The recently-tabled legislation governing assisted dying has met with very mixed reactions among Anglicans and the broader Canadian public. Photo: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock
While the government has now tabled legislation to clarify the laws around assisted dying, responses from some members of the Anglican Church of Canada’s task force on assisted dying show that the church—and Canadian society—remain divided about how widely available assisted dying should be.
Canon Eric Beresford, the ethicist who chairs the task force, said he felt the government “tried very hard to balance a number of things,” and commended the decision to exclude children from the purview of the act. Another member of the task force, however, suggested its restrictiveness is a problem.
Juliet Guichon, a lawyer and assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s school of medicine, argued that in its current form the bill is simply not constitutional.
“What the government has done is it has made the class [of people eligible for assisted dying] more narrow than the court [did]—in other words, the government is restricting the rights of Canadians,” she said. By limiting assisted dying to those whose deaths are “reasonably foreseeable,” the government is not abiding by the Supreme Court ruling, which did not require that a person be close to approaching death to be eligible, said Guichon.
Bill C-14 was crafted in response to Carter v. Canada, the landmark Supreme Court decision in February 2015, which struck down as unconstitutional the laws prohibiting physician-assisted dying.
The court gave the Canadian government 12 months (later extended to 16 months) to craft legislation governing the circumstances in which medically assisted death could happen. This period will end June 6, which leaves just seven weeks for the bill to pass through the House of Commons and the Senate.
But in the days since the bill was tabled, proponents of assisted dying have argued that it doesn’t go far enough.
In a statement posted to its website April 14, the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), one of the plaintiffs in Carter v. Canada, argued that the bill “leaves out entire categories of suffering Canadians who should have a right to choose a safe and dignified assisted death.”
The proposed legislation limits assisted dying to adults who are suffering intolerably from a “serious and incurable illness, disease or disability,” are in an “advanced state of irreversible decline in capability” and whose natural death has become “reasonably foreseeable.” Critics argued that it fails to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling that assisted dying should be available to anyone suffering from a “grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”
In an irony that Guichon was quick to point out, under the current legislation, Kathleen “Kay” Carter—the plaintiff under whose name the Carter decision was brought—may not have been eligible to receive medical assistance in dying.
“Carter did not have a condition that both caused her suffering and would cause her death,” she explained. “The condition [spinal stenosis] caused her intolerable suffering, but it was not a condition that was going to lead to her death in the near future.”
The vagueness of the term “reasonable foreseeability” has also raised the ire of the BCCLA and assisted-dying rights group Dying with Dignity.
While it has its roots in tort and contract law, Guichon admitted to being puzzled by how the legal idea of “reasonable foreseeability” was being applied in this case.
“How do you define foreseeability?” she asked. “When you are holding your newborn infant in your arms, you don’t want to think about it, but it is reasonably foreseeable that they will die.”
However, while the question of who can, and who should, have access to assisted dying remains a hotly debated issue, the government’s promise to spend $3 billion over the next five years for home care and expanded palliative care was received positively by various quarters.
“One of the things that the task group said throughout was that without some real commitment to palliative care, providing the option of physician-assisted dying wasn’t providing a choice,” he said. “If we really wanted to be serious about providing choice, then we needed to put our money where our mouth was, and make sure that palliative care…was an option.”
While it is not yet clear how exactly the money will be spent, Health Minister Jane Philpott said this will be decided in consultation with the provinces, under whose jurisdiction health care lies.
In the meantime, Beresford said the assisted dying task force should help keep Anglicans focused on the underlying issues.
“Our role as Anglicans within that world is to continue to ask the question of how does this broadening constitute care or not?” he said. “Is it really an expression of care for the suffering individual, [or] does it actually have the impact of making the individual vulnerable?”
It is expected that the report of the task force will be released as soon as an accompanying study guide is completed.
Meanwhile, some Anglicans posted their comments about the bill on Facebook.
André Forget joined the Anglican Journal in 2014 as staff writer and social media lead. He also serves as managing editor of Whether Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, The Winnipeg Review, and the Town Crier.
A commonly-held view that angels are souls of virtuous or much-beloved dead people is “definitely not classical Christian teaching,” says Anglican priest the Rev. Christopher Snow. Photo: Zwiebackesser
Wayne Hankey, a specialist in ancient and medieval philosophy, laments people’s abandonment of intuitive forms of thought. Image: Claire Wahlen
Conclusion of a two-part series
The future of our planet depends on our re-embracing belief in entities such as angels, a Halifax professor says.
Wayne Hankey, a specialist in ancient and medieval philosophy at Dalhousie University and one-time Anglican priest (now a Roman Catholic), says that many in the Western world, including Anglicans, have largely come to disbelieve in angels because of their “infatuation” with ratiocination—the type of reasoning used by science, as most of us understand it, technology and other forms of manipulation and control. It has led to abandoning older, intuitive forms of thought and to a technological society that has spawned climate change and other threats to human life, he asserts.
Asked what he would say to those who are skeptical about angels, Hankey doesn’t mince words. “Infatuation with ratiocination…and its false freedom is what’s destroying the conditions of human life on the planet in every sense,” he says, “so you’d better get over it and discover that there are higher forms above you and that the cosmos is governed by things that you really do not have control over and that you’d better get in tune with.”
In fact, surveys suggest a fairly consistent tendency toward belief in angels among Canadians. Over the past few decades, the proportion of Canadians claiming to believe in angels has stayed at just over six in 10, according to an Angus Reid poll.
It’s unclear, however, how closely modern conceptions of angels fit in with traditional notions. People claiming to have seen or to believe in angels today describe them in a wide range of ways—from “ethereal spirits with human-like qualities but lacking a material body,” to unseen influences that have shielded them from harm, to other human beings seen as doing God’s work, says Joseph Baker, a professor of sociology at East Tennessee State University and co-author of a recent study on angelic belief in the U.S.
The Rev. Christopher Snow, rector of Grace Anglican Church in Milton, Ont. Photo: Contributed
Another common view of angels—that they are the souls of virtuous or much-beloved dead people—is “definitely not classical Christian teaching,” says the Rev. Christopher Snow, who served 11 years as rector at St. Michael and All Angels in St. John’s, Nfld., before his current role as rector of Grace Anglican Church in Milton, Ont. The same goes for much that appears about angels in the popular media, he says.
Traditional representations of angels as winged human-like beings, he says, are only attempts to represent what is really an immaterial reality. “These are wonderful works of art, but they don’t actually convey the actual idea.”
According to Hankey, the truth about angels can be found in the writings of the great Christian angelologists, starting with St. Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. and running to the 13th-century thinker St. Thomas Aquinas and beyond—and their Jewish and Muslim counterparts of the Middle Ages. The work most influential on both Eastern and Western Christian thought about angels, Hankey says, was a book called The Celestial Hierarchy, written in the 5th century by Pseudo-Dionysius, a Syrian Christian.
An important element in this tradition, Hankey says, was an attempt to synthesize what’s written about angels in sacred texts—the Jewish and Christian Bibles and the Qu’ran—with ideas drawn from ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle.
What emerged was a conception of angels as purely intellectual entities. Though for many thinkers in this tradition—including Augustine and Aquinas—angels are able to temporarily take on bodily form, in themselves they are purely immaterial.
One might think of them, Hankey says, as ideas—living, acting ideas that govern the cosmos. Contents, one might say, of the mind of God.
“For someone like the great Jewish theologian Moses Maimonides, the angels are essentially forms that come from the divine mind—the forms that are, in fact, the laws of reality,” he says.
The word “angel” comes from the Greek word angelos, meaning “messenger.” Angels, Hankey says, “are intermediary forms of intellect between the divine and the human because the human cannot approach the divine directly”—they’re relayers, one might say, of divine truths to human beings. Mysteriously, the angels love us, but for them, love is “an ecstasy” that is free of the passion of human emotion, he says.
