Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Engaging a changing world with
an enduring faith in Jesus Christ

Bishop's Writings

Character, Chemistry, Competence

November 21, 2019

You are the salt of the earth. . .
Matthew 5:13

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?”

Announcing the Canon for Strategic Collaboration

November 14, 2019

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.

Practice the Forgiveness You Need

November 10, 2019

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, “Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.” And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honoured in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.’ Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
Genesis 45:1-15

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 
Matthew 28:21-22 

A dentist has a sign on his office wall that reads: Floss Only the Teeth That You Want to Keep. It’s one of the better signs I’ve seen, although my favorite remains the one I once saw in a coffee shop: All Unattended Children Will Receive a Cup of Espresso and a Free Puppy. 

Floss Only the Teeth That You Want to Keep. What would be an equivalent sign for a doctor’s office, do you suppose? Exercise Only the Muscles That You Want to Last. Or Care Only for the Body Parts That Are Important to You.  

What might be an equivalent sign to hang on the walls of a church? Maybe Practice Only the Forgiveness You Need. 

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus’ reply was, in essence, if you’re keeping track, you’ve missed the point. Forgiveness isn’t an event; it’s a practice. Practice the forgiveness you need. 

A few years ago, I found myself stuck on an airplane going nowhere. It was a connecting flight for most of us, the last stretch of a long journey home. But due to technical and weather-related difficulties, we sat on the tarmac for what felt like forever--5 hours in 90 degree heat.

To my right was a woman who had perfected the art of complaining. There was plenty to complain about, but listening to her litany of grievances against everyone in the airline industry was more than I could bear. I pretended to sleep. To my left, across the aisle, was a man who was as good-natured as anyone I have ever met. He engaged in pleasant conversation with everyone around him (except me because he thought I was sleeping). This man wanted to get home as much as anyone, but he never complained, whereas the woman beside me complained about every perceived offense against her, both large and small. 

In retrospect, I think of my two travel companions as practiced in two distinct ways of living. Each had habitual responses to their surroundings, one in striving to see the good in things, the other in always looking for, and generally finding, the worst. 

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh describes this as cultivating seeds within us. 

Our mind is like a garden that contains all kinds of seeds: seeds of understanding, forgiveness, and mindfulness, and also seeds of anger, fear, and resentment. When the seeds of anger and resentment are watered in us several times a day, they grow stronger. Then we are unable to be happy, unable to accept and forgive ourselves; we suffer and we make those around us suffer. Yet when we know how to cultivate the seeds of love, forgiveness, and understanding, those seeds become stronger, and we nourish peace and acceptance within and around us. (Thich Nhat Hanh, Creating True Peace: Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your Community, and the World  (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 2.)

Through our daily practices we choose which seeds to cultivate. 

Jesus spoke of forgiveness and he himself forgave, often and lavishly, because forgiveness is at the heart of God’s love for us. Do you remember what he said to a group of men about to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery? “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” Or when at dinner with a Pharisee who mocked a prostitute who had come to anoint Jesus’ head with oil? Jesus said, “They who are forgiven much, love much; they who are forgiven little, love little.” Most dramatically, from the cross Jesus prayed for those who put him here: “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” 

“Love one another as I have loved you,” he said to his disciples the night before he died. He could just as easily have said, “Forgive one another as I have forgiven you.” It is one of the hardest things Jesus asks of us, and perhaps the most important, for it is God’s way. 

When I was a parish priest I used to ask couples in conversation prior to their marriage what they thought they would need to keep their relationship healthy over a lifetime. Rarely did they say forgiveness, which was understandable if they hadn’t yet hurt each other very deeply. Yet without forgiveness, no marriage, no relationship of any kind can survive what we do to one another. It’s the most puzzling and disturbing aspect of human nature: we knowingly cause one another to suffer. Even more peculiar, we do these hurtful things not only to our enemies, but to the people closest to us.” (Beverly Flanigan, Forgiving the Unforgivable: Uncovering the Bitter Legacy of Intimate Wounds)

I struggle with forgiveness as much as anyone. But this I have learned: it is easier for me to forgive other people when I am aware of my own need for forgiveness. The most important reason to practice confession each Sunday in church, honestly taking stock of all that we regret and asking God to forgive us, is so that we might cultivate compassion for those sitting next to us in their struggles. We’re in this together; we are all sinners, and we must practice the forgiveness we need. 

