Savannah Ponder listens intently to Bishop Mariann, supported by friends and family, including members of L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C., St. Stephen and the Incarnation, and St. John’s Lafayette Square, where she serves as the assistant for ministries to children, youth, and families. (All photos: Donovan Marks)
Read Bishop Mariann’s sermon for the Ordination of a Deacon: Character, Chemistry, Competence.
The Rev. Bruce McPherson offers the litany of prayers.
J. Matthew Ponder, Savannah’s husband, and Eileen Schofield vest the new deacon.
The Rev. Savannah Ponder, newly ordained deacon, prepares the table.
Bishop Mariann blesses the people, and the people respond, Amen.
The Rev. Savannah Ponder among the many present to witness her ordination into the Sacred Order of Deacons.
The Rev. Savannah Ponder with three of her presenters (l-r: The Rev. Rob W. Fisher, Savannah, Ms. Jane Bishop, The Rev. Dr. Samuel Dessordi Leite, missing is The Rev. Emily Griffin).
You are the salt of the earth. . .
As part of the strategic planning process, the diocesan staff has been undergoing an intense process of self-examination and evaluation of our fruitfulness. We have been guided in this effort by our consultants at The Unstuck Group. They have given us a simple leadership assessment tool that has become a valuable lens for self-evaluation and team assessment.
This assessment tool asks us to reflect on our lives and ministries in 3 distinct realms and rate ourselves and one another on a scale of 1-10: 0-3, low demonstration; 4-7, moderate demonstration; 8-10 high/exceeds expectations.
The first area for evaluation is our character, which is foundational to everything else. Assessing our character includes taking stock on our morals, ethics, core values, attitudes and behaviors. How honest are we, and trustworthy? Are we a positive example to others, patient, disciplined? Do we allow others to shine? How well can we manage our own anxiety? Are we quick to anger, overly impulsive, defensive when corrected, always running late? These are all issues of character.
The second realm is chemistry, that intangible quality of working well on a team. Chemistry is often described as emotional intelligence, the ability to read a room and get along with all types of people. It includes an awareness of the impact of our behavior and words on other people, having sound judgment, asking good questions before providing answers. Chemistry can best be measured by how people feel in our presence–are we a draining or energizing influence? Do we bring joy into the room?
The third realm is competence, which is essentially how good we are at our job. It includes things like self-motivation, diligence, an ability to prioritize, having a strong work ethic and desire to learn. Business writer Patrick Lencioni in his book The Ideal Team Player includes the notion of hunger when evaluating competence, our eagerness to grow, our openness to new ideas and ability to innovate in our areas of responsibility.
Character, Chemistry and Competence: we all have gifts and growth edges in each of these realms. Most of us are stronger in one of the three areas and weaker in another. To grow in character, chemistry, and competence requires continual self-assessment, and feedback from others.
Tending to our character is, as Brian McLaren put it, the daily practice of producing the person who will wake up in your body tomorrow. “In a world like ours,” he writes, “your character, left unattended, will become a stale room, an obnoxious child, a garden filled with thorns. . . . Well tended, your character will become a fragrant garden, an artist’s home . . . You will be good and deep company for others and yourself.”
Tending to our chemistry goes deeper than stating where we fall on the introversion/extroversion scale. Nor is it to be equated with people-pleasing or conflict avoidance. Healthy chemistry requires a willingness to genuinely care about the impact we have on other people and tend to the relational dynamics that makes team-work possible. The more responsibility and authority we assume or are given, the more essential chemistry-tending becomes, for we have disproportionate power to set the tone of a community or group.
Tending to our competence is particularly challenging in ministry settings. In part, because of our reluctance to hold one another accountable and establish objective metrics for our work and in part, because there are so many variables to take into account. For that reason, it becomes all the more important to clarify our purpose and what our work is, so that we can establish realistic goals from which to evaluate our competence.
If you would like to learn more about this assessment tool, please contact me. For we are all called to grow as disciples and leaders, and practices of self-examination and accountability help open us to the Holy Spirit’s active presence in our lives. The simple truth is our churches will only be as healthy and vibrant as the people who lead them. As the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright once told a master class of aspiring young architects: “As a river can rise no higher than its source, so you can create no greater buildings than you are. So why not go to work on yourselves, so that you become what you would have your buildings be?”
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,says the Lord.’Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.’
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.’
We have come together from a variety of places and communities, all here for the same reason: to pray with and for you, Savannah, on the occasion of your ordination to the diaconate. You and I spoke earlier this week how much it meant to you, that so many would be here to take part in this celebration. But it’s also a gift to us–a living testimony to the communion of saints and a glimpse of the kingdom of God. On behalf of all those who have, are, and will be blessed by Savannah’s ministry, I thank everyone here for your part in helping Savannah to grow into the beloved, gifted child of God and emerging leader that she is.
