Another Presiding Bishop Speaks

The Most Reverend Francisco de Assis da Silva, Primate of Brazil, addressed a joint meeting of the House of Bishops and Deputies today. He gave me a copy of his address, which I happily share, to help us remember some of the bonds of affection in the Anglican Communion. In my limited experience with the Church in Brazil, I’ve found this part of the Communion to be a visionary, faithful community of leaders, working in solidarity with people who are poor and oppressed, promoting care for creation, and seeking justice for all.

Dear Presiding Bishop Katharine, Dear President of the House of Deputies,

I bring with me the warmest greetings from the whole Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil.

My deepest feelings of gratitude for this singular moment that I have the honor to address this General Convention. The Church of Brazil is deeply grateful to this church because there are 125 years ago Kinsolving and Morris left Virginia Seminary to start our Church for Brazilians in the South of our country. The dreams of these young people have become a living reality and now we celebrate three weeks ago our 125 years as a church, 50 years of autonomy as a Province of the Anglican Communion, 30 years of women ordination, and we launched as a gift to the entire Communion our new Book of Common Prayer (in Brazilian Portuguese).

During 75 years you (The Episcopal Church) were our mother. You nurtured us. And now we are two sister churches with common challenges. We face the same way the pain of schisms in the last decade, and in this way we face common commitments. We had walked in the middle of political, theological, and structural challenges. We experienced in the last decade many difficulties, when theology became a field of discussion and not communion. Just as women were together at the foot of the cross, we experience in common our pains. But also like these women we experienced the joy of the resurrection.

My prayers for this Convention are that the new leadership of your Church will continue to strengthen the fellowship between our Provinces in all forms, and for that, we have an important instrument – the Bilateral Committee composed of representatives of both churches. We have differences of language, after all we are the only Portuguese-speaking Province – but we have the same baptismal commitment and we have the same feeling that our mission is to reveal Christ and his Kingdom to the world. Yes, we speak Portuguese, but our heart beats to the same rhythm of love and service to our Lord.

Recently we hosted the II Anglican Lusophone meeting (Portuguese speakers) and we are supporting the creation of an Anglican Lusophone Network that could be an opportunity to help your church in leading pastorally with many Brazilians and Portuguese speaking people in this country. Our both churches will follow together, holding hands like two sisters, to cry our sorrows every time we are at the feet of so many crosses that we face in the way of mission. But also we continue hand in hand to thank the heavens every time we watch a tear replaced by a smile, every time a person realizes being heard and respected in the world of God. In a world where the logic of profit and injustice are before us, we need to be together to proclaim with courage the truth, justice, and peace of God to our fellow. God call us to walk together without fear in the fight against injustice, violence, and inequality. To achieve our common commitment we need you and you need us. May the Holy Spirit strengthen us and make us accomplices in our pain, our love, and our dreams of God. Muito obrigado!

Star TREC – a report on the October 2 webcast



Leonard_Nimoy_William_Shatner_Star_Trek_1968So the first thing I learned while watching the live webcast of a church wide meeting of the Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church was that I’ve been mentally mispronouncing this church wide experiment for the past two years. In my mind, I’ve called it by its four letters, T-R-E-C. The participants, however, called it TREC, as in Star Trek, boldly going where no one has gone before.

To continue the comparison, the production value of the webcast was somewhat comparable to The Original Series (fixed sets, lengthy monologues, actors staring into cameras, poor sound quality, etc.). Like TOS, the plot line was rather formulaic – three speakers, each followed by conversation with a two TREC member panel, followed by another speaker, followed by a larger panel discussion, and a closing prayer. It was not exciting television. However, like TOS, if you managed to stay awake for the whole show, the content was pretty good.

The evening began with Bishop Michael Curry reminding us that God’s church has always been a movement that inspired movement, from Abraham to Moses to Jesus to Harriet Tubman to the March on Washington. But just when we might get so excited about being part of a movement that we wonder why bother re-organizing anything, he wisely reminded, “Movements evaporate if they are not organized.” In other words, we do need to look at our structures so that we may more effectively participate in God’s movement in this world. (Unfortunately, he also said, “I was going to sleep when this organization stuff was coming out,” which scares me a bit since many consider him a front runner for Presiding Bishop). Nevertheless, he was inspiring, and he set a tone that many who spoke reiterated – new structures are not a panacea. Rev. Jennifer Adams who spoke on the panel with Bishop Curry following his address put it well. “Very little stands in our way except us. Our current structure is not the main thing that is getting in the way of the work to which God is calling us. We need a culture change.” Bishop Curry added, “TREC is about helping the bones get arranged to hear the word of the Lord. This is about revival!”

Sign me up!

We were then blessed with an excellent history lesson by the Rev. Dr. Dwight Zscheile (Luther Seminary) who reminded us that the Episcopal Church has changed structures several times in our history – from a state church in England to a structure for an American democracy to a missionary society in 1835 to a corporate structure in the early 1900’s. The challenge facing us is that many of our denominational structures were formed to help denominational franchises (ie, congregations) do mission somewhere else. The goal now is to nurture faith communities to engage God’s mission everywhere, starting at home. To this end, TREC envisions denominational structures that will fulfill 4 primary functions:

* Catalyst for ministry of all the baptized (inspire, like Bishop Curry’s sermon)
* Connector for peer learning (like working with Anglican Communion, ecumenical partners, learning networks, etc.)
* Convener for discerning policy and public witness (like proposed missionary convocation with General Convention)
* Capability builder (especially where it is better to work together rather than separately, like with church planting)

Like Adams before him, Zscheile said, “It is tempting to look to restructuring as a solution. Our primary challenges are theological, spiritual and cultural. . . . We will thrive only if we live more deeply into the spirit of Jesus.” Later during the Q & A, Margaret Shannon said, “Structure is not the solution to everything. We are trying to make the structure nimble.”

