A Superior Sailing Experience

Date posted: Friday 19 August 2022

Earlier this month, one of the cohorts funded by the synod’s Lilly grant – the Kubernesis Seminar – enjoyed its capstone experience: a sailing trip in the Apostle Islands along the south shore of Lake Superior. This cohort has been meeting since August of 2020, gathering quarterly as a cohort and meeting monthly with mentors from the nonprofit sector. Like so many aspects of our life together, the good plans we made initially for learning and gathering were disrupted by the pandemic. But this cohort found ways to be supportive, searching and committed through all of the ups and downs.


This experience was designed for rostered ministers who can envision leadership of a large/complex church system in their future. The guiding metaphor of this cohort – and the source of its unusual name – is taken from the passage in 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul lists the variety of “gifts of the spirit.” One of these gifts is kuberneisis, often translated as “administration.” In the Greek, this word is related to “steering a ship” and it’s where we get the English word “government.” Much of the work of running a church is not glamorous or inspiring, but the variety of administrative responsibilities need tending to as though they are a meaningful part of our calling. During quarterly cohort meetings, we gathered around pressing questions about what this work would require, but we were also grounded in Bible studies (written by one of our captains) about how sailing is a metaphor for the life of faith and leadership in particular.

We gathered in Bayfield, Wis., and enjoyed a beautiful evening at the Old Rittenhouse Inn before setting sail the next morning. The first night, we anchored off of Raspberry Island, hiked to the lighthouse, explored the island, and rowed back to the boats for swimming, dinner and group time. The second day, we sailed up to Devil’s Island and explored the sea caves, and then back down through the islands to anchor off Stockton Island. The final day, we made our way back to Bayfield and gathered as a group for a wonderful dinner and conversation as a cohort.


After a few days on the water, we were able to connect the dots better as we reflected on this guiding metaphor of leadership as “steering a ship.” We reflected how it felt to steer the boat, how many things we have to pay attention to just to keep things steady, how it felt when we were asked to do something (yes, right now!) that we weren’t sure we knew how to do, how much we had to rely on our crew members, and how it felt to trust the boat to keep us safe even when it felt like things were going too fast. We talked about different approaches to sailing, and how our boats would watch one another to see what they were doing – and then decide to do it our own way in the end. Over and again, we would find ourselves making an observation about sailing, and one of us would say, “Well, there’s another way this is like being a leader….”


These were four days of sun, fresh air, blue skies, clear waters, learning, laughing and growing together. The entire cohort offers a resounding word of thanks to our captains! Two retired pastors from our synod, Glenn Berg-Moberg and Rich Larson, were fearless leaders, willing teachers and great company on this journey. Additional words of thanks to the synod staff who organized the trip and, of course, to the Lilly Endowment whose financial support makes all of these possible.

Kubernesis Cohort Members: Pastors Ali Ferin, John Hierlinger, Kirsten Fryer, Tim Maybee, Jeanne Hartfield and Keith Long, (former) synod staff Anna Marsh. Unable to attend the sailing trip were pastors Elizabeth Damico-Carper, Jen Hackbarth and Joy McDonald Coltvet.


Sailing Instructors & Guides: Glenn Berg-Moberg and Rich Larson