Hannah Roberts Brockow, an Anglican angel devotee who lives in Montreal, says the traditional names of angels—Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and so on—all name aspects of God. Raphael, for example, means “God heals” in Hebrew.
“It’s as if each one is a ray of God’s light—they have a quality of God that we can connect to more easily. And I think that’s a really important piece of it because God can seem so vast,” she says. “We use parental roles frequently in worship to get closer to him, but there are many other roles.”
Not all Christians, of course, are so interested in angels. According to Lawrence Osborn, a former Cambridge researcher in theology and author of a 1994 paper on angels, few Protestant theologians of modern times have devoted much time to angels. Most, he says, have been happy to “consign angels to the outer darkness of popular Christian piety: a harmless belief perhaps but not one which need concern the scientific theologian.” For others, concern about angels is a distraction from the “weightier matters” of Christianity.
This is not what Osborn believes. Borrowing from 20th-century Protestant theologian Karl Barth—in Osborn’s view, virtually the sole Protestant thinker of our time to take angels seriously—Osborn defines angels as “heralds of the mystery of God.” For Barth, Osborn says, “A theology without angels is a theology without mystery.”
Drawing also from U.S. theologian Walter Wink and Carl Jung, one of the founders of modern psychiatry, Osborn develops a concept of angels as quasi-psychological entities that reveal to us the “inwardness” or “depth” of creation in a way that is outside the scope of modern science.
“As we explore the mystery of creation we may experience some of its ‘contours’ as presences or entities which are best described in personal or quasi-personal terms,” he writes. “If these encounters direct us beyond themselves to the triune God, we may rightly interpret them as messengers (angels) of God.”
The importance of angels as God-sent inspirers of wonder is taken up by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in his 2007 book, Tokens of Trust. Angels, Williams writes, “can be at least a powerful symbol for all those dimensions of the universe about which we have no real idea.” Whether we believe in angels or not, he writes, “It’s worth thinking of them as at the very least a sort of shorthand description of everything that’s ‘round the corner’ of our perception and understanding in the universe—including the universal song of praise that surrounds us always.”
Victoria’s tent city residents greet Bishop Logan McMenamie with drumming during his visit March 26. Photo: Super InTent City Facebook page
The diocese of British Columbia is working to find land where micro-housing for the tent city that has sprung up across the street from downtown Victoria’s Christ Church Cathedral, can be built, says Bishop Logan McMenamie.
“We’ve been looking as a diocese at property we have,” he told the Anglican Journal in a phone interview, explaining that the synod office set up an asset management department after it started disestablishing parishes, and that he has asked the asset manager “to make it a priority” to look at where micro-housing could be built.
The tent city—dubbed Super InTent City by its residents—blossomed in October 2015, after a group of homeless Victorians set up camp on the courthouse lawn at the northwest corner of Quadra Street and Burdett Avenue. Because the courthouse lawn is on provincial rather than municipal land, the city’s camping bylaws—which only allow citizens to sleep in public parks as long as they clear out by 7 a.m.—did not apply.
Despite several attempts on the part of the government to evict the campers, the community that formed around the tent city has fiercely resisted attempts to force its relocation, turning to advocacy groups like Victoria’s Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) to defend its right to exist.
It also found an ally in what at first appeared, for many of the campers, to be an unlikely place: the gothic bulk of the cathedral on the east side of Quadra Street.
The connection between the cathedral and the tent city began simply enough. After a staff meeting on a Monday at the end of October, the Rev. Nancy Ford, Christ Church Cathedral’s deacon to the city, decided to stop by the camp and see what was going on. She met a woman named Catherine, who was raking leaves. Catherine asked if the cathedral might have any bags for the leaves—she wanted to make sure everything around the camp stayed clean.
“She was very actively asking people, corralling people to come in to rake leaves and keep everything tidy,” Ford recalled. “So we had a conversation and I talked with some of the others…I made a habit of going over every few days.”
As the number of tents grew, the cathedral began taking on a more active role in the life of the camp, providing coffee and food in the mornings, a place to warm up in inclement weather and occasionally hosting dinners. In turn, the community gave Ford and other cathedral clergy a place in the daily talking circles, where members discuss issues facing them.
“[The Cathedral] has been a family for us,” homelessness advocate and former camp resident Joseph John “C.J.” Reville told the Anglican Journal in an interview over the phone. “They’ve been our neighbour.”
Like many in the encampment, Reville, 44, has had a life full of ups and downs. Born in Toronto’s East York neighbourhood, he left home at 16 after a “falling-out” with his parents. He landed in Victoria in 1994, and took up an itinerant lifestyle, travelling around the island and lower mainland B.C., and sometimes picking fruit in the Okanagan valley during the summer.
While he has gotten off the street “a whole bunch of times,” including during a stint in ministry training in Winnipeg through the Vineyard church (a neo-charismatic evangelical denomination), Reville said most of his adult life has been spent marginally housed or not housed at all. Before the tent city formed, Reville slept in doorways and public parks, awakened by the police and asked to leave if he slept past 7 a.m. Living in the tent city, he says, allowed him a measure of stability.
While there are issues of substance abuse and aggression in the camp (one resident died of a drug overdose in late 2015), he was quick to point out that these problems are not limited to the street community.
“Seeing it happen outside the front door of my tent is no different from hearing it down the hall of my low-budget apartment rental…It’s the same scene—it’s just you’ve got people out here on the street; they can’t really hide behind anything” he said.
What the tent city offers is a chance for the community to take care of its own, he says.
“We’ve been providing first aid; we’ve been defusing the situations. We’ve had ambulances more than once drop people off who were all messed up coming off of drugs or whatever, and they didn’t want to bring them to the hospital, and they’d bring them here.”
Reville thinks the real issue is a sense of paternalism on the part of the government, and an unwillingness to actually view the tent city as a partner, instead of a problem to be managed.
“[The government] keep[s] tossing scraps from the table, but they are not actually talking to anybody here,” Reville says, a point that Patrick Sibley, a member of Christ Church preparing for the diaconate who has been involved in the tent city for months, agrees with.
“As a society…we think they need to be put somewhere and looked after, and they’re saying to us ‘we can take care of ourselves,’ ” he noted. “If there’s one thing they’ve [proved], it’s that they’ve built a big, safe community that loves one another. You only need to spend five minutes there to realize that these people look after each other daily.”
While Reville was quick to note that not every level of government has been hostile—he praised Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps for her willingness to listen to the campers’ demands. But he feels the province has been slow to “get on board” with creative solutions to housing problems.
“I think tent cities are necessary at this point,” he says. “We don’t have housing—even if we had rent money for everybody in this camp right now, with subsidies and everything else, Victoria offers a 0.6% availability rate on rentals…Obviously, rent is way, way up there for something substandard.”
The province has, however, shown some willingness to confront the problem. A former youth detention facility in View Royal, a community in the Greater Victoria Area, was repurposed to provide spaces for camping and housing, and the Mt. Edwards Court housing facility, not far from the camp, has been opened to provide housing for a few dozen people as well.
Rich Coleman, the housing minister for B.C., has said that the province has housing for everyone living in the tent city—the problem is that the campers don’t want to move into it.
“I think there’s some people down there that have really been asking for a confrontation from me for about two or three months,” he told The Canadian Press at the beginning of March, after the province filed an injunction to have the camp removed. “Once we take care of the vulnerable people, we’ll have to deal with the people who are there for the wrong reasons.”
Coleman was unavailable for a comment when reached by the Anglican Journal.
While Reville has taken up the government’s offer of space at the View Royal facility, there are still around 100 campers outside the courthouse, and he thinks what the community really wants is land reasonably close to the city, serviced with electricity and plumbing, where citizens can erect their own dwellings.
