying to graduate schools for a counseling degree. He wants to work with young people at the middle or high school level. Please join us in wishing this compassionate, richly experienced young man well on his life journey. We have been happy to mentor him in the art of peacebuilding.

Here is John Lindley, the LMPC intern from DePaul University program in Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. He’s standing by a Chinese scroll that was made for our Executive Director, Jay Wittmeyer, when he was working in China for the Brethren. It reads, “The Lord is My Shepherd”, from John 15.

The backstory for the scroll is that in 1910, the Brethren started building hospitals in China that introduced Western medicine and concepts of caring for all. The hospitals and their principles were welcomed, marked with centenary celebrations in 2010. The hospitals were another form of peacemaking.

Dorren Gertsen-Briand

The Fierce Art of Peacemaking: Part 1

A few years ago, my daughter gave me a book of poetry called Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings. The book was written by Joy Harjo, who at that time was Poet Laureate of the United States. The book includes a poem called “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings.”

Harjo is a tribal member of the Muskogee Creek Nation located in present-day Oklahoma. The poem, as I read it, is a ironical account of historical negotiations between Indigenous communities in North America and the United States government.

I have read that poem repeatedly in the past several years. One line sticks out to me that I keep coming back to in my work at the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. It reads,

We will wind up back at the blues standing on the edge of

the flatted fifth about to jump into a fierce understanding


I am not a musician by any stretch of the imagination; I can’t keep a beat worth a hoot. So I have relied on others to help me come to a fuller understanding of this line.

In other sections of the poem, Harjo lifts out the way in which Indigenous communities practiced what negotiators of European background would have considered flawless conflict resolution skills, only to have these practices turn around and bite them.

Earlier in her poem she writes:

I could hear the

spirits who love us stomp dancing. They were dancing as

if they were here, and then another level of here, and then

another, until the whole earth and sky was dancing.

We are dancing, they said. There was no there.

I see Harjo’s poem as attempting to turn the tables on good conflict resolution skills. Rather than following simple formulas, she is suggesting that dealing with conflict is an art form that is similar to dancers negotiating dance moves with a partner or jazz musicians rifting their way through a difficult piece on their guitars without the help of any sheet music.

Evidence that this is what Harjo has in mind is found in her line,

You cannot legislate music to lockstep nor can you legislate

the spirit of music to stop at political boundaries—

—Or poetry, or art, or anything else that matters in

this world, and the next worlds.

I often read this section of Harjo’s poem when I lead a Conflict Transformation Skills workshop. After reading it in one session, someone with way more musical background than myself mentioned that the “flatted fifth” that Harjo mentions is a dissonant chord. In other words, it is filled with tension and begs to be resolved. How the dissonant chord is resolved and brought back into harmony in music is beyond my pay scale. However, in conflict, as Harjo suggests, being at peace with someone I may not see eye-to-eye with involves coming to a “fierce understanding of each other.”

-To be continued

Devon Miller

Using Structured Process as a Support in Times of Change

Last week Tammy Martens wrote about the use of family diagrams as a tool for analyzing family emotional systems, “for observing the family as it adapts to life”. There is what David Ford called “multiple overwhelmings” (The Shape of Living) in life today that impact family and congregational life from the outside. These are events that happen, often more than one at time, over which we have no control. These events, like conflict, are a normal part of life. How we deal with these events, sense the movement of the Spirit through them and make meaning of them in our lives is where theology can guide us. Having a structured process to support that thinking when under stress is beneficial.

Peter Steinke points out that no generation has had to face greater and more prolonged change than the present one (Healthy Congregations). The Visual Capitalist has wonderful graphic representations of the speed of change (Long Waves: The History of Innovation Cycles – Visual Capitalist and Chart: The Rising Speed of Technological Adoption (, illustrating why our absorption capacity is full. The result is we as individuals, organizations, and society, are engaging in trauma responses:  cutting off relationships, numbing, acting out, blaming, getting tired and depressed, and having a reduced capacity for positive emotions like trust and love.

