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Engaging the World Through the Lens of Bowen Theory

All meetings will be via Zoom until further notice.

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Application to complete.



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If you have NOT been part of the Leadership Series

within the past three years (2017-20), please complete this application by clicking on the "W" and pay the $25 application fee by clicking on the "Registration" button that is below (scroll down).

If you have been part of the Leadership Series within the past three years (2017-20), please complete this application by clicking on the "W" and pay the $25 application fee by clicking on the "Registration" button that is below (scroll down).

Leadership Series Application Process for 2020-21


Welcome to planning for the 14th annual Healthy Congregations, Inc. Leadership Series!

We hope you will join us for a yearlong experience of applying Bowen Theory, theological reflection and practical application to leadership during these days of rapid change and important challenges.


This year, we are inviting all participants to do some thinking prior to the start of the program by completing an application.  The application is a series of questions to prepare you for the perspective and process in the program.  A conversation with one of the group consultation leaders in the program will follow your return of the application.


Two options are available for your preparation to be a part of the program:


1) If you are interested in registering for the first time, or you have previously been in the program prior to 2017, please submit your responses to the questions on the application on the left side of the "New! Application to Complete"  along with a non-refundable deposit of $25 that will be credited toward your registration costs.

2) If you have registered for the Leadership Series between 2017 and 2020 and desire to register for the 2020-21 program year, please submit your responses to the questions on the application on the right side of the "New! Application to Complete" along with a non-refundable deposit of $25 that will be credited toward your registration costs.

The process is confidential.  You will be hearing from someone to schedule a conversation within a week of your application being received.


Please complete your application by Wednesday, September 16, 2020 and email it to


The Leadership Series is an opportunity for leaders across professions (pastors, religious leaders, educators, administrators, and health professionals) to enrich and expand their ability to apply principles of systems thinking to self, family, and organizations. The year is composed of eight one-day seminars that promote in-depth thinking about self, family, and organizational process through the lens of Bowen Family Systems Theory. A seminar day includes plenary presentations in the morning and application of systems theory to workplace and family in small group coaching in the afternoon. Practical application of theory through working with a coach for an extended period of time is at the heart of systems thinking.




  • Presentation and discussion of theoretical concepts of Bowen Theory

  • Application of theory in one's family

  • Application of theory in the workplace




All Leadership Series Orientation (all groups will meet both days for this beginning of the year overview)

                                        September 17 and 18, 1 to 4:30 pm (EDT)


                                        Presentations by and consultations with:


                                        Tony Wilgus, Dana Runestad, and Emlyn Ott




The Dance of Alone/Together/Alone:  Physical Distancing and Social Engagement Processes in an Era of Viral Realities




Going Tribal


In his book, The Human Swarm, Mark Moffitt (a protégé of E.O. Wilson) describes the ways in which humans and their larger societies predictably organize themselves into ‘us’ and ‘them.’  Ezra Klein addresses the political aspects of this process in American society in his work, Why We’re Polarized.  Clergy and organizational leaders are no strangers to this phenomenon as segments of society organize themselves into various identity groups that encompass gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political and religious affiliations, and more.  Are there concepts articulated within Bowen theory that might lend some understanding of these instinctual human processes?  Perhaps.





Breathing Lessons 


“I can’t breathe” was the cry of George Floyd, Eric Garner, and untold others who have tragically died recently, including from Covid-19. What does the natural process of breathing have to teach us about the process of Differentiation of Self? Taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide is not a problem to be solved; rather it is a polarity to be managed. Could managing Differentiation of Self be a similar process? Could other polarizations also work this way? In this module we’ll explore Barry Johnson’s model of “Polarity Management” and how the “Polarity Map” can serve as a tool in the process of Bowen’s concept of Differentiation of Self. How might plotting out Differentiation of Self on a “Polarity Map” provide opportunity for a daily “examen” for marking mature functioning and incorporating spiritual practice in the process of differentiating a self? And how might developing capacity to manage polarization in self contribute toward managing polarization in the world?




Hierarchy, Egalitarianism, and Differentiation


Throughout nature, social animals arrange themselves in dominance hierarchies.  In a family, members may defer to the matriarch or patriarch and a younger sibling may accommodate an elder sibling.  Churches, organizations, and communities seem to operate in similar fashion.  Knowing where one fits in this structure can reduce tension or, under certain conditions, exacerbate conflict.  Concomitantly, human societies can resist this disparate distribution of nature’s resources. How does Dr. Bowen’s concept of differentiation address these apparent differences? Is an alpha female ‘more differentiated’ than a gamma female? This examination may contribute to a broader view of the terms leader and leadership.




The Power of Projection in the Dynamics of Blame



Heresy, Orthodoxy, and Differentiation of Self  

In anxious times, the tendency for the human herd is adherence to a common narrative, often blindly, and enactment of strictures and penalties for individual(s) who deviate from this norm.  Hence, orthodoxy and allegiance to the predominant view becomes virtuous and any departure and differing view becomes heresy.  Dr. Bowen described the counterbalancing forces of togetherness and individuality as a feature of our species and some of the consequence that emerge when the ‘group think’ prevails.  This presentation will examine these forces in the family, church, and society juxtaposed with the challenges of being a self in the multitude of relationships that resound with the refrain of ‘think like me, feel like me, and behave like me.’ 



Planning is still underway for a national conference to be held on these dates which includes all of the 2020-21 Leadership Series participants.