It is a demand that Bishop McMenamie supports wholeheartedly.
“Shelters don’t work—they’re not safe places, and once you say ‘shelter,’ most of the people who are living in the street community will turn away,” says McMenamie. “[The tent city community] have homes—their homes are tents and structures. What they’re asking for is a piece of land somewhere where they can realize their dream.”
McMenamie has spoken on behalf of the camp with Shayne Ramsay, CEO of BC Housing, who he felt “to some degree understood what we were trying to do,” and also with Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver of the Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding in Victoria and NDP MLA Carole James of the Victoria-Beacon Hill riding (in which the camp is located). He has also sought meetings with Coleman and Premier Christy Clarke—so far, unsuccessfully.
Although the diocese has also looked into whether or not it has land of its own to offer the encampment, McMenamie says it doesn’t have any property in Greater Victoria that would be “appropriate.” There are properties in other parts of the diocese where building micro-housing could be an option, he says, but this would require campers to move out of the city.
The process of finding diocesan properties suitable for micro-housing will take some time, since it involves working co-operatively with parishes and Anglicans on the ground—and it still isn’t clear how many in the encampment would be willing to relocate to a less urban area, he adds. But it is an issue he will bring to the diocesan synod when it meets this month, along with the more general question of affordable housing.
While the future of the camp remains uncertain, one thing is clear: it will not be disbanded anytime soon.
In an April 5 ruling, the B.C. Supreme Court denied the province’s request for an injunction to evict tent city residents, with Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson arguing that the province would not suffer “irreparable harm” from letting the encampment continue.
This hasn’t stopped pushback from Victorians unhappy with the camp—a citizens’ group called Mad as Hell continues to agitate for eviction, citing a rise in petty theft and arson in the tent city neighbourhood, and the province has already filed for a second, permanent injunction against camping on the courthouse property, which will be heard September 7.
But McMenamie argues that eviction into temporary housing would only serve as a stop-gap measure to a problem caused by stagnant wages and soaring property costs, which have exacerbated the issue of homelessness in B.C.
“I think that people will be here until they find housing somewhere else,” he says. “But…there’s a whole societal issue around how the government really needs to look at the benefits that are given out to folks. There are people who…have a job, but the money they bring in, because of minimum wage, does not allow them to get an apartment or a house.”
Ford agrees. “There are huge structural issues…You might want to move people off the land, but what’s going to happen next?”
The following is part of a new monthly series on congregational development, which features reflections from Anglicans on how they are responding to the challenges and opportunities facing the church today.
Looking out across the landscape of Canadian Anglican churches today, the Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi, rector of St. James Westminster Church in London, Ont., sees a “twofold crisis” unfolding—one linked to what he calls a “profound shift taking place in Canadian culture.”
Nicolosi describes the new emerging culture as “multicultural, multi-religious, pluralistic and secular.” Its development has had a profound impact on the Anglican Church of Canada both demographically—as expressed in a gap between the age of the average Canadian (30-something) and the average Anglican (60-something)—and financially, since the Anglicans who give the most money to the church are more than 60 years old with no corresponding group to replace them.
In the context of a strongly secular country that is not so much hostile to church as “indifferent” to it, Nicolosi calls for a church that is more entrepreneurial, market-driven, need-meeting and culturally savvy. In a word, it must engage in evangelism. But as Nicolosi notes, the task of congregational development extends even further.
“It’s being a missionary,” he says. “And what is a missionary? A missionary is someone who takes the gospel from one culture and tries to communicate it in another culture … I think the church has to be missional in the sense that we take the gospel and try to connect that gospel message with a culture that doesn’t understand [the] language.”
Congregational development is a longstanding interest for Nicolosi, who gained his doctorate of ministry in congregational development while studying at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He previously received a master of divinity degree from Trinity College at the University of Toronto, before serving in his first parish at Malbay, Gaspe Coast in the diocese of Quebec.
Coming from Toronto, Nicoloi saw the disparity between congregations in Canada’s largest city and those in the rest of the country.
“Toronto is wealthy, it’s populated, it has every appearance of being a healthy diocese,” he says.
“You go beyond Toronto and things change rapidly and markedly, and in the Gaspé in Québec and in Montréal, the numbers were shocking for me. They were very small, [with] dwindling membership, aging congregations, struggling with money, and what I found on the Gaspé is what I found in much of Canada.”
Having lived in the United States for 22 years, Nicolosi identifies one of the biggest differences between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as the stewardship campaigns that take place in almost every U.S.-based church, but which are relatively rare in Canada.
While a greater emphasis on stewardship may alleviate part of the funding crisis affecting many Canadian churches, changing demographics remains a long-term challenge. To serve as missionaries to the wider culture, Nicoloi suggests a three-pronged strategy for church growth and revitalization—spiritually, to be a community that experiences God; incarnationally, to be a church that connects with culture; and missionally, to have an outreach orientation.
In terms of culture, he offers the example of the annual Christmas jazz mass at St. James, which features some of London’s best jazz musicians and attracts huge crowds exceeding the 500-seat capacity of the church.
“It’s really successful … It’s got this real notoriety around town,” St. James music director Stephen Holowitz says of the Christmas jazz service. Reflecting on his own experience, he adds, “I think it made the tone of the service very distinctive, and I think it appealed to people who liked the musical style.”
Throughout the year at regular services, Holowitz consciously tries to maintain an eclectic selection of music, mixing both traditional and contemporary styles.
“Any time we do music that can resonate with people, people seem to come,” Nicolosi says.
“You’ve got to go beyond 19th century English choral music,” he adds. “It’s not that it’s not good. It’s not that it’s not beautiful, and many people still appreciate it. It’s just that it doesn’t speak to the majority of people … We’ve got to begin to speak to the culture where it is.”
Speaking to his own congregation, Nicolosi describes congregational development in terms of what he calls a “4M church” based on four key concepts:
Maintenance of church buildings in a renewed way that speaks to people today. Offering a comparison to banks, which used to be “built like fortresses” but which are now more bright and spacious, Nicolosi stresses the need for churches to be welcoming and inviting.
Mission, in terms of maintaining an outward focus and ministering to people beyond the congregation itself.
Ministry, through focusing the mission on the unique needs of one’s immediate area, such as social outreach ministry in an inner city church or a focus on young families in a suburban church.
Membership in the congregation, which might be made more fluid, allowing seekers and inquirers to become part of the community without any pressure or expectations. In Nicolosi’s words, “The church should be a birdbath rather than a bird cage.”
Offering a wide-ranging yet “controversial” suggestion, Nicolosi calls for a less hierarchical decision-making structure for the church nationally, encouraging innovative approaches to ministry from parishes, clergy and lay people.
“If we can allow that freedom without being threatened by it, I think that would be the biggest plus for the Anglican Church … to hold on to what is at the core of our faith, but to allow people who are mavericks to try new things and experiment, because they may be on to something that we need to listen to and consider.”
Innovation begins with carefully listening to a community and defining the problems it’s facing. Then social innovators act, learning from failure and building on success, writes the executive director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
What fuels the minds of people pursuing innovations to make the world a better, more just, more livable place?
Many of my colleagues like to talk about opportunities. I love the hopefulness and energy that such consideration breeds. But my friends who are social innovators bring that same hopefulness to their discussion of problems. They are irritated by problems that diminish the quality of life for thousands of people. The irritation motivates experimentation, fundraising and risk taking.
Jeff Kaplan of Houston, Texas, saw a problem with the toxins in the “stuff” in our homes — the paint that coats our walls, the beds where we sleep, the chairs where we lounge. He believes that, over time, the toxins compromise our health.
