A recently retired friend is also an accomplished equestrian. Now that she has more recreational time to play with, she has started using her love of horses as a way to reach out to people who are struggling. On a recent visit, she spoke with me about her latest venture: she volunteers with a group that uses horses in a process of practicing emotion regulation with military veterans.
Veterans from all branches of the armed services come to the program through the local VA hospital. Each has experienced significant trauma in one form or another and find it difficult to cope with even the most basic social interactions. They have an orientation and then, over the course of one week, they assume basic responsibilities for a horse assigned to their care. They don’t ride, but they brush, feed and learn how to be present with their equine companion.
This program is remarkably successful. My friend explained why: horses are prey animals. Because they have no outward physical protections like claws or horns, they have to be hyper-aware of their environment. This is why horses are notoriously skittish. It’s also why they are highly perceptive with regard to the feelings of other creatures. Horses are used to seeing a stealthy predator calmly approaching, and they have had to gain awareness of the adrenaline pumping inside this same predator when it is about to attack. So horses will only be calm and responsive with people who can synthesize their desire for connection with their feelings, and who integrate their feelings with their relational approach. My friend put it succinctly: With horses, your insides have to match your outsides.
Last Saturday, the Vestry and Clergy met with a consultant from the diocese for a Vestry Retreat Day. While we were not meeting to respond to trauma (!), we were all there because of the changes involved in new leadership—change that can feel tumultuous. The diocese requires these gatherings within the first six months after a church calls a new Rector. The reason is a variation on the theme above: for clergy, it’s a check-in to see if the reasons they felt called are being born out in their experience. For vestries it is a time to revisit expectations and adjust if/as necessary. The time provides an opportunity for all involved to explore whether the relational insides of initial vocation match the outside realities of congregational life.
I am happy to report that the day went well. There is work to be done, of course. There are conversations to be continued, and relationships to be developed. But a strong foundation exists in this place, built by many people who, over time and with great love, have cherished this congregation and equipped the saints here for the work of ministry. People who have committed to the external realities of our congregational life matching the core Gospel values we hold close to our hearts. Everyone present at our retreat day cares deeply for Holy Apostles. Our community is in good hands with the current Vestry, and I am excited to experience a growing synthesis of hearts, minds and Spirit as we move forward together.