But lest we wonder again why TREC exists, after some Q & A, Katy George took the podium to say that while structural reform is neither necessary nor sufficient, it would certainly be helpful. Using the metaphor of a boat, a structurally sound boat will not automatically help a poor crew get where they want to go, but a leaking boat will thwart the efforts of even the best crew. We want to be sure our boat is not leaking.

She identified the following TREC improvement priorities:

* Clarity of roles for denominational staff
* More effective decision making processes (particularly between General Conventions)
* Deeper expertise at the church wide level (which sounded like a contradiction to the September TREC letter proposing more contract staff. I’ve been concerned about staffing proposals in the September letter. This conversation was more encouraging.)
* Increased relevance to local needs, which she identified as a concerted strategy to stop duplicating efforts at the denominational and diocesan levels (not sure what she meant by that)
* Accountability within the system, clear goals and objectives

In articulating these hopes for change, she also identified things TREC hoped NOT to change: the church’s prophetic voice, our deliberative approach to decision making, shared power and governance, broad representation, minority voices, and local and diocesan innovation and decision-making.

After questions, Rev’d Miguelina Howell spoke to encourage the church to be ready to accept change. She began with an illustration about putting a Starbucks in the middle of Washington National Cathedral. Would we be willing to do this if God called us to do it? God’s not calling us to do that (though I wouldn’t mind convenient access to chai lattes), but her point was this:”What are you willing to let go to allow God to be at the center of our conversation?”

Other TREC members then took the stage for a larger and longer panel discussion. Here are some themes:

Question: How about letting bishops be apostles and admin be admin? To which Bishop Sean Rowe responded that the role of the bishop is both to give voice to the vision of God and to do administration. “I would like to free up some leaders to stop leading and start administrating and getting more done.” Interesting.

Question/comment: We deal with too many public policy resolutions at General Convention, and our collective voice gets lost. We have great assets as a church to speak much more powerfully on a few things. Bishop Rowe explained that this issue is being explored. The challenge we face is that GC resolutions do help drive our public policy witness. There may be a better way to set our social justice agenda, but we don’t want to limit that agenda too narrowly.

Question: How much young adult representation in the TREC process? Panel members reported 4 members under 40 and 3 over 60, which they felt was a wide age range.

Question: TREC seems to suggest phasing out some Standing Committees and Commissions. How were these selected? Thomas Little explained that the group looked at which commissions tended to have work referred to them by General Convention and which ones tended to generate their own work. It seemed a better use of resources to allow GC flexibility to appoint groups to work on specific questions as needed

The evening closed with prayer and comments from Sewanee seminarian Sarah Miller who said, “The most important thing I have learned is how abundantly God has blessed us for work in the world.” Amen to that.

To return to the Star Trek theme, I loved The Original Series, but I have to admit the concept did get better and better as it went along. (I even liked Enterprise, but I may be in the minority there). However, in spite of its many flaws, that first poorly produced but innovative series, with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy and Nichelle Nichols and all the rest, launched a television movement that still resonates today.

Innovation is like that. It takes several tries to get it right. I don’t expect us to solve the whole puzzle in Salt Lake City, and I think we’ll get better results if we hold this process loosely, experiment with a few changes, and see what happens. The September letter of TREC implied a call to drastic and sudden changes, but conversation tonight seemed more open to moving deliberately and learning along the way.

Like the original Star Trek, I pray that the work of this TREC will inspire a generation and launch spin offs for years to come. God bless these faithful people who were willing to start the conversation.

The Adaptive Challenge is always with us – why not start with something Technical


On January 20, 2009, I had the very special privilege of watching President Obama’s first inauguration with Ron Heifetz, one of my favorite leadership gurus. Leadership Without Easy Answers was required reading for my DMin (Seabury 2005) and for a two year ministry fellowship program that started with a retreat coinciding with the inauguration.

The night before the inauguration, Heifetz gave his usual speech about leadership as the process of helping a community  deal with adaptive challenges. Technical challenges are problems for which a solution is obvious and readily available. Some problems demand this sort of solution. Adaptive challenges are situations where the problem is not entirely clear and the solution not readily apparent. Some sort of learning or growth will be necessary for change to take place.

The next day Heifetz talked with my fellowship class about applying these ideas in congregational settings. Then we stopped to watch the swearing in ceremony. At one point during a commercial break, someone asked, “What advice would you give President Obama right now?” As I remember his answer, he said something like this: “What I’m concerned about is that he’ll feel pressured to do several big, bold moves all at once. I would encourage him to experiment a bit, try a few small initiatives first, see what sort of difference they make, and let the country learn along the way.” (Click here for an article that describes what Heifetz said to his Harvard business classes on the Wednesday after that inauguration.)

