Faith Matters: From counseling to coaching

  • The Rev. Corey Sanderson and Rev. Heather Blais on the Greenfield Common. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Rev. Corey Sanderson and the Rev. Heather Blais on the Greenfield Common. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Rev. Sanderson serves as Pastor at Second Congregational Church of Greenfield, United Church of Christ, and Rev. Blais serves as Rector at The Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew in Greenfield.
Published: 7/12/2019 10:25:50 AM
Modified: 7/12/2019 10:25:37 AM

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email

If you are lucky, you have a person in your life to whom you can turn in a time of need. It might be a best friend or your spouse. It could be a co-worker or member of your extended family. You can go to this person when you are facing some situation or dilemma and know they will give you trustworthy and helpful advice.

Sometimes, however, people might benefit from the help of a trained professional. It could be a psychologist or a mental health counselor. It could be a financial adviser, nutritionist or social worker. More and more these days, people are also turning to professional coaches to help them.

Two months ago, we began training to become Professional Certified Coaches. Even though we are both ordained professional clergy, with counseling and spiritual direction skills, coaching is another valuable tool in working with individuals and faith communities.

Unlike therapy, spiritual direction or consulting, coaching is purposefully non-directive in its approach. The coaching process is entirely driven by the goals of the “coachee.” Coaches don’t give you advice or tell you what to do. They have no agenda or treatment plan in mind. The discovery-based coaching process helps bring out whatever is already within the person we are coaching. The one who knows what is best to do, and how best to do it, is often times that person him- or herself.

The training we attended, called Coaching4Clergy, was paid for thanks to a larger $1 million dollar grant. Through the generosity of The Lilly Endowment, five regional church bodies applied together: The Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut conferences of The United Church of Christ, the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. This five-year grant, called Together We Thrive, is focused on clergy wellness and leadership. It is a generous gift that we both are finding incredibly helpful as we serve our churches and engage in community work.

Heather says, “I have found myself using coaching skills with my church leadership board as they work to cultivate a culture of generosity and with individual staff members and ministry team leaders in their day-to-day work. I have been able to help parishioners sort through their grief after the death of a loved one. I was recently visiting with a friend whose church is facing a very difficult decision. He was torn between his own grief in losing this community and his sense of responsibility in serving as a leader. He felt unsure of what to do next, and what his role in this decision was going to be. By asking powerful questions, engaging in deep listening, and allowing space for silence, this man gained clarity around what his next step needed to be. There is something freeing and peaceful when we gain these small insights. It helps us walk more lightly.”

Corey says, “I have discovered how transformative it can be for a person to truly be listened to and fully heard. Deep, empathetic listening is such a gift, and watching someone uncover a truth in their life is what makes this process so powerful. People get very emotional when burdens are lifted, decisions are made and plans take shape. People leave a session with assurance, direction and satisfaction. The best part? They did it all! I provided the questions, the silence, and the safe space to explore, but they did the heavy lifting.”

We have both found great joy in this new coaching skill set and are enjoying getting to work together on projects. If your faith community is curious about coaching, please reach out to us. We’d be happy to share.

Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew: (413) 773-3925

Second Congregational Church: (413) 774-4355

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