A few things to keep in mind: forgiveness is not the same as excusing. “There is all the difference in the world,” writes C.S. Lewis, “between asking for forgiveness, which acknowledges responsibility, and asking to be excused, which absolves us from blame. What we call ‘asking for forgiveness’ often consists of asking God or other people to accept our excuses.” 

Lewis also suggests a way of going about practicing forgiveness: Start with the smaller offenses and work up from there. “When striving to forgive,” he wrote in the midst of World War II, “it’s best not to begin with the Gestapo.” (C.S. Lewis, “On Forgiveness” in A Year with C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings From His Classic Works (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003), 263.)We best not start with the worst things that others have done to us, particularly if the wounds are still fresh. 

Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting, acting as if the offense never occurred or has no lasting consequence. If we’ve been hurt by someone, the scars remain even if we forgive. And if we’ve hurt someone, we may be forgiven, but the effects of what we have done may linger. There is a growing conversation in this country about what it might look like to make reparations for slavery, and it may be helpful to think of our response in the context of forgiveness. What does forgiveness for the sin of slavery look like? Whatever it means, forgiveness is not some kind of erasure, nor would we want it to be. Think of all the hard won wisdom we would lose if we forgot what we needed to forgive.  Forgiveness of the deeper wounds doesn’t come easily, but slowly, over time. It requires courage and sufficient internal strength to rebalance the scales of power within ourselves. 

Rebalancing the scales of power. We often overlook the power dynamic involved in forgiveness, and how we must rebuild a foundation of inner strength in order to forgive. That, I suggest, is what happened with the biblical character, Joseph, in relation to his older brothers, whose story we read a portion of this morning from the book of Genesis. 

You may recall that Joseph was the favorite youngest son of his father, Jacob, and he knew it. In his arrogance, he frequently reminded his older brothers that their father loved him best. One day they had had enough, and they surrounded Joseph and beat him up, leaving him for dead. Only he didn’t die--he was carried off by bandits and sold into slavery in Egypt, the neighboring country. Through a series of remarkable events over the next several years, Joseph wound up in an influential position in the king’s court. When drought and famine spread throughout the land, his brothers traveled to Egypt to beg for food. Unbeknownst to them, they plead their case before Joseph, the brother they thought he had killed. They had no idea who he was, although Joseph immediately recognized them. For awhile he pretended to be harsh and without mercy. Then, as you heard, love overwhelms him and he bursts out crying--”Is our father still alive?” He then tells his terrified, guilt-stricken brothers that although they meant him harm, God brought about good. Joseph was no longer in their power. He was free, and in that freedom, he could forgive and reconcile with his brothers.

In a much different context, I had a similar experience with my father. He wasn’t a bad man, but for all sorts of reasons, he wasn’t good at loving his children. He hurt us; he hurt me, badly, and for many years, I could barely be in his presence. As time went on, however, and I became an adult, I realized that I didn’t need anything from my father anymore. I was okay, and, in fact, many of the blessings of my life were the result of what happened to me as a child. Like Joseph, I could say that God worked with the raw material of my life for good. From that new realization of inner strength and freedom, the question for me became, “Was I willing to love my father as he was and forgive?” It didn’t happen all at once and I’m not sure that I ever forgave him perfectly, but we reconciled. I’m so glad that we did, and that I was with him when he died.  