I may not remember the conversation correctly, and I am not trying to open conversation about whether President Obama followed that advice. However, the spirit of Heifetz’s comments, as I remember them, rings true as I think about recommendations from the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church. The Task Force is trying to lead us through adaptive change. Here is their vision statement from an Open Letter to the church dated December 2013 –

From the TREC December 2013 Open Letter to the Church
Imagine a world where all of our Episcopal parishes are spiritually vibrant and mission-focused. Imagine a world where our parishes consistently are good at inspiring their traditional members and also are energized and effective in reaching out to new generations and new populations. Imagine a world where the shape of our Church frequently adapts, as new parish communities emerge in non-traditional places and non-traditional ways, and as existing parishes merge and reinvent as local conditions change. Imagine a world where Episcopal clergy and lay leaders are renowned for being highly effective leaders, skilled at Christian formation and community building, at new church planting, at church transformation, and at organizing communities for mission. Imagine that Episcopalians easily collaborate with each other across the Church: forming communities of interest, working together to share learnings from local initiatives, and collaborating to pool resources and ideas. Imagine that the Church wide structure of The Episcopal Church primarily serves to enable and magnify local mission through networked collaboration, as well as to lend its prophetic voice. Imagine that each triennium we come together in a “General Mission Convocation” where participants from all over the Church immerse themselves in mission learning, sharing, decision making and celebration.

With the exception of the General Mission Convocation suggestion, not a single technical challenge for which an obvious solution exists is listed there. All of this is adaptive work, requiring us to learn and think differently. (One could argue the General Mission Convocation suggestion also involves some adaptive work).

The challenge for the TREC is that the church has asked for technical solutions to adaptive challenges. When General Convention approved legislation creating this task force, we asked them to present a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration (General Convention resolution CO95).

I’m not sure we’re ready for a plan. To use Heifetz language, I think it would be better in the long run for the TREC to continue to create a holding environment to help us focus attention on our problems – the fact that many of our parishes are not vibrant and mission-focused, we are not consistently effective at reaching new populations, and we’re not prone to collaboration. Indeed, the whole move toward a plan feels like work avoidance  (more Heifetz language) – as if creating leaner staffing structures and building more networks will make us care about mission.

So here’s a thought. Since we’ve identified one technical thing we can do, why not start there, with the General Convention gathering.

The General Convention gathering every three years is currently primarily a legislative gathering. Organizationally, it is a thing of beauty in a lot of ways – one of the largest legislative bodies in the world, House of Bishops and House of Deputies (equal clergy and laity) collaborating on legislation, wonderful discussion in committees, plus inspiring worship each day and a fascinating exhibit hall. Historically, Episcopal Church Women hold their triennial gathering concurrently with General Convention. Our value around shared governance is put on display, with generally good results. Congress could learn a few things from us!

Current TREC suggestions for General Convention gathering include limiting the length  of the gathering, focusing the agenda, and reducing the number of committees. There are also some suggestions to reduce the number of deputies from 8 to 6 per diocese, which would lessen the financial burden of diocesan representation. The overall goal is to allow more time for mission networking and conversation at General Convention. A lot of this happens anyway, either in committees or through the exhibit hall, but I think the idea is to create space in the agenda for more mission conversation and learning together. There seems to be a hope that people will come to the General Convention gathering for the mission work, not simply for the legislative work. In a way, the General Convention gathering itself would become more of that holding environment that we need to help us look at our challenges.

I welcome these ideas. I loved the excitement and complexity of the General Convention gathering when I served as a deputy, but we did spend a lot of time approving resolutions supporting the obvious or debating complex issues that most deputies are not equipped to consider thoughtfully. The best moments of GC 2012 (in my opinion) were committee of the whole conversations on the floor about the budget, committee conversations about open communion, testimony about blessing same sex relationships, and conversations that led to the TREC. Creating space for more of these conversations outside of a legislative process sounds helpful to me. Expanding the role of the General Convention gathering so that more of the church feels invited to attend and participate is likewise a positive step.

One caveat, though. The suggestion that the General Convention gathering become a mission convocation seems to imply that General Convention was not a mission focused gathering before. I think it was – and is. Our legislative process has been a means for engaging mission as an organization. What I hear the TREC saying is that legislation should not be the only way we engage mission when we gather.

Of course, General Convention is both a gathering and an organization. Changing the gathering is far easier than changing the organization, but starting there will help us continue to think about the kind of organization we need. Personally, I’m excited about this idea and hope we will be willing to give it a try.

Lessons from Baptist History for the Taskforce on Reimagining the Episcopal Church

Southern_Baptist_Convention_logo1  ABC-Logo.bw_

The 2012 General Convention created a Taskforce on Reimagning the Episcopal Church (TREC). I was a Deputy at this convention, and I was delighted when we voted them into existence, so I’ve tried to pay attention to their work. They seemed a sort of committee on continuous improvement, which we always need to push us toward greater faithfulness.They have done excellent work during this triennium, much of which can be explored at their website .

As we prepare for General Convention 2015, we need to pay attention to their statements, so I plan to write a few posts reflecting on their statements and papers. They are hosting a church wide conversation on October 2 at the National Cathedral (wish I could be there!).

As I begin this project, I own that my reaction to their work, and my thoughts on our denominational structure in general, are informed by experiences in my churches of origin – the SBC and the ABC. The Southern Baptist Convention as it exists today is very different from the church of my childhood, but I believe it is still the largest American protestant denomination. After growing up in the SBC, I was ordained in the American Baptist Churches USA and spent a few years in ministry with that group before eventually (and joyfully!) finding my way here.

The trajectories of these two groups are case studies in how denominational structure affects shared mission, for good or ill. Both of these groups are Baptist, sharing the same historical roots and congregational systems of organizing. Until the 1980’s, most of their theological statements were pretty similar. But the two groups organized themselves very differently on the denominational level, and I believe those denominational systems led to profoundly different outcomes at the congregational level.

