Highly Sensitive Clergy Coaching Group
For Unitarian Universalist clergy who identify as “highly sensitive” and want to craft ways of ministering that honor our intuitive, tender, and wise souls.
If you’re highly sensitive, your gifts of empathy, intuition, and creativity are incredibly powerful tools for ministry. But ministry can take a real toll on you, with its constant, varied demands, conflicts, and emergencies.
Your gifts for “reading the room” and mirroring other people’s energy probably make you a great preacher and counselor. But that important work takes a lot of energy. Without ways of recharging, you may find yourself depleted over time.
And potlucks, parties, and fundraising events, where your job is to work the room and personally connect with dozens, even hundreds of people? You’re probably very good at it, but it’s exhausting. Maybe, like me, you sometimes need to slip away from the party and hide out in the restroom for a few minutes, just to get some time alone and decompress!
Or you might find it a strain to be constantly on call for emergencies, knowing that at any minute the phone might ring with news of a hospitalization or death. Many of us feel secretly guilty about how hard we find it to abandon the plans we’d made for the day, so that we can show up fully present and with empathy for the people we serve.
Then there’s all the conflict in the congregations and organizations we serve. Especially in the last few years, sometimes it seems like all we do is mediate conflicts between angry people. And sometimes the conflict is about us! It can leave us so wrung-out, hurt, and discouraged. Even though we know intellectually that we shouldn’t take it personally, our hearts and bodies still get hurt. So much so that we may be wondering if we can even stay in this vocation we love.
Because of our high sensitivity, a lot of the standard training and advice about ministry doesn’t work for us.
But if we don’t understand what it means to be highly sensitive, we might think we are the problem.
During my congregational internship, I discovered that I couldn’t work the 6- or 7-day weeks I saw my colleagues pulling—my body literally couldn’t handle it. So, early on, I established a rhythm of working 5-day weeks that really suited me. But for a long time it felt like a guilty secret that I needed to hide from my harder-working colleagues, lest I be judged for slacking off.
I also struggled with the advice my mentors gave me not to take criticism and conflict personally. I thought it was great advice—I just couldn’t seem to do it! Serving in a particularly high-conflict ministry setting exacerbated my tendencies toward anxiety, insomnia, and other health challenges that lasted for years. For a long time, I felt like it must be my fault for not handling the pressures of ministry more effectively.
Then I learned about high sensitivity and it was like a light switch turning on—suddenly, everything about me made sense! There was a whole constellation of qualities that sounded exactly like me…and for the first time, I heard experts saying, those qualities are gifts our world needs, not a problem to be fixed!
Ministry for highly sensitive clergy doesn’t have to be so hard.
We can learn ways of honoring ourselves as highly sensitive people that will make a real difference in our felt experience of ministry. We can get clear on what we need to thrive. We can decide to make changes in how we work and how we think about our work. And we can ask the organizations we serve for their support. Even subtle, small changes can have a big positive impact on the quality of our lives.
For example, you might decide to create some practices for recovering after leading a Sunday morning service or a big meeting, or responding to an unexpected pastoral emergency. What that looks like exactly will be unique to you!
For me, I’ve discovered that doing an energetic clearing after I get home really helps. And then, checking in with my intuition about what else I need, whether it’s a nap or a fizzy soda or getting an easy admin task done, and doing that, whatever it is. Your answers might be different—but you can learn what works best for you, and do that, whatever it is.
That’s what this clergy coaching group is all about—helping you find exactly what works for you and your situation, and supporting you as you do exactly that!
So how does it work?
In the Highly Sensitive Clergy Coaching Group, we’ll meet online twice a month, from August to December, to support each other in:
- Gaining clarity in what each of us needs to thrive as a highly sensitive minister.
- Making changes in our habitual practices of ministry so we can get our needs met.
The first time we meet, we’ll spend some time getting to know each other and exploring what being highly sensitive means to each of us.
Before that first meeting, I’ll have asked you to read a brief article on high sensitivity as a springboard for our conversation. We’ll talk about your hopes for the group, including particular topics you’d like to explore, and what it would mean to you to really be thriving in your ministry. Together as a group, we’ll create a rough plan for the topics we want to focus on throughout our time together, so that it’s customized to the needs of the group.