After getting into the business of manufacturing and selling nontoxic paint, Kaplan and his partners turned their attention to selling toxin-free home furnishings through their store New Living (link is external). Today, they are linking with local artisans to make such goods, joining forces with those who are chasing the problem of reviving job opportunities in economically depressed areas of their city.
Kaplan’s vision is to transform the home furnishings industry in the way that the local-sourcing movement is transforming restaurants and grocery stores. In essence, he wants to establish “organic” home furnishings as the standard.
My colleague Marlon Hall (link is external) works with social innovators in Houston who are visual artists, musicians, chefs, teachers and more. They are chasing problems, from racism to malnutrition to homelessness.
A couple of years ago, Marlon saw that the Pleasantville community in Houston was downtrodden and feeling hopeless. The community had an illustrious past that had been forgotten — a problem that Marlon diagnosed as “cultural amnesia.” He chased the problem by applying for a grant from the city to pay for the creation and installation of public art in the Pleasantville community, calling the project “Amnesia Therapy: Remembering Our Future.”
The installation consisted of six 4-by-6-foot aluminum panels featuring the likenesses of historical figures, both local and national, created by Houston artist Robert Hodge. Each panel had a bar code that could be scanned for more information.
Marlon is trained as an anthropologist and uses the skills of that discipline to deepen his understanding of a situation and then describe it. Those of us trained as pastors, counselors, teachers, engineers and the like have skills that can be deployed to listen carefully to a community and refine our description of a problem.
It’s what happens next that sets “social innovation” apart. Innovators chase a problem with solutions. They try something. They learn from failure and try again. When something works, they build on success by scaling to reach more people.
Innovators are often a surprising mix of impatient and patient.
They are impatient with experts talking about other people’s problems and endless meetings to discuss the issues. They are impatient with decision-making processes; they want to act. Yet they are patient with those experiencing the challenges, listening carefully to the story behind the story. They are patient with failure and ready to try again.
What problems are you chasing? Who helps you see the problems? How are you impatient? How are you patient?
The mindset of the social innovator is in the DNA of the church. For generations, the church was a community that identified community problems and started such institutions as hospitals, children’s homes and homeless shelters.
How do we encourage those chasing problems today? What artists, inventors, teachers, caregivers and others are we supporting to chase problems? How can we help identify them and participate with them in scaling the solutions that hold promise?
David L. Odom is the Executive director, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity
The Bishop of Rupert’s Land in the Anglican Church of Canada, the Rt Revd Dr Donald Philips, explains the thinking behind his diocese’s focus on discipleship, saying that “Discipleship is not a programme. It is not something with a five-year plan and a myriad of different processes. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the members of the Church.”
I have been a diocesan bishop for 16 years but it was after about five to six years of being in episcopal ministry, and having heard lots of voices about the death of Christendom, that it became evident to me that many people in our pews were not equipped to talk intelligently about the Christian faith to people who don’t know the Christian story. This highlighted the need to look at ways to express the Gospel in 21st century post-modern western cultural terms, in a way that was faithful to the traditional orthodox faith. We had not done a good job equipping our people with that vocabulary – helping people to get beyond “insider” language.
We had previously gone through several of the usual kinds of strategic planning efforts in our diocese, attempting to get the majority of the parishes in the diocese to engage in particular programmes or strategic initiatives. We formed identity statements and vision statements. Although all these things were helpful as building blocks, they didn’t really excite the people. There was always that sense that, “this is what the diocese is asking us to do”, on top of whatever else they were doing locally in their parish.
We then engaged in a feasibility study for a capital financial campaign to raise funds for mission and ministry. It was at this time that we got some tough feedback. It was very clear that a significant number of people in the diocese, lay and clergy, did not see the kind of dynamic and strategic leadership from the diocesan level that they were looking for. There was a lot of anxiety and fear about the declining church, and they didn’t see the leadership doing very much about that. That was a wake-up call. It was time to step out.
These three realities above fuelled the focus on discipleship in our diocese. It was a very intentional choice to focus on discipleship.
We are a very diverse diocese, with the multiplicity that you will experience around Communion – many different cultures, different approaches, different theologies, conservative Christians, liberal Christians, Anglo-Catholic and evangelical parishes and everything in between.
There was a pressing need to rally and unify Christians in this diverse diocese around a singular focus. The word disciple or discipling or discipleship is context-free in the sense that you can take that principle and apply it in different contexts; it is not tied to any particular way of being church.
I knew in my heart that one of the things a whole lot of our people in the pews needed to do was to discover that they were disciples. Hence the choice of the phrase Discover Disciple – discover my own discipleship, help someone discover their own discipleship, or both.
So these three descriptors were chosen carefully – Discover Disciples, Develop Disciples and Deploy Disciples.
What I hoped it would do is give the local churches a framework in which they could then run with their own true context – high church, low church, evangelical, those interested in social justice, those interested in interfaith work, etc – taking discipleship and applying it in any of those contexts. It would give the local churches some focus.
But what I hope for, especially, is that it will also then give the Diocese as a whole an overarching frame in which to work.
Discipleship is not a programme. It is not something with a five-year plan and a myriad of different processes. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the members of the Church. It is pointless to set goals like – “In two years we will have 10 parishes doing x.” Those kind of systematic and mechanical models are unhelpful.
And I knew that it would catch on gradually. Growth will be manifest as a little bit here and a little bit there. For some parishes the focus on discipleship has come at just the right time – others will need to find their own pace.
There is now a growing sense among the people in the Church, the gathered community in our diocese, that we are here for a purpose in God’s world, collectively and individually. Discipleship forms the foundation around which we explore both our sense of stewardship in God’s world, and our call to be part of God’s mission in the world.
Questions on the Way!
People growing in their sense of being loved by, and loving God as encountered in the Person of Jesus Christ; and responding by offering themselves to God and God’s world through coming to know Jesus more deeply, and ordering their lives around this relationship, in community with all of Jesus’ disciples.
Discovery (of Discipleship)
In what ways are members of your congregation discovering, or discovering more deeply the call of discipleship in their lives?
In what ways are members of your congregation (individually and collectively) helping others to discover and respond to Jesus’ call of discipleship in their lives?
Development (of Discipleship)
In what ways are members of your congregation developing their experience and expression of discipleship? (and helping others to do the same?)
Deployment (of Discipleship)
In what ways are members of your congregation (individually and collectively) intentionally participating in God’s mission in the world as disciples of Jesus Christ?
The arts are a starting place for addressing what different faiths have in common, says the founder of a nonprofit that hosts interfaith art exhibitions around the world.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
In 2009, the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler began using the arts to build bridges between Christians and Muslims in Cairo, Egypt, where he was the rector of the historic international Episcopal Church, St. John’s Church-Maadi. The initiative was called “CARAVAN” and emphasized the idea of Abrahamic faiths journeying together through the arts.
The idea grew into a movement, and CARAVAN (link is external) became a U.S. nonprofit that now hosts interfaith peace-building art exhibitions and initiatives around the world.
Chandler views the arts as a way to build on what the monotheistic faith traditions have in common. Rather than promoting interfaith dialogue, Chandler hopes to inspire interfaith friendships. Chandler was recently interviewed by Dustin Benac, a Th.D. student at Duke Divinity School. The following is an edited transcript.
Q: You describe your work as “peacebuilding through the arts between the creeds and cultures of the East and West.” What shaped your vision for peace building and your interest in the arts?
I grew up in Senegal, West Africa, a Muslim country — I grew up as a minority within an Islamic context. I spent my first 19 years there. My father was the minister of the international church in the capital city of Dakar.
The majority of my friends were Muslim, Senegalese or part of the Lebanese diaspora that is in West Africa. Growing up, especially when I was in my late high school years, I began to observe among adults the tensions that existed between Christianity and Islam. I remember thinking, “There is something wrong with this; there has to be another way.”
