Inspiring and Capable Leadership at St. John’s, Lafayette Square

by | Jul 20, 2023

Our Parish Vital Signs series continues with this article from the Rev. Shawn Evelyn, associate for parish life at St. John’s, Lafayette Square, who shares some of the ways the parish invests in developing a culture of inspiring and capable leadership and the benefits they see as a result.

Some may know St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square as “The President’s Church,” yet our parish offers so much more than simple proximity to the White House. The foundation is our deep commitment to inspiring and capable leadership. In prioritizing a culture of servant leadership, our clergy and laity walk Jesus’s Way of Love.

Leadership takes on many qualities and definitions, but St. John’s sees leadership as a set of behaviors. Those behaviors form the basis of skills, and those skills benefit from practice. Some of the leadership behaviors we practice include:

Living our mission (aka “Walking our talk”)
One ongoing task of our clergy team is to be a beacon of God’s love through faith, worship, care, and community, offering a place of grace at our historic corner in the nation’s capital. This helps to inspire the congregation to live and pray as a parish that embodies this mission. As clergy find different ways to serve and provide teaching and reflection grounded in scripture, parishioners cultivate their leadership skills by seeking opportunities to live out their faith and do so as often as possible.

Currently, St. John’s is engaged in community partnerships with schools, interfaith, and social action groups. The congregation’s work with refugee families has been steadfast and resolute. We have active faith and formation programs that continue to attract newcomers. And St. John’s has meaningful international relationships with the Anglican Church of Southern Africa through the Kwasa College and with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.

All this is possible because of our alignment between who we say we are and what we do.

Harnessing the power of teamwork
Although St. John’s is fortunate to have several clergy, most of the parish’s ministries are powered by lay leadership. Committee, group, and program leadership is delegated based on individual talents and interests in a way that prioritizes a shared understanding of mission rather than a proprietary ownership of a certain role or activity.

Our various worship services boast an impressive roster of active participants. The sextons, administrators, and clergy rely on one another and are confident to do so – our sextons don’t only maintain our building; they also contribute to our worship. There is a genuine team dynamic within the staff, and between the staff and congregation.

All are heard–laity and clergy–and have a seat at the table.

Optimizing effective communications
Ensuring the use of effective communications is an area that requires consistent attention at any parish. At St. John’s, we’ve found focusing on a few key behaviors makes a measurable difference in the smooth running of the congregation and our contact with our wider community and mission partners. For us, that means:

Staying organized. Not only does staying on top of our communications strategy keep stress to a minimum and allow us to anticipate future needs, it frees up valuable capacity so that we can address any issues or concerns that arise with all due speed. Having a well-developed communications strategy helps keep our messaging on point, understandable, and timely.

Leading with compassion and care. Sending and receiving kind notes and correspondence comes naturally at St. John’s. We make sure that every communication is infused with our values as followers of Jesus.

Improving hospitality. How we welcome guests to St. John’s and provide everyone with a great experience is of primary importance. We constantly look for ways to improve in this area, whether that’s by making sure our website is clear and easy to navigate or by empowering everyone at the parish to serve a meal for a parish lunch.

Normalizing career development, self-care and healthy boundaries
As a church in the downtown metropolitan area, we know that work culture and its negative influences run rampant. Instead of bowing to that pressure, St. John’s is committed to being a place of welcome and spiritual refreshment, and its leadership behaves with these values in mind. St. John’s believes in continuing education, training, and rest for its leaders. Participation in local and national events and conferences is essential for our staff to stay relevant and informed.

On a personal level, the members of this church walk with me in caring for two young children at home, and when I need a breather. This gracious generosity is a testament to the parish’s flexibility, and something I did not expect when I arrived last fall.

As potential leaders rise up from the congregation and newcomers walk through our front doors, our ability to model our Christian values as we grow in faith, work with one another to build beloved community, and welcome all of God’s children is essential.

In that context, whatever name folks may know us by is not so very important. St. John’s, Lafayette Square will continue to ensure it has inspiring and capable leadership that encourages others to become servant leaders themselves, so that together we are a beacon of God’s love.

The Rev. Shawn Evelyn
Associate for Parish Life, St. John’s, Lafayette Square

This is one in a series of articles in which parishes in the Diocese share a story about their ministry that exemplifies one the Parish Vital Signs.