Southern Baptists came into existence just prior to the Civil War when Baptists in the US split over the issue of slavery. Baptists in the US had historically been a loosely organized bunch. Congregations met together in geographical “associations,” but there wasn’t much that tied them together until people started wanting to do things like start seminaries, publish Sunday School lessons, and send missionaries to different places. These tasks required institutions larger than a few congregations, so Baptists, who valued congregational autonomy and didn’t really like working together, started working together.

This work of organizing had just gotten started when Baptists in the south nominated a slave owner as a missionary. Baptists in the north objected, which led to a split. Baptists in the north were on the right side of history, and I think they honestly assumed after the war ended that their friends in the south would realize this and return to the fold, but it was not to be. Baptists in the south had already gotten busy reimagining their church.

Southern Baptists continued organizing institutions at full speed. They started a Sunday School Board, domestic and foreign mission agencies, seminaries, women’s societies, conference centers, and more. They created a reliable funding stream by strongly encouraging every congregation to contribute 10% of its budget to a central pot which funded their shared ministry. With organizational capacity and funding in place, their institutions went to work – starting lots of churches, training pastors, sending missionaries, educating the faithful. Southern Baptists developed a clear, fairly consistent identity. You could go into any SBC church anywhere in the country and probably find the same hymnal and Sunday school materials used in your church back home. Southern Baptists grew very quickly and became one of the most effective denominational systems in American protestantism in terms of congregational strength and institutional capacity.

The one thing they got wrong was not taking human sin seriously enough. They created a massive denominational organization but concentrated great power in one office (the President). For reasons I’ve never understood, they did not think to create checks and balances on that power. To make matters worse, they also created a Convention system which met and voted every year, which allowed change to happen very quickly. When the culture wars of the 70’s and 80’s came to the church, conservative leaders within the denomination elected a conservative president who began appointing conservatives to key positions. Because the convention voted every year, it took only a few years to change the entire leadership, and therefore the direction of the church.

Plenty of Southern Baptists applauded this change and saw it as a helpful course correction for a church in danger of becoming too liberal. For the most part, those who disagreed (like me) now worship and serve elsewhere. Today the denomination is a very different kind of church.

American Baptists, on the other hand, never did create the kind of strong central institutions their brothers and sisters in the south created. When they finally realized they the south was not coming back, they were still a small, loosely organized network of associations without a lot of institutional strength. They started a few seminaries and tried to send a few missionaries, but they never created a clear identity or fully reliable funding mechanism for the denomination. I served American Baptist churches for just a few years and visited the denominational offices in Valley Forge a couple of times. Every congregation I encountered was different. There wasn’t much common sense of mission or identity. Since pastors came from many different seminaries, pastoral training and clergy skill varied greatly. Individual congregations did lots of great things, but I never could figure out what American Baptists were excited about doing together.

I mean no disrespect to my dad and the other ABC and SBC pastors I know whose congregations serve God faithfully in their communities.  I tell this story simply to point out that two similar churches with very different denominational structures experienced different outcomes at the congregational level. The SBC of my childhood as I remember it, with its strong central structures, produced a pretty consistent congregational experience. The ABC as I experienced it, with loose central structures, produced widely varying congregational experience. You probably can’t draw a straight line from cause to effect here, but there is some relation.

So back to the Episcopal Church. As a connectional church, we have been by nature a lot more like the SBC than the ABC. We have a strong, fairly unified identity, centered primarily around liturgy. Historically, we’ve been pretty good at starting institutions (seminaries, publishing house, church pension, General Convention, CREDO, etc.). We have a fairly reliable funding stream for our denominational work. Unlike the SBC, fortunately, we have a slow process for making decisions. General Convention meets every three years, and constitutional changes have to be approved by two successive general conventions. Changes cannot happen quickly in our system, and that is wise. We also have checks and balances – bishops, deputies, etc. All of this is good, really good, in fact.

So why change? The vision that led to the creation of the TREC recognizes that we live in a time of great social transition. Strong centralized institutions are suspect. We are post-Christendom, meaning that the church is not as socially powerful as it once was.  The organization that we currently have is costly in a lot of ways. We spend a lot of time and money on General Convention, but do we ever talk about the right things? What sort of denominational system is needed to engage God’s mission together in a changing world?

And together is the key. Episcopalians are by nature together. Lots of good stuff happens at the congregational level, but we are not primarily congregational, though we sometimes act that way. We are by nature a large, networked system that embraces diverse voices and cultures. How do we organize ourselves fairly and effectively?

In general, I think the TREC is on the right track in a lot of ways. I like their vision for General Convention as a mission convocation. They have offered several thoughtful models for clarifying the offices of the Presiding Bishop, President of the House of Deputies, and Executive Council. I like their vision of networks. Their suggestions around denominational staff seem problematic to me, and I don’t fully buy the premise that centralized institutions are completely passe. I’ll offer more detail about all of this in future posts. For now, if you’re interested, I commend their study papers on various topics.

My point in all of this is not to lift up the SBC or the ABC as models for the Episcopal Church. We’re a different kind of Christian community. Rather, this history lesson is intended simply as a reminder that how we organize our life together, especially in a changing world that is thinking differently about organizational patterns, will affect how we work together across the church and how our congregations engage mission in their local contexts. The different organizational structures of Baptists in the south and Baptists in the north created very different congregations. How we organize ourselves today will affect how we serve God’s mission together tomorrow. So let’s pay attention.





10 Books (Okay, 20!)


One of my personal practices for navigating Facebook is that I don’t take part in anything resembling an old-fashioned chain letter, even for charity (like the ALS ice bucket challenge) or public witness (as in tag 10 friends to prove you love God, believe in the power of prayer, know heaven is real, etc.).