My relationships were so close with my Muslim brothers and sisters that even to this day they are the only people I know who, without even thinking twice, would step in front of a car for me. That’s how tight the relationships are.
In regard to the arts, Senegal is the artistic capital of West Africa. It’s known widely for its music. Mbalax, for example, comes out of the West African musical tradition, and Senegal is the heart of it. A number of internationally renowned musicians came out of our neighborhood, such as Youssou N’Dour. And, of course, the Senegalese are known the world over for their visual art. They are a very flamboyant people with a bent for the creative.
However, it wasn’t until many years later, when I was living in Egypt and we were focusing on dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters, that we decided to use the arts. And it was there that these two passions of mine came together.
Q: How did those experiences lead to your current interfaith work with CARAVAN?
We started with some citywide interfaith art exhibitions, concerts, film screenings, literary events and other programs in Cairo, and we quickly began to observe that art, because it is an indirect way of addressing a subject, allowed new relationships to develop. In 2009, we started something called the CARAVAN Festival of the Arts. We chose a theme, and that initial theme was “Journeying Together,” with the idea of learning from each other on life’s journey.
That first festival met with great success, more than we ever imagined. It began to demonstrate how potentially strategic this peace-building focus through the arts could be. Each year after that, we had a CARAVAN interfaith East-West arts festival.
Q: And the CARAVAN nonprofit emerged out of that?
CARAVAN emerged out of what became a movement, as it spawned other interfaith art initiatives in places around the world with majority-Muslim contexts. However, it didn’t actually become a U.S. nonprofit until just under two years ago, after I left Egypt in the autumn of 2013. The mission is to use the arts to build bridges between the creeds of the East and the West. And not just visual art but all mediums of art. Yet we are heavily focused on the visual arts.
Q: Can you share more about your current traveling exhibition, “The Bridge”?
“The Bridge” is a touring exhibition that opened in February 2015 in Paris, [shortly] after the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. It features 47 Arab, Persian and Jewish artists from Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith traditions. The focus is on building bridges through what we have in common.
After being showcased in Paris, it moved to Cairo, Egypt, then on to London, England, and then to Metz, France. Unlike our usual annual CARAVAN Exhibition of the Art, this one actually overlaps two years, because it is going to about 12 locations. It has just premiered in the United States at St. Paul’s Chapel at Ground Zero in New York City.
It goes on to Chicago, Illinois; Spokane, Washington; and Portland, Oregon; and ends in Wyoming. The reason we chose to end in Wyoming is because we wanted to go to a place that is rural and probably doesn’t have many Middle Easterners in the local community, where there is a greater likelihood of stereotyping. Hence, we are ending the tour by taking it right into the heart of rural America.
Q: How has “The Bridge” exhibition been received while in Paris, Cairo, London, Metz and now in New York?
We held the opening in Paris at a time when anti-Muslim feeling was quite high, coming just after the Charlie Hebdo shooting. It was held at the historic church of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, the oldest church in Paris, in the Latin Quarter. Even there, the police had temporarily closed one of the entrances for greater security.
But the exhibition was very well received. We had great attendance. The slogan of the exhibition was “Je suis le pont … I am the bridge.”
And then it moved to Cairo, where it was held in a large art gallery. What was very interesting there is that for the first time in many years, at least to my knowledge, art by Jewish artists was publically displayed in an exhibition in Egypt.
London, in terms of attendance, was by far the largest to date for “The Bridge.” St Martin-in-the-Fields was the venue, and the exhibition was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. There was a strong interfaith presence throughout as well.
In Metz, the exhibition was held at Metz Cathedral, while the host group was a Jewish organization. This was right during the time of the recent negotiations with Iran. We had a participating artist from Iran as the speaker for the opening night — which was heavily attended by Jewish people — with a focus of bringing people together who would not normally come together.
So again, we’re trying to find ways of pushing people’s comfort zones, but always gently, through art, working to expand their experiences. Because we all change mostly by experience, what we are trying to do is create an atmosphere where people have new experiences that can be formative of their own pilgrimages.
Q: It strikes me that your work positions you amidst immense religious and ethnic diversity, which can sometimes be a very delicate and sensitive space. How do you view and navigate your role in such contexts?
I’ve always come at it from focusing on what we have in common, on our similarities. And I think at the core is an approach that I would call a “guest posture.” So often, we are taught that we’re supposed to be a good host to the other. But I think it is much more important that we learn how to be a guest in the other’s presence. The fundamental characteristic of being a guest is that you’re willing to receive from the host. Doing so requires entering a state of vulnerability and humility.
I think that’s what Jesus did. In the story of Zacchaeus, he basically said, “Can I come to your house to eat? Can I be your guest?” And I think the guest posture, more than anything, can break down the walls between us.
It also involves looking for the redeeming values in the other instead of the opposite. It was St. Ambrose who said, “All truth, no matter where it comes from, comes from God’s spirit.” I think the challenge is to build on the truth of the other.
Q: What have you learned from working with religious leaders from around the world?
One thing that strikes me is that the challenges they face are pretty much the same regardless of one’s religious tradition.
The other thing is how religion so easily divides. I think that’s one of the amazing things about art, because art has a transcendent dimension to it — spiritual, but not necessarily religious.
Q: How has your experience in multifaith contexts influenced your understanding of Christianity and Christ?
In terms of my own faith, one thing that struck me right from the beginning is that our faith is not a Western faith but rather a Middle Eastern faith. It is only due to accidents of history that the center of gravity of Christianity moved to the West. But it really is a Middle Eastern faith in origin. It is so important for us to remember that, or we lose our true sense of our identity. It is critical for us to recognize and emphasize the Middle Eastern origin and nature of both faiths as we relate to each other. We both come from the same place!
It has caused me to see all of our various faith traditions as a divine mosaic, with each chip or little piece being a different spiritual expression, and the whole portraying the beauty of God as nothing else could. And it is in the continual learning from these many different perspectives that our own faith can be made more complete. For me, the challenge is to learn from the different traditions in ways that can enhance my own following of Jesus’ teachings.
Q: What have you learned from the artists who have been featured in CARAVAN’s exhibitions?
Artists more often than not lead the way. Artists are change agents and therefore can provide new pathways of understanding that transcend borders and how we see the other. The power of creativity counteracts the demonization of the other. I think in artists I’ve experienced the greatest embrace for the other, the greatest tolerance for others.
From a personal standpoint, some of the most selfless individuals I have met have been the Muslim artists that we’ve worked with. That’s been a real gift and a privilege, to have the opportunity to work with them.
Q: You’ve previously explained interfaith work, particularly between Christians and Muslims, as “building on the dark side of the moon.” Can you explain what you mean by this image, and particularly the role of the arts in the process?
I think we need to have as our primary focus building on all the commonalities that exist between Christians and Muslims. As we all know, the Islamic symbol of faith is the crescent. Now, the crescent of a moon is what we can see because of the sun’s reflection, but it is a sliver, and the majority of the moon is dark. I liken the slim crescent part of the moon to the differences in our belief systems and faith. But I see the large side, the dark side, as representing what we have in common. The challenge is often that we are blinded to the dark side of the moon by the constant illumination of our differences — the crescent. I think it is critical that we build our relationships with each other on the dark side of the moon.
The arts provide a starting point to address what we have in common. And over and over again, we have seen the arts serve as an indirect catalyst for diverse peoples to come together that would normally never come together. Therefore, art serves as a means to encourage new friendships to be made across religions and cultures. So our art exhibitions become encounter points, if you will.
There is also something transcendent about art. Robert Lax, the renowned minimalist poet who lived on the Greek isle of Patmos, was often known to say, “Everything that goes up converges.” This echoed Jung, who wrote that it is at the point of the transcendent that all comes together. Earlier, Hafiz, the 14th-century Persian poet and mystic, put it very beautifully when he wrote, “Art is the conversation. … Art offers an opening for the heart. … Art is, at last, the knowledge … [that] we are partners straddling the universe.”