8:30am - 10:00am: Broadening perspective through the lens of systems theory (Part 1)

10:00am - 10:30am: Break

10:30am - 12:00pm: Broadening perspective through the lens of systems theory (Part 2)

12:00pm - 12:30pm: Lunch

12:30pm - 1:30pm: Bowen video presentation

1:30pm - 2:30pm: Small Group Coaching - Workplace application

2:30pm - 3:00pm: Break

3:00pm - 4:00pm: Small Group Coaching - Family of Origin (FOO) group


1:00pm - 2:30pm: Broadening perspective through the lens of systems theory (Part 1)

2:30pm - 3:00pm: Break

3:00 - 4:30pm: Broadening perspective through the lens of systems theory (Part 2)

Online coaching groups will be scheduled at another time by the gathered group during the first session.

Online participants will receive a link to watch the Bowen Video at their convenience. 


September 17 & 18, 2020

October 23, 2020

November 20, 2020

January 22, 2021

February 19, 2021

March 19, 2021

April 23, 2021

May 20 & 21, 2021


Online until a decision is made to return onsite.

(AKA Online)


September 17 & 18, 2020

October 22, 2020

November 19, 2020

January 21, 2021

February 18, 2021

March 18, 2021

April 22, 2021

May 20 & 21, 2021


The 2020-21 Online Leadership Series will use Zoom video conferencing. This means you can log-in and participate from anywhere in the world.


(AKA Onsite)


  • Registration includes full participation in the eight month program as well as access to a systems coach in small group sessions.

  • Registration includes a free 1-year membership in the Healthy Congregations Network, a free book of the year, and access to the Members Only portion of the website (a $105 value).

  • A group rate discount is available to all participants who register more than one individual from any one organization, church, or immediate family.

  • Individual coaching (with one’s small group coach) is available at a reduced rate.

  • No reimbursement or credit for missed sessions.

  • The registration cost is refundable (less the deposit) until two weeks prior to the first seminar.


Tuition for online and onsite groups is the same.

$25 Non-refundable Application Deposit that will be credited toward your registration costs.




Individual Registration: $1,350 per person

Group Discount Rate: $1,150 per person



  • Bowen, Murray. Family Therapy in Clinical Practice

      - Chapter 16 for Orientation (September 17 & 18).

      - Other chapters for other presentations - to be announced.

  • Creech, R. Robert. Family Systems and Congregational Life.

      - Part 1 for Orientation (September 17 & 18)

  • Harrison, Victoria. The Family Diagram and Family Research

      - This book can be ordered from the Center for the Study of Natural Systems and the Family.

  • Additional readings will be added before and after sessions throughout the year.


Emlyn Ott is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and has served as a parish pastor, campus minister, pastoral counselor, leader, and seminary professor for over 25 years. She was named CEO and Director of Healthy Congregations,Inc. in 2005. She holds a Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, a Doctor of Ministry from Phillips Theological Seminary, and is a Clinical Fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. She has participated for nine years in postgraduate work at the Center for Family Process and the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family and is currently part of Research Group at the Bowen Center.

Anthony J. (Tony) Wilgus, faculty emeritus from the University of Findlay, taught social work for 28 years subsequent to a 10 year stint as a clinical social worker and administrator.  After graduate school at the University of Michigan, he entered the post-graduate training program at the Georgetown Family Center from 1979-1981.  Since that time, he has attended the annual symposia, presented numerous papers, and published manuscripts on a wide range of topics rooted in the family theory originated by Dr. Murray Bowen.

Currently, he resides in Oberlin, OH with his wife, Rev. Beth Marshall.  He occupies the ‘next chapter of his life’ by serving on the Board of Healthy Congregations, Inc. and the Human Relations Commission in Oberlin.  Cherishing his roles as a father of 3 lovely daughters and stepfather to a wonderful son and daughter, he now embraces the joys of grandparenthood to seven active youngsters ranging in age from 1 to 14.  Gardening, biking, reading voraciously, and listening to the loons on a Canadian lake bring much joy as he endeavors to lead a life of contemplation in action.

Dana Runestad.jpg

Dana Runestad has been a pastor in the Southeast Michigan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since 1986. She was born into a family of pastors and musicians and started out at Carthage College in Kenosha WI with majors in voice performance and elementary education. After completing a masters degree in music theater at Southern IL University, she went to seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and the Ecumenical Theological Consortium in Washington DC. She has served congregations in every imaginable setting and served in every conceivable position, from solo pastor in rural, urban and first, second and third ring suburban congregations, to associate in large congregations, to long term senior pastor and interim/transition positions in urban, suburban and campus situations. 


Peter Steinke's books on systems thinking in congregations have helped her navigate through many challenges over the years. In 2015 she had the opportunity for a year-long sabbatical in Washington DC where she began an immersion in Bowen Family Systems Theory at the Bowen Center that continues to this day. After three years in the post-graduate program she joined the Bowen Center's Faith Leaders Seminar which she has been a part of since 2018. She lives in Plymouth Michigan with her spouse, Barry Rabe, who teaches public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. In addition to teaching, he writes books and blogs about environmental policy. They have been married since 1983 and have two grown sons. "Bowen Family Systems Theory has been so incredibly helpful to me," she says. "I am so grateful for the privilege of working with Emlyn and Tony and Jill, to keep learning and thinking with Healthy Congregations, and to accompany colleagues on a journey toward maturity in leadership -- something we seem to need now more than ever." 

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