However, this latest question about books that are still with you is a bit harder to resist. You may have seen it or been tagged. In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard-they don’t have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just the ones that have affected you in some way. Tag ten friends (or more), including me, so I will see it.

This is a game I’m willing to play! I won’t put anyone on the spot by tagging, but if anyone wants to respond, feel free.

Perhaps this is cheating, but I couldn’t narrow it down to 10, so I’m making two lists – church related books, and another list that includes literature and general books I’ve found interesting. In alphabetical order by author.

Church related

Borg, Marcus – The Heart of Christianity – I personally don’t go as far as Borg does on some points, but this is the book I share most often with people who have left the faith and are trying to return.

Bosch, David – Transforming Mission – So very long, but so helpful. Shaped my understanding of what we are called to do.

Gawande, Atul – Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance – Not specifically church related, but his examples of “positive deviance” are a helpful parable for appreciative inquiry and other asset focused leadership models.

Groome, Thomas – Christian Religious Education – His praxis model of Christian education (starting with our experience, bringing experience into dialogue with the Christian story and letting that encounter shape our practice) still makes sense to me

Heifetz, Ron – Leadership without Easy Answers – Again not specifically church related, but required reading for my DMin and fellowship program and still helpful

Palmer, Parker – The Courage to Teach – “To teach is to create a space where obedience to truth can be practiced.” Parker Palmer has lived this conviction in powerful ways. 

Patel, Eboo – Acts of Faith – My introduction to the modern interfaith movement. We need more voices like this.

Suchocki, Marjorie – In God’s Presence: Theological Perspectives on Prayer – A recent find. Simply wonderful.

Weaver, Denny – The Nonviolent Atonement – A helpful alternative to the satisfaction theory, plus a practical read on Revelation.

Wright, NT – Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church – Powerfully ties these sometimes confusing ideas together in a unified framework.

For fun and enlightenment –

Berry, Wendell – The Country of Marriage – “O, when the world’s at peace and every man is free, then will I go down to my love… O and I may go down several times before that.” Plus the Mad Farmer’s Manifesto – “Every day do something that doesn’t compute.”

Bronte, Charlotte – Jane Eyre – Loved it when I read simply as an interesting novel. Loved it even more when a literature class explored the concept of the mad woman in the attic.

Diamond, Jared – Guns, Germs, and Steel – Required reading for my sons’ AP World history classes. I read it just to have something to discuss with them. I think I enjoyed it more than they did.

Duncan, David Jones – The River Why (or maybe The Brothers K – Hard to decide) – Beautiful stories beautifully written.

Faulkner, William – As I Lay Dying – Faulkner wasting no words.

Gandhi – An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth –  Such a privilege to read about the experiences that shaped his early journey.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel – The Scarlet Letter – Timeless

Irving, John – A Prayer for Owen Meany – Simon Burch did not do this justice.

Lewis, CS – The Silver Chair – My favorite of the Narnia books.

Stegner, Wallace – Crossing to Safety – Still one of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read. A study in values and meaning without being preachy and obvious.

So in looking at both lists now, I realize with sadness that even when doubling my list to twenty books, I listed only two books by women, only four by persons other than white men. Perhaps this social media experiment will encourage me and others to explore books by more diverse voices. 


Gallup, Spanx, and the Harlem Children’s Zone


One of my favorite past times is listening to leadership and management experts and reading their geeky books (sad, but true!). So I was delighted when CSU invited me to attend this year’s Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum.

It was a chance to hear Ron Heifetz, one of my favorites, and Marcus Buckingham, Geoffrey Canada, and Sheryl Sandberg, people I admired from afar but had never heard in person. Also on the agenda were Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, whose starting from nothing story was actually a great parable in how to get things done, plus several other impressive speakers. It was a full day.

The focus was on leadership in general, so naturally much of what was said applied in general way to leadership in congregations. However, three stories stood out as particularly appropriate to Christian leadership.


1. Marcus Buckingham from Gallup –

You may have encountered his work through Strengths Finder or other similar tools. As I understand the story, his work at Gallup uses the Gallup polling process to ask questions about productivity and satisfaction at work and then use this data to identify particular strengths and how they match up with roles in an organization or team. His bottom line wisdom is that people are most productive when they do what they are best at. We tend to think the way to get ahead is to build up our deficits, but he says we actually grow more when strengthen our strengths. His summary – “Take what is unique about you and make it useful.”

He sounds a lot like the Apostle Paul, who described a Spirit-given system of gifts and graces for ministry that build up the body of Christ. Paul’s message focused a bit more on the whole body and how our individual gifts build it up, where Buckingham’s sometimes focuses a bit more on the individual gifts and how they fit into a larger picture, but the wisdom is similar. It is nice that Gallup discovered something Christians have known for millennia!

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2. Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx –

I’ve never worn Spanx, but now I want to! Sara was a floundering young adult who had always planned to go to law school but failed the LSAT. She was barely getting by, and had $5000 in savings when she was inspired to create what every woman didn’t know she needed – a garment to wear under white pants that wouldn’t show lines or bulges. She cut the feet off some pantyhose, patented the idea, developed a manufacturing process (using real women as models, not plastic mannequins), got a contract with Neiman Marcus, and quickly became one of Oprah’s favorite things. Now she is worth $1 billion and has pledged to give half of her wealth away.

In telling her story, she said that when she was young, her dad routinely asked her this question: “How did you fail this week?” Her dad was not pleased with not failing because that meant she had not tried hard enough. Failure was expected as part of the process of growth and learning. Because she was used to failing, she was able to handle the challenges that came with starting a new company.