Q: I understand that you were in Egypt during the Egyptian revolution. How would you describe that experience?
Retrospectively, we don’t call it a revolution. We call it an uprising, and it was certainly that. We were in a southern part of Cairo, in a neighborhood called Maadi. Even though we were quite some ways from Tahrir Square, Maadi was one of those places hit by mobs of looters on those two nights when the police disappeared.
Mobs would come down our street, and they sounded like swarming bees coming your way.
The experience showed us how one of the safest, most protected of cities could in just a few days be reversed.
The other striking thing was how our Egyptian neighbors in the community there looked out for the other. There was a profound sense of community and a commitment to protecting the other. We were guests in their community, so they watched over us even more.
It was also striking how unified Christians and Muslims were. It was really beautiful to see the sign of the cross and the crescent together everywhere, with the statement “We are one Egypt.”
Q: What’s next for you and for CARAVAN?
At CARAVAN, we always have numerous paralleling initiatives being held, some smaller and more local, others international.
One of our flagship initiatives is the annual CARAVAN Exhibition of Art, a unique touring arts event that brings together many of the Middle East’s and West’s premier and emerging artists to use art as a bridge for intercultural dialogue. Our 2016 CARAVAN Exhibition of Art is called “The Key” and opened in Cairo on March 15. It is a groundbreaking East-West contemporary art exhibition featuring 40 premier and emerging Egyptian, Middle Eastern and Western artists using the world’s most ancient symbol of harmony, the “key of life” hieroglyphic known as the Ankh, which originated in Egypt, as a message of hope for a harmonious, peaceful and tolerant world.
A modern, three-dimensional fiberglass portrayal of the ancient Ankh serves as the canvas for the contemporary message by the artists. This blending of the old with the new stimulates contemplation of how peaceful coexistence was once possible and, despite current misunderstandings, can be once again. Each participating artist will focus on what he or she sees as “the key” to us all, East and West, living in a peaceful and harmonious world.
The jazz communion during Labor Day weekend is an annual tradition at First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. The Rev. Bill Carter is a professional jazz musician who performs with his band, Presbybop. Photos by Jeff Kellam
A pastor who is a trained pianist discovered that he did not have to choose between jazz and Jesus — and that the spiritual power of the creative, improvisational art form can be a tool to help his congregation experience God.
Monday, September 8, 2014
People fill each pew as the Rev. Bill Carter takes his seat at the piano. As the man known for both his sermons and his music begins to play, members of his congregation tap their feet, clap their hands and snap their fingers. It’s time to worship God.
At First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, jazz music empowers. It breaks through isolation, leads to reflection and encourages a spirit of community. For the last 23 years, Carter has organized a yearly jazz communion on the Sunday before Labor Day, bringing his jazz band, his congregation and visitors together.
Now the nationally recognized jazz ministry is expanding to offer four jazz vespers services in the next year as a way to explore the powers of music and healing.
“The arts can touch or even heal some of us,” Carter, 54, said. “There is joy and freedom in what we do. A jazz approach is going to say there is always more here than what is on the page, and maybe we haven’t found it yet.”
“I’ve always loved music in church,” said member Judy Cutler, who sings in the choir.
“When [Carter] first started playing jazz, I wasn’t really sure where he was going. But I find the services very uplifting. The music makes me feel closer to God, my faith and the people in my church.”
Jazz or Jesus
Carter’s parents signed him up as a young teenager for piano lessons. He didn’t immediately fall in love.
It wasn’t until he listened to ragtime music and was introduced by his grandmother to the music of jazz pianist Dave Brubeck that Carter’s feelings changed.
“Music went from something externally imposed to something internally driven,” he said.
He started to write his own music, and by the time he went to college, he played in a band every weekend. He continued to play while at Binghamton University, where he switched his major from pre-med to philosophy after several profound spiritual moments changed his path.
He needed to make up credits, so his music professor gave him an independent study to compose big band arrangements. He played jazz gigs on Saturday nights and sat in a church pew on Sunday mornings.
Soon, he headed to Princeton Theological Seminary, his car packed with clothes and his electric piano. But the piano would be just for fun, he thought. His purpose was to work with and inspire faith within congregations — not play music for them.
He thought he had to choose between jazz and Jesus. He soon learned he was wrong.
Forming the link
In 1990, Carter gave his candidating sermon at First Presbyterian. The church’s search committee had learned not only that Carter was an excellent teacher of the word of God but that he was an accomplished musician as well. At the end of the sermon, a man in the back row stood up and spoke.
“We’ve heard you preach, but now we want to hear you play something,” the man said.
So Carter sat down at the piano and played. He got the job.
As Carter settled in at First Presbyterian, he found a congregation that valued music, though that music was usually traditional. Then a couple of years into his post, the church organist announced to the music committee that she would be away the Sunday before Labor Day and could not find a substitute. She asked Carter if he would play — and suggested that he “jazz it up.”
The church released a short event notice that garnered coverage from the local newspaper and television stations. Accompanied by a singer from the choir, Carter played the piano for the service. It was music like the church had never experienced.
“It went long, and no one cared,” he said. “When the thing was over, everyone asked if we could do it again.”
Within a year, Carter, together with the music professor who had given him his independent study, formed the group Presbybop Quartet (link is external). With Carter as pianist and his professor Al Hamme as saxophonist, along with a bassist and a drummer, the group explored the link between jazz and faith. Presbybop now plays regularly at First Presbyterian and has played at churches across the country.
A spiritual power
With the popularity of that first service, Carter began looking at jazz and faith in a new way. He started to think about church leadership through the lens of a musician. He felt energized. So did his congregation.
“All the arts have a spiritual power to them,” he said. “That can be used for good or can be used for destruction.”
He writes his own spiritual jazz and rewrites the music to traditional hymns. As he began to play jazz in church, he realized how much the music was reaching people. After people left church, they perhaps forgot the details of his sermons, but they did not forget how they felt when they heard the music.
He understood that the contagious rhythm of jazz has a rejuvenating power, and the rich harmonies and chords can invite interior exploration. A single note can provoke an emotion.
But more than that, he found that the communal form of jazz can lead to the sharing of passions and pain.
An artist creates a sculpture alone; a painter uses a brush in isolation. But jazz forms a community, where the Spirit’s presence can be felt, he said.
The “honest music” of jazz is made for the beauty of God. It gives people permission to be creative and gives them an opportunity to open up their souls, he said.
“It’s about spending time thinking about possibilities rather than about limitations,” he said.
As many churches in northeast Pennsylvania and across the country struggle with declining membership, the numbers remain steady at First Presbyterian. With 535 adult members, it is the largest Presbyterian church in the region.
Carter attributes that to more than just the music; First Presbyterian is a strong faith community that makes an impact outside its walls each day. But the jazz ministry often attracts people to the church and has encouraged members of the congregation to offer their own artistic gifts.
The church created a performing arts series and hosts concerts and art shows as a gift to the community. A local music school holds piano classes at the church. Creative gifts are from God, Carter said, and the arts events offer people a way to showcase their gifts and honor God in return.
“Artistic expressions really feed people’s souls,” he said. “We’re not about a showbiz approach to faith to bring in observers … but a Christian faith deep into needs, hurts and hearts.”
The church still has a music director and a traditional choir that sings traditional hymns. A teen choir and bell choir also perform, and jazz is not always a part of worship, but jazz services punctuate the church year.
Along with playing the Sunday before Labor Day each year, Presbybop performs during an 11 p.m. Christmas Eve service.
The first year of that service 15 years ago, some two dozen people attended. Now there are at least 150 people in the pews that night. A Mardi Gras jazz service is also well-attended.
