Answering a last-minute call to facilitate a Christian awayday

Diocese of Chelmsford

“David did a really good job. We were very pleased with the way he presented the sessions and handled them. He didn’t say anything out of turn but took the general line and didn’t get bogged down in specifics. Having someone experienced like that was very important.”

Nathan Whitehead, Head of Service Delivery, Diocese of Chelmsford

Every year the Diocese of Chelmsford holds its Bishop’s Council Day Meeting, and awayday for the Council and Trustees. The aim is to start the year with a day that’s not consumed with business and allows some freedom to talk about the issues that they don’t normally have time to talk about. At short notice, we were informed that the booked facilitator had to cancel for emergency reasons and we were asked if we could step in.
Having been involved in a fundraising programme for the Diocese’s retreat house, and worked with CEO Michaela Southworth in her former role at the Anglican Communion Office, David Saint was well known within the Diocese and was regarded as a “safe pair of hands” to facilitate the day.
The Bishop’s Council Day had not taken place in 2021 due to Covid-19 and a change of Bishop, and there had been significant turnover of trustees, half of whom had been in place for less than a year.

David was allocated three slots during the day’s programme, which also involved a bit of business, the Eucharist, and Bible reflection. He was given an outline and left to fill the sessions with his choice of topics to keep the 40+ attendees engaged.

Because of the short notice, there was no time for the usual round of one-to-one interviews with every participant, added to which there were too many to make this practical. Instead, David sent out an online survey with a few simple questions, such as length of time with the Council, what they hoped to get from the day and the three topics most in need of discussion. David also had a conversation with Michaela and Nathan Whitehead (Head of Service Delivery), and read through relevant documents.
From these conversations and the survey results, David proposed that his three slots should cover strategic planning, governance training and a “worked example”. This was agreed and David was left to design the sessions, which he made as interactive as possible.
“The day itself was very good,” says Nathan. “The trustees engaged with it. There were no long pauses.”

Feedback on the day was “limited but positive” and at the Council’s next formal meeting the consensus was “appreciative”. The day was recorded and Michaela (who was unable to attend due to illness) listened back and was very pleased.
Tangible benefits arising from David’s sessions will become more apparent in time, but one interesting insight did arise from the survey – there was a higher response rate among newer members.
“It was interesting for us to see some of the responses,” says Nathan. “As well as the higher response from newer people – what does that say? – it also highlighted that most people had a strong desire to grow the group identity and relationship as a relatively new body.”

Consultant’s insight:
TAwaydays come in all shapes and sizes. This one was less than straightforward because the brief was to ensure that everyone was fully engaged… but to avoid making any decisions. It was very much a team-building and bonding occasion, without any decision-making remit, and yet the content needed to be purposeful, instructive and enjoyable. No pressure there then!
The pre-meeting survey proved extremely valuable – not just in helping decide the content for the sessions, but also in helping the Diocese prioritise issues for future discussion, in meetings that do have a decision-making remit.
Although it did initially feel a bit strange to be asked to facilitate a meeting whilst avoiding any tangible outcomes, with hindsight that was just what was needed. The Diocese had a new Bishop, new Chief Executive and a substantial number of new people on its Council. And, of course, COVID had prevented meetings in person for a long time. This session will have provided a strong foundation for mutual understanding and trust, and a good sense of some of the key topics to be tackled in the months ahead. To try to move from discussion to decisions in this initial meeting would have been premature.

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