Savannah, you are adept at learning both in academic settings and the school of lived experience. You earned your Bachelor of Arts Degree in Religious Studies in 2012, Master in Divinity with Religious Education Concentration in 2016, and you are in the midst of an Anglican studies year at VTS. You are married to Matthew, and marriage is a school like no other. You have worked as an intern in a refugee resettlement program, and as a leader in faith development in two national parks, in the L’arche community here in Washington, and in two congregations–all this before your 30th birthday.
Here is my word to you, and to all gathered: the path of learning, and growing as a result of what you learn, never ends. It never ends, except in the times and places where we get stuck, which we all do from time to time.
I once heard a family therapist say that all children as they grow pass through nearly every neurosis and character disorder found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5). Normally they pass right on through, he said, but where they can get stuck is when a particular behavior is met with a rigid response on the part of their parents. It doesn’t matter what the response is–only that it is a rigid, inflexible one, which is an indication of stuckness in the parent. His message to every parent listening was a powerful one: tend to your own lives, your own issues, your own healing, so that your children don’t get stuck in the ruts of your anxiety.
What’s true in families is also true in the life of institutions. They get stuck where their leaders are stuck. That’s why it matters, Savannah, for the sake of those you so long to serve in Jesus’ name that you stay on this path of personal growth and learning. The renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright once told a master class of aspiring architects, “As a stream can rise no higher than its source, you can build no greater buildings than you are. So why not work on yourselves, so that you might become what you would have your buildings be?”
Equipped with humility and curiosity, we can learn from anyone and anything. The Jesuit priest that I see for spiritual direction will sometimes say, after I’ve gone on for a while of all that is happening in my life, “What do you suppose God is wanting you to learn from what you’re experiencing?” Or he’ll ask, “Through what’s happening now, how might God be shaping your heart?”
Savannah, you are beginning ordained ministry in the Diocese of Washington at a time when we are all striving to become the people God calls us to be, calling our corner of the Episcopal Church to grow in our capacity to draw people to Jesus and embody his love for the world, to discern what God is up to in our midst, and to follow where the Holy Spirit leads. The learning curve for all of us, myself included, is steep. We’ve apprenticed ourselves to people outside of our Episcopal tribe who have important skills to teach us.
In August the diocesan staff spent two days in rather intense self-examination and evaluation of our fruitfulness. The person guiding us through this exercise left us with a tool that served a framework for our work. I would like to share it with you, Savannah, as one way to approach the life-long task of tending to the soil of your life and leadership. It has become, for me, one of the most important lenses for self-evaluation and team assessment.
This assessment tool invites us to reflect upon our lives and ministries in three distinct realms:
First, our character, which is foundational to everything else. It includes morals, ethics, core values, personality traits, attitudes and behaviors. How honest are we, and how trustworthy? Are we a positive example to others, patient, disciplined? Are we able to accept criticism, allow others to shine? How well can we manage our own anxiety? Are we quick to anger, overly impulsive, defensive when corrected? These are all issues of character.
The second realm is chemistry, that intangible quality of being able to work well on a team. It’s often referred to nowadays as emotional intelligence, the ability to read a room and work well with all types of people. It includes an awareness of the impact of our behavior and words on other people, having sound judgment, asking good questions before providing answers.
The third realm is competence, which is essentially how good we are our job. It includes things like self-motivation, diligence, an ability to prioritize, having a strong work ethic and desire to learn. Patrick Lencioni includes the notion of hunger in this realm–our eagerness to grow, our openness to new ideas and ability to innovate in our areas of responsibility.
Character, Chemistry and Competence: we all have gifts and growth edges in each of these realms. Most of us are stronger in one and weaker in another. All require diligence, continual self-assessment, and feedback from others.
Tending to our character is, as Brian McLaren put it, the daily practice of producing the person who will wake up in your body tomorrow. “In a world like ours,” he writes, “your character, left unattended, will become a stale room, an obnoxious child, a garden filled with thorns. . . . Well tended, your character will become a fragrant garden, an artist’s home . . . You will be good and deep company for others and yourself.” (Brian McLaren, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Press, 2008), pp. 11-12.)
Tending to our chemistry goes deeper than stating where we fall on the introversion/extroversion scale and asking others to deal with it. Nor is it to be equated with people-pleasing or conflict avoidance. Healthy chemistry requires a willingness to care about the impact we have on other people and tending to the relational dynamics that makes team-work possible. The more responsibility and authority we assume or are given, the more essential chemistry-tending becomes, for we have disproportionate power to set the tone of a community or group.