The jazz music complements the church’s more traditional musical offerings and has become an integral part of the congregation, said Susan Kelly, the director of music.
“Jazz is something that can bring them in and speak to them in a way that is totally different from classical music,” she said. “The music itself — there is so much improvisation in jazz. It really has to come from your soul. It’s a more personal experience.”
While the jazz ministry has become more popular at church, it’s also brought recognition to Presbybop.
In the last two decades, the group has performed at churches and festivals across the country. It has recorded a special for the local public broadcasting station and released nine albums and two DVDs — one of which is called “Jazz Belongs in Church.” (link is external)
Hamme, who plays the saxophone, said he appreciates seeing his former music student “grow up and be successful.” He also appreciates the impact their music has on the people who listen to it.
“I think it means different things to different folks,” Hamme said. “The people who follow us around like the way we sound. [Carter] is a very prolific preacher, and they like his descriptions of the jazz music. … Not only is he using music for worship; he’s introducing jazz to people.”
The project, which includes four upcoming jazz vespers services, will look at issues of human pain and brokenness and the need for healing and forgiveness.
Jazz originated in experiences of brokenness and oppression, Carter said, and is the perfect kind of music to provoke reflection.
Many churches have jazz music, but what makes First Presbyterian unique is that the pastor is in charge of it, said Glen Segger, the coordinator of the Congregations Project at the Yale Institute.
“The program itself is quite astonishing,” he said. “Jazz is another expression. It’s just another way we can encounter God.”
A welcoming church
Members of the church say the jazz music brings energy to both the services and the congregation.
Brian Schillinger, a 28-year member of the church, said the music “livens things up” and provides a different perspective on what pastors or ministers do. Carter’s music helps make people feel welcome, Schillinger said.
“It demonstrates to the people coming in that it’s a place that is open,” he said.
Jazz does not replace sermons but instead helps worshippers take a different approach to church, said Chris Norton, who sat on the church’s search committee when Carter was chosen.
“It’s a fun, uplifting, different kind of worship,” he said.
The music has also brought attention to the church and has encouraged new visitors to become members.
“It’s made us more visible to the community,” Cutler, the choir member, said. “We’re not just doing the same old things over and over. I think it opens up the possibility that church isn’t just dry and someone who stands on the pulpit and speaks.”
Finding your calling
At last month’s jazz communion, members of Presbybop and guest musicians performed music by both Carter and Horace Silver, the legendary pianist and composer. About 200 people attended the communion, which served as the weekly Sunday service.
During hymns, the band played interludes between each verse. During silent confession, the musicians played the blues. During communion, they played Silver’s song “Peace.”
Before the children went to their own worship, Carter invited them to the front, where the musicians talked with them about how they first fell in love with playing. The children then sat in the front while the group played Silver’s “The Preacher.”
Presbybop played two songs for the service’s postlude: “Brent’s Beadle” by Carter and “Filthy McNasty” by Silver. As the musicians took a final bow, the congregation gave them a standing ovation.
During his sermon, Carter had preached about Moses and the burning bush.
“There are burning bushes all along your path, and no shortage of invitations to offer to the world what God has specifically given to you,” he had said. “As you reflect on your life and the work of it, … pay attention to what you were called to do.”
For Carter, that is playing music and leading his church in worship, whether it’s through sermons or prayer or jazz.
Questions to consider:
What is the role of music in your church’s worship service? How might it be re-imagined?
How is jazz uniquely situated to prompt reflection on the Christian message? What other art forms present similar possibilities?
Carter weaves Jesus and jazz with passion and skill. How might Christian leaders inspire others to weave together unique faith practices in the same way?
Beyond increased attendance, what can attention to the creative arts bring to a church?
Working inside large organizations has made a former journalist lose his cynicism about those in authority. Here are three lessons he’s learned about leadership.
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Years ago, while working as a writer and editor for Christianity Today, I learned to be suspicious of anyone in a leadership position. Among my duties was covering the fraud beat, where I investigated a variety of swindlers, including more than a few pastors or other leaders who cloaked themselves in the respectability and safety of a church. The experience taught me that authority and responsibility were not always given to those who earned and deserved it.
After a while, when whistleblowers wanted to tell someone their story of abuse or fraud, they called me. As a result of all I heard and saw, I developed a thick skin and learned not to trust those who called themselves “leaders.” I was quick to find discrepancies between their words and their actions; I began to see hypocrisy wherever I looked. I saw leaders selfishly pursuing their own interests at the expense of others.
Over time, I mastered the stereotypical reporter’s attitude: hard-bitten, suspicious and skeptical of anyone in charge. I like to think that it made me a better investigator and writer. But when the journalism industry shrank and I needed to take my skills elsewhere, my cynical-reporter mindset made me a terrible employee.
Working for the first time within large organizations, I soon realized that all leaders are not hypocritical and selfish. If I was to help them, I needed to understand better the role leaders play and the challenges they face.
Over the last few years, working as the communications officer in the office of the president of World Vision, one of the largest Christian organizations in the United States, I’ve stopped being a leadership cynic. It hasn’t been easy; old reporter habits die hard, and it’s always easier to criticize than to be constructive.
But as I’ve “unlearned” my skepticism, I’ve learned a few things about leadership — and, perhaps more important, how to support and follow good leaders. Here are three lessons I’ve learned:
1. Leadership is hard — really hard.
Anyone who works on the front lines of an organization knows its problems — and the solutions. They’re obvious, right?
“If we could just get proper reporting! This process is too complex; we’ve got to reduce the number of approvals if we’re going to get anything done!”
But what looks clear and simple from the front-line vantage point may be murky and complicated from the leaders’ perspective. The leaders are looking at the organization as a whole to determine the best course of action for everyone, not just one department or division. Other areas may have good reasons why multiple approvals are needed; changing the reporting requirements will affect many interdependent relationships.
In other words, knowing what fixes to make is the easy part. Chances are, the organization’s leaders are already aware of the problems and the steps that need to be taken. But how and when to implement those solutions can be incredibly complicated. Many people throughout the organization will be affected; their concerns and worries have to be taken into account. Good leaders will address an organization’s problems, but not necessarily on everyone’s preferred timetable.
2. So have a little humility.
The board of directors has the final responsibility for an organization and its success. It is their job to hire a leader who will achieve their goals for the organization.
After my many years of pummeling leaders with tough questions as a reporter, it took me a while to realize that I’m not the one in charge. I’m no longer the defender of the little guy. The board thought long and hard about who should be leading the organization, and they didn’t pick me. They picked someone else — the person they thought best for the job.
I don’t need to second-guess that decision. Instead, I can support it, knowing that the final responsibility is with the board. Yes, some boards may be too far removed to understand fully an organization’s challenges. But it’s their job nonetheless.
As I began to understand the challenges leaders face, I became much less skeptical about leadership and much more humble about my own role. Very few leaders are self-serving or unaware of what goes on at the lower levels of the organization. Their job is bigger and broader than mine, and they must answer to the board who hired them.
3. Take constructive steps to improve things.
When I first started working closely with organizational leaders, I thought part of my job was to make sure they knew the challenges or grievances of the line staff.
“So-and-so is concerned about that,” I’d tell them.
Or, “This department needs to be working more efficiently.”
I quickly learned that no one wants to hear raw complaints, especially people who already have a lot of responsibility in a very hard job. Leaders don’t want people who merely recognize problems. They want staff who can fix problems. It is easy to complain but much harder to work to improve things.
No matter your official authority or responsibility, you can always take steps to improve how the work gets done. When you offer to help, you put yourself in a position to make a difference, as well as in a different frame of mind. We don’t worry about finding fault when we are working hard to find a solution.