Forgiveness doesn’t always lead to reconciliation. I once was at the bedside of an elderly woman who had been physically attacked and robbed by one of her neighbors, a young man that she had befriended. She prayed for him, sincerely, but then said to me, “I never want to see him again.” She was 90 years old, and she had the right to put that boundary up. Yet I didn’t have the sense that she wanted to waste a minute of her life being angry.

So what is forgiveness? And how do we go about it? 

As the word itself implies, forgiveness feels more like a gift we receive than something we do. Indeed, the harder we try to forgive, the more resentment we may feel. For what forgiveness requires is not effort, but openness. It feels like letting go, relinquishing control, and allowing the grace of God in. If you’ve ever attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, when a wounded person speaks of resentment and an inability to forgive someone else, the advice typically offered is, “Pray for the person that hurt you.” 

We can all pray for those we struggle to forgive. What often happens in prayer is that God reminds us of the whole person and not just the part of him or her that hurt us. Sometimes we’re not ready to make the effort; sometimes we want, perhaps even need to stay angry. As Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Staying angry with you is how I protect myself from you. Refusing to forgive you is not only how I punish you; it is also how I keep you from getting close enough to hurt me again, and nine times out of ten it works.” But there’s a cost to our refusal to forgive. “There is a serious side effect,” Taylor warns. “It’s called bitterness and it can do terrible things to the human body and soul.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, “Arthritis of the Spirit,” in Gospel Medicine (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1995), 9.)

Forgiveness releases the burden of pain and resentment that we carry. It accepts the past for what it is and people for who they are. The former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan William, puts it this way: “Real forgiveness is something that changes things, and so gives hope. The occasions when we feel genuinely forgiven are the moments when we feel, not that someone doesn’t care what we do, but that someone does care because he or she loves us and that love is strong enough to cope with and survive the hurt we have done.”  (Williams, Rowan, “The Forgiveness of Sins,” in Ray of Darkness: Sermons and Reflections (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1995), 50.)

For all Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness, he only has one thing to say about how to go about it. It starts within you, he says, and the gift of forgiveness you are given every day by the God who loves you. When you know what it’s like to be forgiven, your heart will break open and expand, and you will receive the capacity to forgive another.  

Forgiveness is not an option for Christians. Yet our capacity to practice forgiveness depends on our willingness to receive it ourselves, and before that, to acknowledge that we need it. We practice the forgiveness we need.  

If forgiveness of any kind, in any way, is a struggle for you, you’re in the right place. We’re all struggling here. Just because it’s the core value of our faith doesn’t mean that it’s easy for us. But this is a place we come to practice letting go, and being open to the gift of forgiveness. 

One thing about Christian community: it affords lots of opportunity to practice forgiveness, as does every other relationship in our lives. That’s a good thing: practicing forgiveness is what makes us Christians. How often should we forgive? Will seven times take care of it? “Not seven times,” Jesus said, “but seventy-seven times.” Forgiveness, you see, is a way of life; it is a seed God has planted within us that we cultivate through practice. Remember: we don’t have to start with our equivalent of the Gestapo; we can start small. As we get better at it, we lose count and we stop keeping score. 

Without question, forgiveness makes us much better travel companions on a delayed airplane. It also makes us much better fellow travelers in life. Which person on the plane do you want to be? Then, go, and practice the forgiveness you need. 

The Next Faithful Step

November 07, 2019

Lead kindly light; lead, thou me on. I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me. 

John Henry Newman 

 

Everywhere I go across the diocese, people ask about my mother, Ann, and assure me of their continued prayers. Words cannot convey my gratitude, and that of our family, for holding her in your hearts. Through the grace of God and excellent medical care; with the prayers and support of many and her own fierce determination, Ann is steadily recovering from illness, life-altering surgery, and serious infection. Having lost nearly all her muscle strength, she is now walking again. 

 

Her doctors and therapists are in awe of Ann’s recovery, and so are we. Yet with each milestone towards health, she realizes the magnitude of her loss. For she cannot return to her life before the illness. All that lies ahead is unknown, with no roadmap for this new terrain. So she must take the next faithful step toward a horizon beyond her sight. We who journey with her feel the same way. 