Tending to our competence is, I would argue, more challenging in ministry settings than in other fields because of the broad array of tasks associated with ordained ministry and, in our tradition at least, the reluctance to change patterns of functioning and ways of going about ministry even when what we’re doing is no longer bearing fruit. It’s also true that in many ministry settings, once we’re called to a given position, people have no idea how to go about evaluating our work except in parking lot conversations and rather vague metrics. For that reason, it’s essential for you to establish metrics from which to evaluate your competence, to invite others to help in that work and your continued self-evaluation.
Savannah, God-willing, you are going to be an ordained leader in our church for a very long time. You have already demonstrated what some have called “a wisdom beyond your years,” which I attribute to both your character and chemistry, and a hunger for learning, which has resulted in a level of competence that is rather extraordinary among those ordained in young adulthood. I affirm and celebrate those qualities and give thanks to God for you and your desire to dedicate your life to Jesus and His way of love in our world.
Continue on the path God has set before you. Tend to your character, chemistry and competence. When you are in positions of authority over others, help them to grow in those essential areas as well. Know that the God who created you, unconditionally loves you, and has redeemed you in Christ within, around, behind and before you, so that you might grow into the leader you are not yet but will someday become. It is essential for you to do this inner work, so that you might help us all become the church we are not yet, with capacities we not currently have but urgently need to fulfill the vocation God has entrusted to us. The learning curve is steep. But knowing you as I do, I suspect that you wouldn’t have it any other way. Remember that you are among fellow learners, I chief among them. Thank you for saying yes to this call.
Members of the EDOW BorderLinks delegation
The U.S/Mexico border wall
This week 13 people from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington have been on pilgrimage at the Arizona/Mexico border, learning more about the challenges facing immigrants seeking a better life crossing into the United States. The trip was arranged through BorderLinks
, a residential program dedicated to teaching participants through various experiences, the plight of US immigrants.
The group hiked through the desert to simulate the experiences of those crossing the Mexican border into Arizona; visited the border wall in Nogales, Arizona/Mexico; visited a shelter sponsored by Cruzando Fronteras, a ministry of Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Nogales, AZ, for persons trying to immigrate into the US in Nogales, Mexico; and the group sat in on Operation Streamline proceedings, criminal court hearings where 61 persons arrested by the US Border Patrol were adjudicated with federal detention facility sentences in 59 minutes!
The pilgrims will be returning to the Diocese of Washington with experiences to share and insights into how we can cross borders to support and empower the people of God.
The Rev. Canon Paula Clark says of her time among the men, women, and children whose communities are inextricably affected by what happens along the border, “This was a life-changing, meaningful experience.”
Families and communities affected by U.S immigration policy
EDOW delegation members, including the Rev. Canon Paula Clark, with two of the youth they met on their pilgrimage to the border
The EDOW delegation stands beside the border wall
The Rev. Andrew Walter, incoming Canon for Strategic Collaboration
I am pleased to announce that the Rev. Andrew Walter will join the diocesan staff as Canon for Strategic Collaboration. He will begin his work among us in early January.
The Canon for Strategic Collaboration is a new position, created to ensure that the EDOW strategic plan is implemented across all 8 regions of the diocese, and that through intentional relationship building, congregational leaders come to experience one another as partners in ministry.
Andrew will serve as the supervisor and primary support for our newly-appointed regional deans. He will work closely with them to establish collaborative relationships among clergy and lay leaders so that they may serve as support and resources for one another.
Given Andrew’s experience and interest in financial management and stewardship, he will oversee the establishment of the parish leadership track of the School for Christian leadership. In collaboration with the Congregational Revitalization Team, Andrew will assist in defining elements of a healthy parish and in the development of assessment tools.
While the position of Canon for Strategic Collaboration is new, Andrew is well-known among diocesan leaders. He had served for 8 years as rector of Grace Church, Silver Spring. During that time, he has served in diocesan leadership as a member of Strategic Planning Team, the Finance Committee, the Commission on Ministry, the Cathedral Task Force, and as Moderator of Diocesan Council. In the wider church, Andrew serves as Chair of the Executive Council Investment Committee, which oversees the Episcopal Church’s Endowment, and the Economic Justice Loan Committee.
Andrew began his ordained ministry in the Diocese of Connecticut. Prior to hearing God’s call to ministry, he worked in the banking industry and as a high school math teacher.
Of this new call, Andrew writes:
I am thrilled to be joining the dedicated and faithful team at Church House, particularly at this time as we begin implementing the Diocesan Strategic Plan. Having served on the Strategic Planning Leadership Team, I strongly believe the plan will help transform our common life and witness as a diocese, and I look forward to collaborating with the regional deans, clergy and laity across the diocese as we strive to revitalize our churches, inspire every person to grow in faith, equip our leaders to lead well, and partner in ministries of service and justice for greater impact in our communities.
Please join me in welcoming Andrew’s new leadership as we move toward implementation of the dreams God has placed in our hearts and the seeds of hope planted in the soil of our lives, congregations, and communities.