More than twenty years of working in the corporate arena exposed me to many of the processes used to identify company objectives. Executive management teams batted around various terms–mission, vision, aspirations, values, strengths, challenges–to ultimately craft a strategic plan that would move the company from a space of current complacency to a space of future excitement and growth.
In this environment, I learned that the crafting of a transformative strategic plan capable of bridging the chasm between these two spaces required yet another space to be incorporated: a space for grace.
As I experienced the discovery sessions of our diocesan strategic planning process, I was touched by the emotional texture of the conversations that shared rather intimate aspects of parish life. Throughout the conversations, there was an infused space for grace that was rich with authenticity, genuineness, and integrity of spirit. Space for grace created a sense of safety that extended an invitation to share both one’s beauty and one’s brokenness with boldness. Naming and claiming the totality of one’s being is a modeling of boldness that can reap many benefits–healing and growth.
I believe that everyone has a fervent desire to be heard, seen, loved, and connected. I also believe that these fervent desires are typically fervently kept secret because of our need to honor our projected image to others rather than being honest with the reality of who we really are. Intentionally infusing a space for grace into our conversations as we develop healthy relationships with each other enables a realization that whatever situation in which we find ourselves, we’re not in it alone.
Podcast host Sasza Lohrey reminds us that, “Knowing that you’re not alone–that all humans struggle–is one of the foundations of self-compassion and it’s a game changer.” As we embark upon our strategic plan, we, too, are called to be “game changers” by continuing to infuse a space for grace throughout our work. For in so doing, we not only enable the fulfillment of our strategic plan, but enable personal healing and growth as well.
The Rev. Dr. Robert T. Phillips
Senior Associate for Leadership Development and Congregational Care
Episcopal Diocese of Washington
The Rev. Peter Jarrett-Schell responds to a question from the Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart
Know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
This past Saturday, Calvary Church hosted the launch party for a book I wrote: Seeing My Skin: A Story of Wrestling with Whiteness. If you couldn’t guess from the title, it’s about being White.
A week before the launch, my colleague, the Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart, called to talk about the event’s Q and A session. She would be leading off the discussion, and wanted to know which questions would be off limits.
“I know I can come across sometimes like I’m Interrogating folks.”
I thought about how to reply. It was complicated.
On the one hand, I invited Gayle to lead the discussion specifically because I’ve come to respect her skill at asking hard, even painful, questions with clarity, precision and grace. Marking off certain questions as forbidden would undermine the very reason I had requested her help.
On the other hand, in writing the book, I had already stretched myself, and shared more than I was comfortable sharing. I dreaded the possibility that Gayle might ask something I was flatly unprepared or embarrassed to answer, in front of a crowd of friends and strangers, no less.
“You can ask me whatever you want,” I heard myself say.
For me, honesty and courage are usually a matter of saying “yes” before I know what I’ve gotten myself into, thus intentionally backing myself into a corner. It’s a practice I’ve borrowed from my biblical namesake.
Truth is tough. Rationalizations, defensiveness, and ignorance are easier and more comfortable. But they are also paralyzing; like being tied with velvet bonds. At the end of day, you’re still a prisoner. Jesus taught us that.
“Know the truth,” he said, “and the truth shall make you free.”
These words are probably one of Christ’s most repeated teachings, and with good reason. In poignant brevity, he sums up both the hard cost, and the sweet reward of discipleship.
Truth is hard.
On the path of truth, we will learn things about ourselves that we would rather not know. We who are called White might discover how inherited racist patterns still play out in our thinking and actions. We might see the structures of a White Supremacist society that still supports us, and that we in turn support, even if only unconsciously. We might recognize the magnitude of the debt we owe to generations of Black and Brown folk whose lives purchased our comfort. These are hard roads to walk.
But, says the Christ, they lead to freedom.
Imagine what it would be like to leave behind all the double-talk, evasion, rationalizations, hand-wringing and paralyzing guilt; to face squarely what racism has wrought, and still works in the lives of our neighbors, in our own lives and in the world, and to say, “this is not who I want to be; this is not the world I want to live in. And by God’s grace, it is in my power to do something about it.” And then to follow through.
I think that kind of freedom would be worth the price of some hard Gospel truth. I think it would be worth almost any price.
“Are you sure?” Gayle asked me wryly, just before we hung up the phone. “No questions are off limits?”
I could tell she had some doozies in mind.
“Yeah,” I said, though still a bit reluctantly, “I’m sure.”
The Rev. Peter Jarrett-Schell, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church and author of Seeing My Skin: A Story of Wrestling with Whiteness
In the beauty of the liturgy, there is a moment of confession:
“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 360)
For many, including myself, recalling the sins I have done doesn’t need much reflection. Educing “what we have left undone,” however, requires more intentional thought and often calls up anxiety. What have I not done? Who have I not forgiven? Who have I not loved? For whom did I not act when I had the power to?
This confession teaches us that sin is expressed not only in acts of commission, but in acts of omission–failing to act when possessing the ability, power, and privilege to do so is indicative of spiritual malaise.
This spiritual uneasiness is not isolated to individualistic piety. We have to admit that corporately, as a Christian institution, we are challenged not by what we have done, as much as by what we have left undone. For many parishes, attendance decline is not traced to a dysfunctional clergy person or vestry, something we might label an act of commission. Instead, more often than not, a drop off in membership stems from a lack of strategy for reaching the next generation, whether that’s evangelizing their neighborhoods or serving new digital audiences with the loving, liberating and life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ. This absence of a plan for the future is an act of omission.