She sounded a bit like Jesus to me (I doubt she’s ever been told that!) who told his disciples that following him meant taking up the cross. We interpret these words of Jesus in many ways, but today I hear them as an invitation to failure. Though I much prefer success in all its forms, failure is truly richer soil for growth. If we’re not failing, we’re probably not trying hard enough to follow Jesus!

gcanada3. Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone –

What an inspiring story! Canada’s goal is the eradication of generational poverty through targeted education efforts in 97 blocks of Harlem. So far, the model is making some real differences and some are trying to replicate the model in other places.

He told a lot of great stories, but one was particularly geared to the theme of the event – Seizing the Opportunity. Early in his days with HCZ he was invited to the White House to watch a movie with President Clinton. He had a few things in mind he thought he might discuss with President Clinton if he had a moment, but when the moment came Canada’s brain froze and he couldn’t remember what he had planned to say. He called it the “tyranny of opportunity.” You can spend ten years preparing for a particular moment and then miss it. Be prepared, he said to the room, and seize every opportunity you have to make a difference.

This is how I hear some of the words of Jesus that speak of being prepared for the coming of the Son of Man. We never know when those moments of holy opportunity will come our way. Be ready!


None of the speakers intended to speak from a religious perspective, but I heard the wisdom of the kingdom in some of their words all the same. However, I also heard some messages that were clearly contrary to the kingdom – the false wisdom of individual success, greed, and self-fulfillment. I won’t mention any names, but one speaker, a wealthy entrepreneur, seemed very impressed with himself and appeared to have no philanthropic motivation at all. Another said that when in doubt he always tries to do “what rich people do.” This may be practical advice sometimes, but I recall Jesus saying something about the poor being blessed, too. Christians can’t assume that rich people always have the best answers.

I received a ten hour saturation in the wisdom of the business best seller list this week, but we encounter this wisdom all the time. If we don’t go to seminars and read leadership books like geeky priests, we still are surrounded by the popular wisdom of corporate culture. Some of this wisdom is good and life-giving. Some is destructive to ourselves or others.

My prayer is that the church will always present the wisdom of the gospel, wisdom that is truly life-giving, in ways that people can hear and notice. Sometimes this wisdom will sound just like parts of the best-seller list. Sometimes it will challenge the best-sellers. Woe to us if we speak only half of our story, emphasizing the profound practical benefits of the wisdom of Jesus without challenging ways this wisdom is sometimes distorted or truncated for personal gain.

Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a pearl of great price. It is out there in the marketplace. We may sort through lots of pearls before we find the one that really counts. Keep listening for the wisdom of the kingdom, wherever it may be, but don’t be afraid to discard some of lesser pearls you may find along the way. May God give us ears to hear.

Pouring Water

Part of me enjoys the ALS ice bucket challenge. I enjoy the videos and the creativity. It is entertaining to see how many different ways ice can fall on a person’s head. I truly support the cause, and I’ll gladly send a donation. (I assume most of the folks who dumped ice water on their heads also paid up.) While the process is starting to feel a bit like a chain letter, I’m grateful for the way this fun social media spectacle has brought attention to a horrible disease, and I hope the money it has raised will do a lot of good.

But even though my diocese issued the challenge to all clergy in the diocese, and though the game has now come to my congregation, I have chosen not to play along. I won’t be dumping ice water on my head for ALS.

I mean no offense to those who are suffering from ALS. I’ve known families who cared for a loved one through the battle, and I’m truly grateful for the money and focus this social media challenge has generated.

But as Christians we’ve already had water poured on our heads. The waters of baptism call us to care about suffering in all of its forms, not just the forms that are getting the most attention at the moment.

We have already had water poured on our heads –

  • For victims of ALS
  • For Michael Brown and his family, and for police officers in Ferguson, and for the way our history of racism makes us suspicious of one another
  • For the almost weekly homicides in my city, so common we seem to ignore them
  • For all who don’t have access to health insurance
  • For victims of Ebola, both the disease and the fear
  • For Israel and Gaza and Iraq
  • For US military families, many of whom rely on food pantries to get by
  • For the mentally ill and their families
  • For our own blindness and indifference and fear
  • For countless other reasons we all might name

So I won’t be pouring ice water on my head for only one cause. But in a few weeks, my congregation will gather to renew our ministry and commit ourselves again to our baptismal covenant. We will all symbolically put water on our heads. And I pray that through the waters of baptism God will set us free to proclaim the gospel and seek and serve Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being and be part of God’s transformation of this world.




On the evening of Sunday, January 12, the first Sunday after sharing the news that I would be leaving Trinity and St. Richard’s to come and serve with all of you, I told my husband, “I’m never leaving a church again. This is too hard!” Actually, it only got more difficult from there.

Both the church and school communities took the news graciously. They said things like, “We’re happy for you but sad for us,” and “We knew this would happen someday.” They asked questions about the process, whether I applied for the position or got asked to apply. (I told the truth – I applied). People were surprised to hear that Michael, Joe, and Malinda were actually at Trinity in person one Sunday in October. They did a good job with staying under cover, apparently. Trinity will soon go through the process of searching for a new rector, so in a way it was helpful for me to share how the search process works.

This past week was a week of goodbyes. It started on  Sunday with my last gathering at Sunday Dinner, a hot lunch ministry offered by the congregation for residents in the neighborhood. I usually attended once a month and led prayer and devotions. Folks there had a huge card for me that they all signed – very sweet of the group.