One of the basic structures in our society is the family unit. It serves as an organizational and value-shaping entity for us, positively or negatively. Author Joshua Coleman identified a fundamental change in the function of the family itself starting in the 1960s, shifting from what was “once seen as a bond of mutual duty and obligation, and now its seen as a launchpad for personal fulfillment.” (Rules of Estrangement). This changed the idea of right relationship and its associated values from ones focused around responsibility to others (often defined by faith) and re-centered on care for the self, first (faith optional). One of the challenges for addressing multiple overwhelmings today is the very structures that we relied on to frame our experiences have shifted.

How can one sense where the Spirit is moving when our senses are dulled and overwhelmed? The gurus of the 1960s were not wrong in placing value on self-knowledge. We cannot help others if we ourselves are hurting. We do need to take time for connecting with our values. But ultimately, we also need to come together again. Families, traditional and modern, can root for the individual growth of their members. Congregations can find new direction in-line with changing realities. Societies can discuss what’s working and what’s not via their governments and shift their policies. 

The Lombard Mennonite Peace Center offers structured processes and expert facilitators to help fractured groups work through change, difference, and trauma. Having a system to follow can help mitigate anxiety knowing a tested system will encompass all concerns and hold places for naming, grieving, healing, and dreaming again. It can take time to discern the right path but reconnecting with ourselves will help with future engagement. Being able to lead with an informed response developed from self-examination rather than inflamed raw reaction is the key.

Dorren Gertsen-Briand

The Family Diagram as a Tool

            I started attending Clergy Clinic in Family Emotional Process in 2012 led by staff at the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. As a participant, I learned about Murray Bowen’s Family Systems’ Theory and began the work of exploring my family of origin.

            One assignment that is given to clergy clinic participants is to construct a family diagram. A family diagram is a graphic representation of family members and their relationships over at least three generations. It is different from a family tree because it includes more than just basic facts of our family. It also includes information about the kinds of relationships that exist between family members.

            Victoria Harrison shares in her book The Family Diagram & Family Research “Developing a family diagram with facts about the functioning of the family over generations is one way to transform the way one thinks about the family and human nature. It is a cure, of sorts, for simplistic cause-and-effect thinking and for blaming or diagnosing individuals…It is a tool for seeing the family as an emotional system, for recognizing patterns of reactivity that govern the lives of family members, and for observing the family as it adapts to circumstances of life. It is a tool for working on differentiation of self.”

            As Devon Miller shared in his blog post “The Art of Peacemaking”, one tool in our LMPC toolchest is Family Systems Theory. One concept of that theory is Differentiation of Self. As we lead churches through conflict mediation, we are aware that our level of maturity and functioning—differentiation of self—impacts the process. One way of understanding differentiation of self is to create a family diagram. A family diagram helps us to explore what our particular relationship patterns are within the family. It helps us see our part of the emotional process, and especially the patterns we use particularly when we experience increased anxiety. These patterns are deeply ingrained in us and will surface automatically in our relationships with family members and others outside the family. Once we become aware of our automatic reactions, we can try and modify them to help us grow into maturity. As we work on our own differentiation of self, we become better equipped for the task of peacemaking.

            The Family Diagram is a tool for working on differentiation of self which assists us in bringing our best selves to the mediation table. There are helpful resources we use to create family diagrams. One resource is the book The Family Diagram and Family Research which I quote in this post. There are also several software programs. One program we recommend exploring is GenoPro:          

            Ideally, people will make use of these resources while coaching with someone who has training in Bowen Family Systems’ Theory. We invite you to contact us at Lombard Mennonite Peace Center if you are interested in us assisting you with this work.

Tammy Martens

The Art of Peacemaking

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

– Matthew 5:9

Back in the 1960s, the psychologist Abraham Maslow famously wrote, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it is a nail.”

Over the past thirty years I’ve earned most of my living working as a cabinetmaker—first in a furniture factory, then for a contractor, and the last twenty years in a little shop in my backyard. Over the years I have assembled a collection of tools to fit my craft. I often tell people that if you walk into my shop, you will surely wonder how I build my cabinets with the meager collection of tools I have sitting around. Missing are the large power planers, sanders, jointers, and saws which other cabinetmakers might depend upon. I have chosen my tools carefully, mostly hand tools with a few select power tools that make my line of work easier.