The beauty of strategic planning is that it offers us an opportunity to take stock, not only of what have been areas of growth and decline, but as importantly, of what terrains of the harvest we have yet to explore. Strategic planning allows us to consider the possibilities and potentialities that would inspire every person to grow deeper with Christ: Which communities need strategic investment to propel them into revitalization? Who is serving at the communion table on Sunday mornings–and what races, generations, gender expressions are missing that we need to reach? How can we engage them using digital media and inspired in-person content?*
There is a proverb of the Akan people in Ghana, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translated means: “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” I pray we have the courage to go back, remember, and embrace the possibilities.
*For more reading and some answers to some of these questions that were raised, I commend The Great Opportunity Report.
Rev. Daryl Lobban
Missioner for Communications
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified… for the LORD your God goes with you.
Last week I finally got around to the cleaning of my home office I skipped this spring because I was busy sojourning with the Diocese of Michigan exploring a call to the episcopate. As I plowed through papers, I ran across one of my favorite poems by the great African American theologian and mystic Howard Thurman, “Give me the Courage to Live.”
As I re-read Thurman’s words, the poem spoke to me in a different way given my journey in the bishop’s search, my role in walking with parishes throughout transition processes, and most recently, my time as Canon to the Ordinary working closely with congregations who are determining how they will forge into the future with some of the challenges all parishes face in the swift and varied changes of church life today.
Here is Thurman’s prayer-filled poem on courage:
Give me the courage to live! Really live—not merely exist.
Daring the truth—
Particularly the truth of myself.
Ever changing, ever growing, ever adapting.
Enduring the pain of change.
As though ‘twere the travail of birth.
Give me the courage to live,
Give me the strength to be free
And endure the burden of freedom
And the loneliness of those without chains;
Let me not be trapped by success
Nor by failure, nor pleasure, nor grief,
Nor malice, nor praise, nor remorse!
Give me the courage to go on!
Facing all that waits on the trail –
Going eagerly, joyously on,
Without anger or fear or regret
Taking what life gives,
Spending myself to the full,
Head high, spirit winged, …
Gracious God, hear my prayer;
Give me the courage to live.
As I reflected on these words, I realized that although I wasn’t called to be Bishop of Michigan, I was proud I had applied, that I “entered the arena” as Brené Brown would say. I have been approached before about bishop searches, and have been afraid to say yes to the possibility. The prospect of facing the so-called “walkabouts,” where candidates answer questions in a series of forums, not unlike political debates, just terrified me. There was something about Michigan, though—their passions, their priorities, their courageous ministry—that beckoned me to see what God had in store.
Well, my friend the Rev. Dr. Bonnie Perry was called as bishop, yet I left the process grateful for all I learned about ministry, creative congregational development, and courageous leadership. I wouldn’t have traded the experience for the world. I not only endured the dreaded walkabouts, I was inspired by a process that called me to dig deeper. God gave me the courage, and the words to get through them, and for that I say, “To God be the glory!”
On the other side of the Michigan bishop’s search, I am convinced that courage is paramount to our ministry in congregations—whether it’s parishes embracing a clergy transition process or tackling hard conversations about financial viability and building maintenance. Now more than ever, I believe the key to experiencing turnaround, to addressing and overcoming these challenges, is courage.
Courage to sunset the ministry that served so well 20 years ago; courage to end the beloved Sunday service that now has an attendance of 5; courage to move the whole congregation because that old beloved building is sucking up all the congregational resources.
Courage. That will be my focus personally and professionally over the next year, as we embark on implementing our Diocesan Strategic Plan. I invite you on this journey of courage, Diocese of Washington friends and worshiping communities. Remember God’s exhortation in Deuteronomy 3:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified… for the LORD your God goes with you.”
The Rev. Paula E. Clark
Canon to the Ordinary
Participants at the July 20 Annual Giving Campaign workshop at Grace, Silver Spring watch Bishop Mariann’s video message
On Saturday, August 3, members of the Financial Resources Committee had the pleasure of presenting information about Stewardship and Annual Giving Campaigns with several parishes from Southern Maryland. Hosted by St. Andrew’s, Leonardtown, over twenty participants gathered to share ideas and strategies for helping their congregations to engage in joyful financial support of their church’s mission and ministries.
During the workshop, participants learned about best practices for Annual Giving Campaigns and engaged in small group discussions about methodologies and materials. It was in these lively discussions, where attendees focused on both successes and challenges, that much of the most helpful work was accomplished. In the words of FRC committee member Linda Baily, “It is always amazing when the solution to a struggle encountered by members of one church, is solved through the shared experience of parishioners of another church seated at the same table.”
An exciting new dimension of the Annual Giving Campaign workshops this summer has been the opportunity to share and review the EDOW online materials, “Planting Seeds.” These new materials, including a wonderful video of Bishop Mariann talking about the theme, provide numerous templates and resources to launch an Annual Giving Campaign.
The Rev. Michele Morgan, rector of St. Mark’s, Capitol Hill and member of the Financial Resources Committee addresses participants at the July 20 Annual Giving Campaign workshop at Grace, Silver Spring.