On Monday, Trinity’s office manager and resident party planner coordinated a lovely lunch for staff and office volunteers. She said the table decorations were to give us all a taste of Spring, which we could use. I have loved working with this fine group of people, and it was nice to gather with them.

Staff party

On Tuesday, the global missions commission of the diocese had a final meeting online to make the transition in leadership. A deacon in the diocese whose primary ministry has been with our global missions relationships will lead the commission. It was good to know the work is in capable hands.

We had planned to have a school celebration during chapel on Wednesday, but school was cancelled due to another seven inches of snow. Under normal circumstances, we would have cancelled Wednesday night church, but since it was my last night with them, the Journey in Faith group braved the weather and gathered with me one last time. A few couldn’t make it, but most did. This is a group that meets together in three stages throughout the liturgical year to learn about the church, explore the meaning of baptism, and prepare for confirmation, reception, and reaffirmation of baptismal vows. It is sort of like a newcomers class, but a bit deeper. This is my fifth Journey in Faith group, and one of the best.


The school celebration was moved to Friday, which was nicer in a way. I was truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and thanks from my students. Sixteen students from grades one to eight read letters thanking me for my ministry with them. They gave me even more letters from their classes to keep and treasure. The middle school yearbook sponsor gave me a copy of the yearbook from my first year – when our current 8th graders were 4! The school also gave me a framed print of the school hymn Day by Day, which I will definitely bring to Georgia. I don’t yet have pictures from the service. I am not normally a weepy person, but I really could not contain myself during this service. I am delighted about coming to work with all of you, but school ministry is a precious gift and I will miss serving at St. Richard’s. At dismissal that day, one 2nd grader gave me a note and a project she had made in Sunday School at her church. She also gave me this message – “The people where you’re going are Jesus’ followers too.” I assured her that was true.

After school on Friday, several teachers gathered with me at a local restaurant for a “faculty meeting.” This is a great group of colleagues, all very committed to bringing out the best in one another and in their students. It has been a joy and honor to work with them.


On Saturday, I gave my final homily at Trinity at the funeral of a beloved parishioner, someone I visited often. I returned Saturday night to St. Richard’s for the final performance of this year’s school musical – Scenes and Selections from Les Mis. This is a particularly talented group of 8th graders, but still I was surprised by how well they pulled off this complicated show. I was so proud of them. Pictures and video weren’t allowed, but trust me – they were amazing.

Then on Sunday I was with Trinity for one last time. I celebrated at both the 8 and 10:15 liturgies. I thought I would be able to hold it together, but then the choir came forward to receive communion first . . . We shared so many wonderful moments in England and at special seasons, so it was difficult to serve them all knowing it was the last time. My son Will was scheduled as an acolyte and server, so it was good to serve with him. He is in the corner in this photo.

2014-02-09 11.02.07

After the service, we gathered in the gym for a barbecue meal and more gifts and sharing. Several folks had told me that they would not be able to come, so I was surprised to see a full gym. Several groups in the church gave me lovely handmade gifts, including a pottery bowl made by the children of the parents group we started together. The church is also creating a piece of stained glass in my honor. Many folks made contributions to the Waycross fund, which I celebrate. It was a lovely event. I had time to greet each guest individually and thank them for the time we shared together.

And then it was done. My work at Trinity and St. Richard’s has ended. The early childhood chaplain at St. Richard’s is taking over all of the chaplain’s duties, and a retired priest in the diocese will work with Journey in Faith and share in Sunday liturgies and pastoral care. I am grateful that I can leave this community in their capable hands.

Leaving has been far harder than I realized it would be. However, I am comforted and empowered by the recognition that I do truly feel called to take this next particular step and serve with all of you. I was grateful to be able to say to people at Trinity and St. Richard’s that St. Thomas was my first choice, the particular place to which I believe God has called me. I have no idea what lies in store for all of us, but I trust that the God who blessed me with so many wonderful years at Trinity and St. Richard’s will bless us together in similar fashion.

See you Sunday!



About three years after I was ordained as a priest, I got a letter in the mail inviting me to apply for a new program sponsored by Lilly Endowment. Eli Lilly and his descendents did many wonderful things for Indiana and for the Episcopal Church. The Religion division of Lilly Endowment is a Lilly family legacy whose mission is to enhance the religious lives of American Christians by strengthening congregational life. Lilly fulfills this mission in many ways, but one primary way is through support for clergy. Their thinking is that strong clergy leadership enhances congregational life, which then enhances the lives of congregation members and their communities.

Lilly Endowment noticed that a lot of clergy drop out of ministry five to ten years after ordination. I don’t know the stats, but apparently it was enough to create concern. They recognized that most denominations provide support for clergy right after ordination, but there was not a clear pattern of support once clergy were established, but still early in their ministries. They decided to experiment – gather a group of clergy who had been in ministry five to ten years, provide continuing education and leadership development through bi-monthly retreats over two years, send them on trips to deepen the sense of community and learning together, and see what happened. They partnered with Wabash College in Indiana, where a retired religion professor agreed to coordinate the program and the college offered space meeting space in a conference center on campus.

I was blessed to be part of the first cohort of Wabash Pastoral Leadership Fellows, a group of 18 early career clergy from different denominations and different parts of the state. We met together at Wabash every other month for two years from 2008 to 2010. I didn’t really qualify – I had been ordained more than ten years earlier as a Baptist and less than five years earlier as an Episcopalian – but I’m grateful they overlooked that detail and let me in. This experience changed me as a person and shaped my work forever. Fortunately, the program has continued. The third cohort is now meeting in Indiana, and I believe eight new programs have been launched in other parts of the country.

