Monday, January 25, 2010

Leadership in The Episcopal Church

I heard a disturbing comment in a meeting last week, which was that the elected leadership of The Episcopal Church does not "represent" the membership of The Episcopal Church. That comment has caused me to reflect on the entire concept of leadership and elected leadership, especially as it relates to our beloved church. 
Upon reflection, I reject the idea that our elected leadership does not reflect our membership. After all, our leadership, including our bishops, are elected each step of the way, from the parish church electing its vestry members and diocesan delegates and calling its rector, to the diocesan delegates electing its Standing Committee, General Convention deputies and its diocesan bishop, to the General Convention deputies electing the presiding officers and Executive Council. 
The very concept of leadership requires leaders to lead, which means to step out in front of the body and bring the body forward through existing difficulties and to new horizons and new and newly reconciled relationships. Leadership is not about pandering to the anxieties of the members or maintaining the status quo no matter how good the status quo is perceived to be. The path is always forward and always new, even when we revisit older ways of doing things, because it will be a new thing, not precisely the same as the old thing, since time and change have come to pass. 
It is our responsibility as members of the body to elect leaders who possess the intellect, skills and commitment to do the hard work of leading and the courage to boldly lead even in the midst of different opinions about the way forward. And, I think, it should be our expectation that our leaders will challenge us in new and unexpected ways to be open to and to listen to ideas that are unfamiliar and even uncomfortable to us.
I believe that our charge as both leaders and followers, indeed, as Christians who live in love in community, is to live into the teaching of Romans 12:1-8  (Today's New International Version), which reads:
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully."

10 comments:

Christie Iverson said...

It is difficult to be in the "minority" in a diocese. Sometimes it can bring on a crisis in faith. I have been told to be humble. It is hard for me to know what that means much less how to do it. Therefore, I turn inward to my church family and outward to blogs like yours and churches like St. Barts in New York City. Thank goodness for the internet. However, I can relate to feeling that our elected leaders do not represent us.

LELANDA LEE said...

Dear Christie,

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and to write your comments. I am moved by what you say.

I agree with you that it is very difficult to be the "minority" not only in a diocese, but in any community. Feeling unheard and invisible is a terrible thing and can, indeed, lead to a crisis of faith not only in God, but also in one's self and the structures that one has grown up believing were valid and true. That feeling of being diminished can lead one to question everything that we thought was true and real.

If one were to parse words, one could argue that unless elected leaders won 100% of the vote, which is never the case, then it is a fact that there will always be some group, less than the majority but potentially a sizable number of people, who do not feel that the elected leaders represent them. . . which, for me, raises all sorts of questions about what it means to be "represented" in a governance setting. . . including questions about how being represented relates to be listened to and heard, to be counted and accountable to . . . . I have many more questions than answers, but I do ponder them continually. Leadership is a responsibility and sometimes a burden, which can never be taken lightly.

As one who has been on the margins and an outsider more often, by a lot, than an occasional insider or elected leader, as I am today, what I can share is this: it is important, even crucial, for the good of the whole body, that those on the margins, those who feel minimized, to keep on showing up.

I don't know about an admonition to be humble. I think that we Americans, including American Christians, throw around the term "humble" without a true understanding of what it means.

I consider my online friend, a priest from Africa who has never left his homeland, but who walks to an Internet cafe daily to reach out to the wider church and world to ask for help for his church, diocese and community to be an exemplar of humility. To reach out to strangers across distance and to say in humility, "you are rich and we are poor, and we need your love, help and charity" - that is humility.

Humble in America - especially for those of us who are at all middle class, educated, in leadership roles - it's pretty difficult for me to imagine that I know how to be humble for longer than a brief moment, before my ego, my sense of being educated, my sense of "knowing" things begin to trip me up. So, I'd be interested to know if you gain any insights into being humble. I cannot suggest humility to anyone else when it is so difficult for me to even fathom, much less emulate.

Peace,

Lelanda

The Rev. Torey Lightcap said...

Lelanda, thanks for this food for thought. Seems to me that authentic leadership owns the humility necessary to do the job -- i.e., the ability to say in essence, "I have some idea of where this is headed, but none of us will make it unless we keep it in dialogue." Otherwise, the leader goes out a ways and then looks behind him- or herself, only to find there's no one there. The worst of leadership won't dialogue because the ego is too formed around the idea and identity of being a leader, which simply detracts from the doing of the job. As it is, Paul has the point: mutual submission takes many forms. But we all have to be able to see beyond ourselves.

