Rev. Dr Karen Kemp


Compassionate realism: How does the church reclaim her core identity as a hope-filled community of healing and restoration?
Thursday 27 March 2025 | 10:40am

From the earliest days the church has been known as a place of refuge, healing, and restoration. However, it is not possible to talk about the church as a healing community without probing the current reality of a church that has become known as a place where the very things which traditionally made it a haven for the broken have tragically enabled harm. So, how does a church mired in ‘bad news’ become hope-filled good news again? Healing and restoration lie at the very heart of what it means to be the people of God, but we cannot talk about hope in a vacuum. Indeed, the Good News of the Church is less that she is free of brokenness, but rather that she embodies a healing and restoring Gospel with compassionate realism in the midst of her own brokenness. Healing begins with lament, so this session probes the conditions which contribute to the current state of affairs. It is from this place of lament and humility that the church can find her place in God’s bigger story of reconciling all things in Christ Jesus. The litany of moral failure and abuse throws down a challenge to the church to reclaim her core identity and purpose, and to embody both collective and individual dimensions of that calling in ways that engender hope in a broken world. This session locates restoration as a necessary precursor to the transformation we seek both individually and collectively. Finally, this session calls for a reorientation toward a compassionate realism to underpin both the posture and practice of church leadership in recognition of the key role that leaders play in cultivating the church’s faithfulness to her core identity and calling as a healing and restorative community.

Karen Kemp


Rev. Dr Karen Kemp is a Senior Coach in the Laidlaw Centre for Church Leadership and Lecturer in the School of Theology. Her roles involve consulting, training and resourcing church leaders and coaches, and teaching into the Theology programmes of Laidlaw College. She holds a research Masters in conflict transformation, and a Doctorate in leadership and spiritual formation. Research interests gravitate around peace and reconciliation and include practices that support healing the wounds of history, formation of emerging leaders, and the role of “third culture” persons in building peace. Karen is an Anglican scholar-priest deeply formed by her intercultural experiences in nursing, community development, ministry, missions, and theological education. Karen shares life with husband, Hugh, and three adult daughters. She enjoys a good read, leisurely korero and kai with friends, and kayaking or walking the family labrador in remote locations in her spare time.