I have kept my focus narrow—mostly built-in cabinetry and some furniture—and, thus, have been able to limit the amount of power tools that could clutter my shop. My tools are my friends, my companions in the shop. I know exactly where to reach for them to complete the task that sits in front of me. My tools seldom fail me unless I fail to care for them. I constantly take time out to hone the edges of my chisels and planes to make my work easier and more precise.

This blog is about the finer points of being a peacemaker. Peacemakers have their own set of tools they rely on, unique to the work in which they are involved. An activist protesting the war in Afghanistan has a different set of tools than the negotiator working with two disputants in a civil case. A young student fresh out of college working overseas as a Peace Corps volunteer is given a different set of tools than those a therapist working at salvaging a young couples marriage will rely on.

Over the years, Lombard Mennonite Peace Center has assembled its own set of tools based on our particular work of focusing primarily on connections within the church setting. It may be helping two congregants restore a fractured relationship; helping a congregation work through a potentially volatile decision; or helping a congregation navigate tensions between the minister and the congregation. With that in mind, it makes sense that the tools in our toolkit are designed specifically to help reconnect and restore fractured relationships.

Our tool chest includes Family Systems theory, restorative conversations, ethnography, intercultural competency, poetics, interpersonal mediation skills, sociology, and more—all from a strong biblical foundation. Our list of tools changes and evolves as the world and church encounters new circumstances.

Join us as we hone our tools and share with you the finer points of the art of peacemaking in our world!

Devon Miller

No Stomach for Change

What should churches do now that Covid is relatively over, and things are moving back together? If you answered that question by saying, “What my church really needs to do is . . . (fill in the blank),” I would encourage you to step back and think about that action just a little more.   

The Lombard Mennonite Peace Center staff has been heavily engaged with church leaders regarding post-Covid Christianity, the loss of membership and the changing landscape of church in America. As consultants who seek to design processes to resolve conflict, restore relationships, and find win/win solutions for congregations having difficulty moving forward together as a unified body, we face these questions. Church boards are wrestling with the new reality, wrestling with priorities regarding worship services, youth programming, finding volunteers, and, in it all, wrestling with one another. Some are keenly intent on recreating the past; others are keen to get busy and create the future. 

Tensions are running high. When such churches contact us and request we design a process to to get them unified and get them moving, after an initial assessment, I find myself giving a response that is not always well-received. I don’t think a congregational engagement process would be a good process to undertake at this time,” and I offer this analogy: 

Imagine, if you will, a family on a chartered boat out on Lake Michigan. Things start out well, but later on a cold front moves in and the wind picks up. The water grows choppy, and whitecaps appear. The boat heaves and falls and rolls from swell to swell. Soon everyone is feeling sick, very sick, hurling sick; the coolers of sandwiches and drinks go untouched. The boat finally makes its way back to harbor, and the family gathers its gear, disembarks and slowly makes it way to the parking lot. The ride home is slow and quiet.  

The sense I want to convey is the tenuous nature of a seasick stomach, cautious and protective, extremely wary of any triggering episode that might set it off. The stomach must be still; it cannot be pushed or cajoled and it can’t be ignored. The system shuts down and needs time to quietly reset.  

Anxiety is a great driver of hypervigilance and action. Church leaders have every reason to be concerned about their ministries and their churches, and the desire to get them up, or get them back, is normal. But church leaders are also stewards of congregational health, and sometimes leaders need to pause and wait. Is now the right time for this?   

Coming out of Covid, we are all a little disoriented and unable to focus on the horizon. Churches, in particular, have been hit hard and are nauseous, deeply fatigued, and sad. Churches are not ready for a rollercoaster ride of anything.  

We all must do what we can, where we can, but we must also be cognizant that the sheep are woozy. What can the church stomach at this time? Maybe a slow, quiet ride together is about all it can manage.  

Jay Wittmeyer