LELANDA LEE said...

Torey,

I appreciate what you've added to the conversation - your points about authentic leadership and humility, and mutual submission.

I had heard the verses from Romans many times before, but when I recently heard them in an African Bible Study, I was struck by the words, "each member belongs to all the others." Mutual submission into that interconnectedness is required of us who exercise leadership in the Christian body. What a reminder, as compared to your point about the leader stepping out ahead and looking back to find no one there.

This is a potential pitfall for all leaders, but I think it is a particular danger for those who are anointed priest or bishop, who feel their special charism strongly, and who dwell in the Word, or perhaps more accurately, in their own interpretation of the Word, and then lose sight of those who follow. Your point about keeping it in dialogue is so very important for all leaders and ordained leadership especially.

Lelanda

gunther8202952 said...

Lelanda,

You highlighted some familiar leadership qualities. My question is, is this the only way to lead? Perhaps other cultures value other leadership qualities that are not the same as those that are valued in the dominant Anglo culture, but are just as effective, perhaps even more so.

In a church I attended on the Navajo Nation I was told by the senior warden and the junior warden that I shouldn't talk in church meetings because I'm not Navajo. Obviously this bothered me a great deal, but I did not fight it. They were attempting to exclude me from church discussions because of my race. I guess my feelings are feelings that not too many white people get to experience, but are all too familiar to many minorities in our country.

I said all that to say this. I think it would be difficult to feel included in the Episcopal Church if you don't see too many people that look like you in the pews and in leadership roles. I realize that the Episcopal Church is made up of many races, but the church I grew up in and am now a member of once again is very "white." Consequently, I think it would be very easy for a non-white person to come to my church and feel that the Episcopal Church is not very inclusive.

As we talked about in the Anti-Racism training, we need to make everyone feel welcome in our churches by doing things so simple as having dolls of different races in our nurseries. It is important to identify barriers to people feeling excluded and work to remove them, and I think that includes having a "white-looking" leadership. Having special days to commemorate African-American clergy is not enough. We have to infuse different cultures into our day-to-day activities. I think if we do this, we will attract more races to our churches and into leadership on both the local, diosesan and national levels.

Hope you get something out of my ramblings! :)

gunther8202952 said...

Lelanda,

I messed up. gunther8202952 is me--John Andrews

LELANDA LEE said...

Dear John,

Thanks for writing. I did read your comment yesterday but didn't have time away from meetings, meetings, meetings, until just now, to respond.

Thank you for sharing your experience of being asked to restrain yourself from speaking at the Navajo Nation church that you attended. I can only imagine what it must have felt like for you to be told directly not to speak. For people of color in mainstream American culture, our experience is that we are signaled not to speak, but not told directly, because most people in the dominant group exercise good manners that would preclude them from directing people of color not to speak, which would be considered a rude gesture. Our sense of hurt and diminishment at being silenced silently is no less than had we been silenced verbally.

The context of being in the Navajo Nation is significantly different from being in the (rest of) the United States, and it apparently was deemed appropriate to exert a preference that an Anglo not speak. It would be misguided to judge the appropriateness of their preference using the norms of the American cultural context. For example, we Americans expect a "No" answer out loud, if that is, indeed, the answer, but you won't find a Japanese national saying "No" directly to you. You're supposed to be smart enough to figure out that the answer is "No."

To your credit, you, an Anglo, respected the fact that you were a guest in the Navajo Nation and deferred to your hosts' preference. An analogous situation is one that often makes the headlines, where Americans visiting an Asian or Muslim country violate the culture (and sometimes the laws) of that host country and then cry "foul" when they are punished for their transgression.

My response to your opening question of whether or not there are other equally valid, appropriate and successful leadership styles than the one we utilize in the United States mainstream culture is yes, of course. Then I would qualify that positive statement by saying that leadership does not get exercised in a vacuum. It is exercised within cultural contexts and subtexts. The leadership style that works in a for-profit boardroom is very different than the style that works in a neighborhood book club. Likewise the leadership style that is acceptable in a surgical suite differs from what works for a teachers union.