 

Anyone whose life has “hit bottom,” as they say in twelve-step circles, will recognize this as the spiritual discipline of living one day at a time. Even if we could see the road ahead, our souls cannot fully grasp what is required of us now.  Knowing this about us, God invites us into a posture of profound trust. It doesn’t exactly feel like an invitation, for life as we’ve known has been taken. Do we have a choice? 

 

In fact, we do. The choice feels like surrender, letting go of the reins, as one of my horse-loving friends would say, and allowing God to guide us on this dimly-lit path. We can actively choose what we must accept and live by faith, which is no longer an abstract concept but the daily experience of following whatever glimpse of direction we’re given, and stumbling in the dark when the lights seem to go out completely. 

 

In the months I have journeyed with my mother, as a diocese, we have moved from a strategic planning process to the adoption of a plan, and we are now in a preparation phase for the first year of implementation. On the surface, these two journeys have nothing in common, yet for me, there are striking parallels. Our diocesan plan is full of the language you would expect--it speaks of priorities, goals, metrics, anticipated outcomes, giving the impression that we have taken charge of our destiny. Yet from the beginning, this endeavor has been a journey of faith, rooted in the profound realization that as your bishop I need to rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance each step of the way. We all do.  

 

Our consultants have encouraged us to think in small, faithful steps, in a posture of intentional humility, learning as we go. The depth psychologist Carl Jung once described this way of living as “doing with conviction the next and most necessary thing.” As I watch my mother face into her future with courage, I commit to the same as your bishop, with gratitude to God for all of you who are making the same heroic decision to take the next faithful step as the Spirit guides us all. 

 

Preparation for Strategic Plan Launch: A Call for Regional Deans

October 24, 2019


The mission of the Diocese of Washington:

To draw people to Jesus and embody his love for the world 
by equipping faith communities, promoting spiritual growth, and striving for justice.

Vision 2025: 

To be a diocese that draws on the gifts of all God’s people to serve Christ together and live Jesus’ way of love. 

At the heart of our newly-adopted strategic plan is the conviction, widely shared throughout the diocese, that our congregations cannot and need not address their challenges alone, nor can we accomplish our God-inspired dreams alone. We need one another. We have identified three specific goals for the first year, one for each arena of our diocesan mission, with a plan for regional implementation. 

As a key component for regional implementation of our strategic goals, we will build regional leadership networks led by regional deans. Regional deans will serve as adjunct diocesan staff, working roughly 10-12 hours per month to help organize regional clergy and lay leaders. Of the 8 regions that make up our diocese, two are significantly larger than the other 6--Southern Maryland and Central DC. For those two regions, we will either name two deans, or one with double the time commitment and compensation.  

The ideal regional dean is an established clergy or lay leader with a passion for collaborative ministry and good community organizing skills. Specific responsibilities include regularly convening regional clergy and lay leaders, so that wardens can know and support one another, vestries in neighboring congregations can work and learn together, justice champions can increase their social impact through collaboration, and congregational clergy can deepen ties of their collegiality and hone skills together. 

Regional deans, in turn, will be led and supported by a senior leader of diocesan staff, the Canon for Strategic Collaboration, whose primary responsibility will be regional implementation of the strategic plan. I will write more about that new position in coming weeks. 

The regional dean position description and nomination form are now on the diocesan website. Our goal is to solicit names from among our most motivated leaders between now and November 22. We’ll begin the interview process in December, so that we can present and commission the regional deans at Diocesan Convention in January. 

I ask you to spend time in prayerful consideration of who might be called to serve as dean in your region and encourage them to submit a nomination. If you would like to explore the call for yourself, do not hesitate to contact me or Canon Paula Clark. We are confident that the Spirit will raise up these leaders, and grateful for the opportunity to take one more step toward the vision God has set before us all. 
 

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