The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, delivered these remarks to the opening session of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church on February 5, 2014:
Good morning. Welcome to sunny Baltimore.
A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester. I was invited by the people of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Canandaigua to preach at a service commemorating their 200th anniversary year, and Bishop Prince Singh was kind enough to invite me to come a day early to speak to a gathering of the leadership of the Diocese – Commission on Ministry, Diocesan Council, Standing Committee, Trustees, District Deans and other leaders. Thanks to a brief Polar Vortex hiatus, I was able to make the trip in good time and good spirits.
Being with that talented group of leaders in Rochester gave me a good opportunity to reflect on the question at the bottom of the self-evaluation sheet we’ve all received. It reads, “Are you satisfied with the progress of the Executive Council’s work this triennium, and your own participation in that work?”
I won’t presume to answer that question for you, but here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about as I answer it for myself. You might remember that my first opening remarks to Executive Council in 2012 were a Top Ten list, and since we’re midway through our work together, it’s time for another one. Here we go: the top ten mid-triennium questions for Executive Council leaders.
10. We begin, of course, with our canonical mandate. It says, “The Executive Council shall have charge of the coordination, development, and implementation of the ministry and mission of the Church.” Do we have charge of what we’re charged to do? Do you have the information you need in order to fulfill this charge? If not, why not? Keep pressing until you have what you need in order to exercise appropriate fiduciary responsibility.
9. What work is ours to do and what is ours to oversee as the Church Center staff and others carry out the work? How are we doing with keeping that distinction clear?
8. This is the triennium of restructuring. As you carry out this work on Executive Council, what do you see that needs to be restructured? Reborn? Recycled? For example, does the format of these meeting give you, as members of the board, adequate time adequate time to do what needs to be done in your committee work and your board work?
7. What is your theology of power? As I said in Rochester, “We all make choices about how we use power and exercise leadership – choices that shape not only the church and diocese and congregations we serve, but our very hearts and souls. At its most basic, leadership is the exercise of power. As people with power, we have the power to influence people and shape lives. We have the power of making decisions, and we are given authority, through baptism or ordination or appointment or election, to act on behalf of others. How we exercise the power and authority we have been given is at its core a spiritual and theological issue.” How are you using your power and authority on this body? If you are passive, why is that? Think about how you exercise your power.
6. What spiritual practices are keeping you centered, attentive, humble, and responsive in your Executive Council work?
5. A year-and-a-half ago, I said, “No whining. No triangles.” How’s that going for us?
4. Do you have both a good friend and an enjoyable hobby that have absolutely nothing to do with the Episcopal Church? (If not, fix that soon. The church leadership bubble can be airtight.)
3. Can you remember an Executive Council moment—a conversation, a presentation, or a meeting—that has changed your mind or opened your heart?
2. Are you showing up—in body, mind and spirit? I truly believe that a temptation in taking on a responsibility as significant as Executive Council is that we don’t make adjustments in the rest of our life in order to do what we have agreed to do. Perhaps some of us have just added Executive Council on top of an already busy life. If you are giving short shrift to Executive Council – or any other part of your life and ministry – you may need to do some serious reflection and discernment. Lent is around the corner – a great time for self-examination!
1. Do you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? This doesn’t mean agreeing with your neighbor, or staying silent if your neighbor needs to be held accountable, or avoiding conflict. It means that I see Jesus in you, and know you to be a beloved child of God.
We’re accountable to General Convention, as we all know, and we’ve rounded the corner in our journey toward Salt Lake City 2015. This Executive Council meeting, I believe, is pivotal: We will hear the report of the Church Center Relocation Subcommittee and reports from some of our essential boards: the General Board of Examining Chaplains, the Board for Transition Ministry, and the Board of the Archives of The Episcopal Church. We’ll be briefed by the Executive Officer of General Convention, on preparation and plans for General Convention, including what it will mean to go green in Salt Lake City. We will consider the documents prepared by the United Thank Offering/GAM (Governance and Administration for Mission) working group including draft bylaws and a draft Memorandum of Understanding; products that have involved the heart and soul of this council and members of that board.
We’re halfway home, and it’s a fitting time to take stock of how we’ve begun and how we intend to finish. In the next several days, I pray that we will renew our commitment to this work, to our relationships, and to our roles as leaders in these times of transition and risk. I pray that we will have the courage to look ourselves in the eye, evaluate ourselves honestly, and change what we need to change.
Most of all, I pray that we will keep our hearts, minds, and souls centered on Jesus. Since I was 10 years old, my favorite hymn has been ‘O Master, let me walk with thee.’ I first sang it at vespers at Camp Songadeewin on Lake Willoughby in Vermont. The words speak to me about the spiritual and temporal leadership to which we each been called.
O Master, let me walk with thee
in lowly paths of service free;
tell me thy secret; help me bear
the strain of toil, the fret of care.
Help me the slow of heart to move
by some clear, winning word of love;
teach me the wayward feet to stay,
and guide them in the homeward way.
Teach me thy patience; still with thee
in closer, dearer company,
in work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
in trust that triumphs over wrong;
In hope that sends a shining ray
far down the future’s broadening way,
in peace that only thou canst give,
with thee, O Master, let me live.
Text: Washington Gladden, 1836-1918
Music: H. Percy Smith, 1825-1898