A multiculturally competent leader emphasizes different leadership qualities within different contexts, recognizing that what is valued is different in each discrete context. That is why leadership is ultimately an art despite the attempts by scholars to study, analyze and quantify leadership qualities and skills. No doubt you have experienced the leader who knows all the words but doesn't have a clue about the music. There is a hollow feeling to that kind of leadership. In a crisis, it will either crumble under the pressure or solidify into rigid adherence to the rules.

I'm going to respond to the points you raised about racism and being a racial minority in White groups such as our church in a separate comment or blog post later, because it is too big a topic to cover in a comment here.

Shalom,

Lelanda

John Andrews said...

"The context of being in the Navajo Nation is significantly different from being in the (rest of) the United States, and it apparently was deemed appropriate to exert a preference that an Anglo not speak."

Lelanda, the problem I had in being told not to speak is that I am an Episcopalian and I was told that I could not ask questions of the Canon we were interviewing concerning becoming the Bishop of Navajoland. This was a meeting open to all members of the church. Consequently, I believe I was being told that I could never be a member of this particular Episcopal Church because I wasn't Navajo. I immediately thought of Paul telling us that there is no Greek, etc. we are all one in the Lord. I must say that there probably wasn't anyone else in the congregation that held the view of the senior and junior wardens. In fact, I was asked to lead evening prayer on Wednesday nights after the priest was removed. I did this until I moved back to Nebraska. So, what I'm saying is that the fact that I'm an Anglo shouldn't matter in the Episcopal Church, just like being Navajo, Chinese, Mexican, etc. shouldn't matter either. We need to be inclusive and ensure that we are not unintentionally, or intentionally, putting up barriers to anyone.

John Andrews said...

Below is a post (by Lorraine Mills-Curran) in response to a question I posted on the Episcopal Intercultural Ministries discussion board. This book seems like a necessary resource for any congregation interested in intercultural ministry.

"It is a new book released in time for General Convention. It lays out two paradigms for starting Latino ministries: "nested" and "from scratch." Since the book is written by an authority on Hispanic ministry, he lays out all the pitfalls of both. The book is challenging to anglos, like myself.

I don't agree with everything he says. But it is helpful in addressing the issue of how anglos often dominate in cross-cultural settings, and how with the best will in the world to regard all people well, the people with the power in the room are usually white. Well-intentioned liberal instincts ("we are all just Christians together") can lead to unwitting control.

The book also is challenging because he describes what he perceives to be the differences between Latino leadership, stewardship and administration styles, and anglo ones. This takes the issue beyond merely figuring out what to sing and say, but how you would actually work together in ministry, in a parallel congregation.

Finally, he takes on the huge issue of ordination credentials: the debate between the need to get people ordained fast to get them going in ministry, and the need to not adulterate credentials or set up an"anti-affirmative action" dynamic against with ethnic people with "quickie credentials."

As I said, the book is good because of all the questions it raises, and made me see that sometimes what seems like obvious good can have unseen ramifications. This is much more complicated work than we want it to be. For me, the issue is figuring how not to be frozen in place for fear of unintended consequences.

Maybe not so brief. ;)"

John Andrews said...

Below is a post (by Lorraine Mills-Curran) in response to a question I posted on the Episcopal Intercultural Ministries discussion board. This book seems like a necessary resource for any congregation interested in intercultural ministry.

"It is a new book released in time for General Convention. It lays out two paradigms for starting Latino ministries: "nested" and "from scratch." Since the book is written by an authority on Hispanic ministry, he lays out all the pitfalls of both. The book is challenging to anglos, like myself.

I don't agree with everything he says. But it is helpful in addressing the issue of how anglos often dominate in cross-cultural settings, and how with the best will in the world to regard all people well, the people with the power in the room are usually white. Well-intentioned liberal instincts ("we are all just Christians together") can lead to unwitting control.

The book also is challenging because he describes what he perceives to be the differences between Latino leadership, stewardship and administration styles, and anglo ones. This takes the issue beyond merely figuring out what to sing and say, but how you would actually work together in ministry, in a parallel congregation.

Finally, he takes on the huge issue of ordination credentials: the debate between the need to get people ordained fast to get them going in ministry, and the need to not adulterate credentials or set up an"anti-affirmative action" dynamic against with ethnic people with "quickie credentials."

As I said, the book is good because of all the questions it raises, and made me see that sometimes what seems like obvious good can have unseen ramifications. This is much more complicated work than we want it to be. For me, the issue is figuring how not to be frozen in place for fear of unintended consequences.

Maybe not so brief. ;)"