I could go on forever about the blessings of this experience. I met Ron Heifetz, one of my favorite leadership gurus (Bishop Wright brought him to Atlanta to meet with clergy last fall). We had dialogue with state leaders in education, government, health care, criminal justice, community organizing, philanthropy, immigration, and more. We met with excellent pastors from many traditions who talked about strategic leadership and sustainable ministry. I gave much more thought to the church’s role in public life. We traveled to Chiapas, Mexico, for the Day of the Dead celebrations. We also traveled to India, where we saw Gandhi’s ashram at Sabarmati, learned about the Swaminarayan Hindu tradition, stayed in the home of one of its leaders, and immersed ourselves in the Christian tradition of southern India, much of which is said to descend from St. Thomas.

We had a lot of fun, and we shared a lot of pain. The wife of one of our members died suddenly during our time together, and we mourned with his family. Some struggled with conflict in their churches. Some moved to new congregations, by choice and by force. Today, we continue to get together. We stay in touch by email. We ask one another for prayer and advice. These are some of my dearest friends in the world, and I’m so grateful for the time we shared together.

Lilly Endowment is graciously providing ways for us to continue to gather. This year, they paid to bring Krista Tippett (host of Public Radio’s On Being) to Indianapolis for a reunion gathering for our group. We used her conversations with influential thinkers in science and religion as springboards for conversation about ministry in a changing world. At the retreat, they told us that Lilly will continue to fund these gatherings and bring us together once a year for conversation with a thinker who can enhance our ministries. Whenever this happens again, I will want to be there. Trust me, you’ll benefit!

Here’s a picture of the group who gathered this weekend with Krista Tippett. A few had to miss but most of us were there. Our whole cohort included 4 Methodists, 2 Presbyterians, 1 UCC, 3 Disciples (one now in Texas), 1 Lutheran,  2 AME, 1 Independent Christian, 1 mega-church pastor, 1 mega-church associate pastor, 1 Roman Catholic priest and brother (now in Chile), and 1 Episcopalian (about to move to Georgia). For those who want to know what she looks like, Krista Tippett is third from left on the front row.


The timing of this retreat was a wonderful gift. I’m preparing this week to say good-bye to St. Richard’s and Trinity and say hello to all of you. It was good to gather with these friends and talk about transitions in the world around us and in my life. Wherever I go, I take this community of love and support with me, and I am deeply grateful.


My family and I live in Fishers, a suburb of Indianapolis in Hamilton County, north of Indianapolis, 30 to 45 minutes from Trinity. We moved here nine years ago after I started working at St. Richard’s. At the time, Taylor was working for United Way in Madison County (long story). He did not want to move all the way to Indianapolis because he thought that would be too far from his work. I did not know how long I would stay at St. Richard’s (and did not know I would someday serve at Trinity). So, we agreed to move about halfway between our jobs, close to an interstate so that we could get anywhere future jobs would take us. We chose Fishers because we liked the school system and it was not as expensive as other options.

Three months later, Taylor got a new job in Nashville, Tennessee (again, a long story). Had we waited just a few months, we probably would not have moved here. Fishers has been something of an accidental home for us

Most people love living in Fishers. Schools are good. Neighborhoods are safe. People are friendly. Shopping is convenient. New families move here constantly, so the housing market is strong. Our house is within walking distance of the high school, which has been very convenient. Money Magazine recently said Fishers was the 10th or 12th best place to live in the country. I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in my life.

I’m probably the only Fishers resident who feels this way, but in spite of all of the positive things about the community, I have found living in Fishers very challenging. Long commutes through perpetual road construction are only part of the problem. The main difficulty for me has been living so far from the church I serve. Fishers and near northside Indianapolis are very different worlds – different populations, different concerns, different people. I never run into church members at the grocery store, and I never see Fishers people at the community events I attend in Indianapolis. One of my goals in a move to a new parish was to seek a more integrated life and live in the community my congregation serves. Just across the parking lot is not too close to me!

The other side of this coin, though, is that I have gotten a bit used to having a life outside of my church, and in a way that’s been a good thing. While I look forward to living close to St. Thomas and sharing life more deeply with my congregation, I will probably continue to need some time alone. Don’t take it personally!

Here are some pictures of our neighborhood. In case you haven’t seen any for while, the white stuff on the ground is snow! I understand you might get some this week. This is our house after the first snowfall in January.


Here is our mailbox later in the month of January, after the snowplows came through a couple of times. We’ve had to dig it out more than once.


Here’s the street. I think this was one of the -20 degree days.


Another view of the street. I think winter is beautiful.


As you can see, we live in a new housing development. We have way more space than we need or want, but we picked this house because it is within walking distance of the high school. I highly recommend living as close to the high school as possible if you have teenagers – very convenient. I thought others would agree and there would be lots of older teens here, but I was wrong. We are one of the oldest couples in the neighborhood. There were NINE pregnant families on the street when we moved in six years ago (after living in another neighborhood in Fishers).  While I’ve loved being around so many babies, I’ll enjoy living in a neighborhood with more of a mix of ages, and with trees!

Here is my commute! It’s not as bad as Atlanta, but I’m ready to give it up.


Taylor and I already love the rectory, the neighborhood, and Columbus. While I enjoy winter, Taylor is not a fan, and he is very ready to move to Georgia. We’re eager to settle into a less complicated pattern of life. Thanks for all that you are doing to prepare to welcome us to our new home.