Through the Lens #20 - Spring 2017


Roberta Gilbert -- MARCH 29, 2017 

They say that all good things must come to an end.  But, just as we think we ourselves will never end, we find it hard to believe about other good things—such as the ending of a seminar in Richmond.

However, we must now announce that the Extraordinary Leadership Seminar, hosted at the Roslyn Retreat Center of the Virginia Episcopal Diocese in Richmond, is in its last year there.  After the final May 2½-day session, we’ll say goodbye and many blessings to Roslyn with fondness. We have grown to love you.


Extraordinary Leadership Seminar began at the request of the United Methodist Bishop’s office sometime before 1998. The Leadership Development office there had asked Dr. Gilbert to design a program based in family systems theory for their clergy. They were experiencing constant calls about clergy dilemmas—either involving their families or their congregations. They had no idea how to be of use.  Dr. Gilbert thought it over for a long time, but finally responded with a plan.

It would be a seminar, since it takes time to learn and implement the family systems ideas. A three-year one, at that. It would be designed to be closely similar to the Special Post-Graduate Seminar at the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family that had been so useful to Dr. Gilbert any many others who had completed graduate studies. There would be didactic presentations in the morning, and coaching sessions in the afternoon. Individual phone coaching was also built in.  It would differ from the original Bowen Center seminar in that it would have a defined curriculum that would take place in a three-year cycle, repeating every three years. It would be open to anyone who wanted to sign up, from any denomination or profession.

At that time, the seminar was in two places, and it began around 1998, with six clergy people in Dr. Gilbert’s office classroom in Falls Church VA, and six in a Richmond United Methodist church, meeting one day monthly. The seminar continued one or two years in both places, both finally coming together in the Falls Church location.

A few years later there was a request for another seminar in the Shenandoah Valley, initiated by Presbyterian clergy people there. That seminar began at the Sunnyside Retirement Center, but after two years or so there, moved to the Eastern Mennonite Seminary where it stayed a few more years. Still later, the “Valley” Seminar moved to the Shenandoah University for several years. It eventually absorbed the Falls Church group.

While these were taking place, a United Methodist minister from Pensacola Florida began another iteration of the seminar there. However, when a huge hurricane, after the second year, filled up all the hotels with workers trying to put Pensacola back together again, it was impossible to continue this seminar.

During the last ten or so years, there has been one version of the seminar—housed comfortably at the Roslyn Center, three days at a time, three times a year. It has included not only clergy, but also business, education and medical personnel. Present faculty includes Kathleen Cotter Cauley and Kenton Derstine, who along with Dr. Gilbert, present theoretical and family and organizational lectures and discussion. They also take responsibility for all the other needed efforts such as registration, paper presentations, videos and coaching, making for a rich and varied offering. Other years, faculty has included Victoria Harrison in Pensacola, and Anne Curran and David (“Scottie”) Hargrove. Much gratitude goes to all of these people for their hard work with little monetary compensation. They often remark on the richness of the experience, however, and the many ways that they are “repaid.”

Patti Halbersma, holding up the business end of the seminar in the last several years, has been responsible for handling routing of communications, printing, assembling of materials for each year, and much, much more.

Feedback from participants has been almost uniformly one of thankfulness. It has been a great pleasure for the faculty to watch as people take Bowen’s ideas and run with them in their lives, becoming more emotionally mature in their family and congregational relationships.

Now that the Richmond seminar is coming to an end, there is some interest in beginning yet another version of Extraordinary Leadership Seminar—in Pompano Beach, Florida. This, still in the talking stage, is a live possibility.  Stay tuned for further details and if you are interested in this possibility, let us hear from you soon at 540-868-0866.

The seminar has been running around twenty-some years now. It inspired the creation of three textbooks, one for each year of its curriculum. These are: Extraordinary Leadership, The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory, and The Cornerstone Concept. There are videos available of Dr. Gilbert’s three years of lectures.  

Extraordinary Leadership Seminar has created exciting memories and a solid history of serving ministry and other professional and business people around the country. It is a legacy that encompasses anyone who participated in any way! Thank you all.  

If you have a question or comment you would like addressed in this column, please email Dr. Gilbert at