Toward the end of our first meeting, I’ll invite you to commit to at least one thing you’d like to learn about, or start doing, or change in your ministry over the next couple of weeks, so that you can start to see some results right away.
After that, each time we meet, you’ll have the chance to:
- Check in briefly about how things are going in your life and your ministry.
- Share the progress you’ve made on the commitments you made at the last meeting.
- Reflect on what you personally would like to accomplish during the meeting.
- Explore different facets of highly sensitive ministry, in keeping with the needs and interests of the group.
- Decide on the next actions you want to try out for yourself before the next group meeting.
As a group member, you’ll be expected to:
- Participate in each meeting.
- Hold in confidence your fellow group members’ stories and plans.
- Commit to experimenting with new ideas and practices in between meetings.
- Support the rest of the group, and receive their support in return, by asking open questions, sharing observations and perspectives, and celebrating each other’s successes.
By the end of the group, you’ll gain:
- Greater understanding and appreciation for your gifts as a highly sensitive minister.
- Practical tools to help you hone in on the pain points you’re experiencing in your ministry, so you can get clearer on what needs changing.
- Custom strategies tailored to your unique needs, so you can thrive in your ministry, not just survive.
- A close-knit community of highly sensitive clergy colleagues to support you as you experiment with how to make ministry really work for you.
- Energy, inspiration, and fresh ideas that emerge as the group learns together.
- Techniques for coaching yourself that you can use long after the group ends.
I’ve served UU congregations for 18 years, with the majority of that time in challenging afterpastor settings. Today, I’m passionate about helping fellow highly sensitive clergy claim their gifts and find ways of doing ministry that really work for them.
To that work, I bring 7 years of coaching experience, first as a UUMA peer coach and now as a professional life coach. My work as a spiritual director deeply influences my coaching style; I believe silence and deep listening are powerful tools to help clients discover who they are and how they are called to live out their gifts.
What past clients are saying
“Working with Laura as a coach has been a true gift. I came to Laura seeking to hone my skills as a minister and gain clarity about my calling. Through curiosity, thoughtful questions, and embodied spiritual practice, Laura has repeatedly guided me back to my own wisdom. I often come away from our sessions with greater clarity, renewed energy, and feeling deeply supported. Because of our work together, I feel like I am able to show up more fully and authentically as a spiritual leader.”
–Kristen, clergy coaching client
“The sessions with Laura were a joy. Laura is an enthusiastic and welcoming facilitator.”
–Sara Goldsberry, workshop participant
“I had not had such a deep, authentic Zoom connection before. I appreciate how gentle, encouraging, and safe you feel.”
–Beth Collard, spiritual direction client
The Highly Sensitive Clergy Coaching Group will meet online twice a month for 4 months, for an hour and a half each time. The fall cohorts are now full, but there will most likely be openings in early 2024. If you’re interested in joining the wait list and/or exploring other ways to get support as an HSP clergyperson, let’s talk!
The group will be limited to 6 people plus me, so everyone can get lots of airtime and personal attention.
All dates and times will be set before the group begins, based on group members’ availability.
The standard fee to join the group is $480, which includes:
- 8 group coaching meetings
- Support by email and phone in between meetings
I’m also holding two places in the group for seminarians and colleagues without professional expense funds at a reduced fee of $320.
If the cost is a stretch for you, I strongly encourage you to apply for financial aid for continuing education from the UUA. Grants are available to fund 1/3 of the group cost, plus any other continuing education you’re planning, up to a maximum of $800/year in funding.
How to get started
If you’re feeling a big, juicy “yes” at this point, or at least a strong “maybe,” set up a free Zoom call with me today!
During this call, we’ll get to explore how things are going with you and your ministry right now. You’ll be able to experience what it’s like to work with me, and ask any questions on your mind. And we’ll both get to discover whether this group is a good fit for you right now.
There is no commitment or obligation. Whether we decide to work together or not, my goal is for you to find greater clarity and hope about your situation, your needs, and what will support your flourishing right now. I look forward to talking with you soon!