Even if you become a successful problem solver, the organization’s leaders will still have plenty of issues to address. So offer good advice when you can. But don’t worry about whether your solutions are implemented, and don’t fight for your ideas alone. Try to understand your leaders’ concerns and point of view and make them your own. Then work hard to execute the leaders’ decisions.
Even now, when I sit in on top-level meetings, a small part of me sometimes wants to critique or offer cynical commentary. But I’ve learned that being humble and constructive is a much more spiritually mature response, one that also makes me a better employee.
Seeking the good in others and helping it to flourish is a healthy spiritual practice — and it’s good for your career.
Whatever their own backgrounds and life experiences, Christian leaders are called to meet people where they are and then ask the real questions they’ve come to ask, a bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada says in this interview.
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
The Rt. Rev. Melissa Skelton, a bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada, has a rare combination of gifts that most every ecclesial body would want in its leadership.
She grew up outside the church, so she can talk to folks for whom faith is not their first language. She worked for years in the corporate world and so gained experience in leadership she could apply in a training program for new Episcopal bishops. She was raised in the Southeast United States during the civil rights era and was sent into ministry by an African-American parish in South Carolina, where she sees deep parallels with Canada’s anguish over its history with its indigenous peoples. She has pastored congregations and taught in seminaries.
Drawing upon these various experiences and using them to enrich her work as bishop is similar to the challenge that all Christians face, she said — “to be in the world but not of the world.”
“All that I can say is that the challenge is new in every moment and that in the end, it’s better to ask the real questions you have come to ask and, along with this, to make the real mistakes that you have come to make, given who you are and where God has called you to be,” she said.
Skelton was installed in 2014 as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster (link is external) in Vancouver. Before that, she was rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, Washington, and canon for congregational development and leadership in the Diocese of Olympia. She has also taught preaching at the evangelical Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.
She recently participated in an email interview with Jason Byassee, the Butler Chair in Homiletics and Biblical Hermeneutics at Vancouver School of Theology. The following is an edited transcript.
Q: It is popular these days for church leaders to talk about integrating business and theology. As someone with an MBA and corporate experience, how do you talk about such integration?
I’m suspicious of answering this question in a general way, in that businesses are not all alike in what they value and how they operate. What I can say is this: the experience I gained in the two excellent business environments I was privileged to work in taught me to listen to those I wanted to serve, to develop people as a way to build the capacity of the organization for its work, and to focus and to work very hard!
These three things are, of course, also important in the church. I can also say that they have been central to whatever accomplishments I’ve made in organizations serving the church.
Q: Christian institutions in the West are struggling for resources and purpose. As the leader of an important one, how do you nudge an institution toward faithfulness and purpose and away from the anxiety that traps so many of us?
I believe in helping organizations (including parish churches) focus on their core purpose, mount improvement efforts around dimensions of their core purpose, and move more deeply into the specific personality and approach that is their ecclesial identity. I believe that prayer should be the foundation of all this work. And I believe that we can feel anxious but that it should not stop us either from praying or from doing the work I just mentioned.
Q: You’ve been part of training programs for Anglican bishops and have described their progression in three years of leadership as being terrified in year one, bored in year two and on-board in year three. How do you hope to avoid this career arc in your ministry as bishop in Vancouver?
The only ways I know to avoid the dangers of boredom and distraction are, first, to work on not getting bored and, second, to question regularly what I agree to do outside the diocese. For me, not getting bored has to do with working in the areas that give me life and that the diocese actually needs.
The questions I ask myself about potential activity outside the diocese are, “Does this activity actually help strengthen congregational leaders?” and, “Does this activity help to offer what we are doing in parish development or other priority areas more broadly in the Anglican Church?”
If the answer is no to either of these questions, well, I better think twice about doing it.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge moving from pastor of a fast-growing parish to bishop of an Anglican diocese?
One of the biggest challenges is that becoming a bishop, at least in this diocese, means moving away from doing things directly to equipping others to do the work. This has been and continues to be hard for me in that I love the direct work — shaping liturgies, meeting newcomers, teaching, riding the rhythm of the church year with a faith community.
Another big challenge is thinking systemically in a bigger system and learning to stay focused on the things that are most likely to effect the greatest positive change in the system during my episcopacy and afterward.
Q: You’ve spoken often of the need to plant new faith communities and to revitalize existing parishes. But how do we actually move resources and energy and ambition in a missional direction? That is, how do we create hunger for church growth where all the narratives seem more dedicated to stasis at best or hand wringing over decline?
The approach I’m taking is to work with those in the diocese who are most interested in revitalization and in undertaking new initiatives related to congregational growth and development.
I got this idea (focusing first on those who are “ready to go”) from organization development professionals who counsel others to work in the most promising arena with those most interested in doing the work. In terms of resources, I find that recognition and even modest financial rewards can create energy and a kind of holy ambition for the work of revitalization.
Q: It is striking that you’ve taken on educating and training folks, especially new and aspiring leaders, to start and revitalize new communities of faith. How do you prepare them?
By immersing leaders in a training experience that combines learning and working with theory with the equipping with specific skills related to congregational development. Such training experiences are fairly intensive and involve engagement with frameworks from both congregational development and organization development; practicing facilitation skills; giving and receiving feedback; casework; and the planning of, doing and reflection on congregational development projects in the parish.
Q: You’ve lived and worked in a variety of settings, from the South to the Midwest to New England to the Pacific Northwest to now the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. How do you pay attention to a new place so as to know the particular people you’re leading and also bring experiences from other places that can be enlightening?
Oh my — this is a challenge.
In many ways, it’s similar to the challenge of all Christian people, isn’t it? To be in the world but not of the world?
I am constantly trying to be in the Lower Mainland, the Sunshine Coast and the Fraser Valley in British Columbia — listening to the joys, the history, the culture and the challenges of these areas. And along with this, I am trying to offer the experience I’ve been given from a western Washington urban parish, a U.S. East Coast seminary, and both a Midwestern and a coastal Maine corporate environment. And then there is my entire upbringing in the Southern United States.
All that I can say is that the challenge is new in every moment and that in the end, it’s better to ask the real questions you have come to ask and, along with this, to make the real mistakes that you have come to make, given who you are and where God has called you to be.
Q: You’re a boundary-crossing figure as an Anglican bishop who’s also taught in an evangelical seminary (Seattle School of Theology & Psychology). How can the church cross boundaries of evangelical/mainline/Catholic more readily and work together without surrendering our particular gifts?
By prayer, meeting people where they are, cultivating both a listening heart and an appreciative mindset, and being as candid as we can be about who we are and, out of this, what we have to offer.
I was lucky in that I was rector of a church that was clear about its love of mystery, beauty and awe in the presence of God. And so when evangelicals showed up in our church looking to find their way back to church, we could embrace them and invite them in out of that same mystery, beauty and awe for God.
Thus, what I experienced was a very organic process of crossing boundaries through getting to know people and sharing with them what we were about. Out of this came a deeper and deeper involvement in, for instance, The Seattle School, and my own increasing appreciation for the school and its many sincere evangelicals.
Q: There was a time when you weren’t in the church. How does this memory help you think about the church’s calling to reach out beyond our borders?
I did not grow up in the church, so I have many memories of life outside the church. The biggest thing I learned from this and from working in the field of “consumer ethnography” in the business world is that it is very, very important to understand people’s experience and questions as we, the church, shape how we reach out to them. We need to “seek first to understand and then to be understood” (to steal a phrase).
Q: Somehow, with everything else you’ve done, you’ve also found time to teach preaching. What’s the role of the preached Word in raising up new leaders, both lay and ordained?
In my experience, it’s in preaching that everything comes together: biblical interpretation, theology, presence, spiritual life, the expression of ideas and emotions, physicality, and on and on.
For me, then, the preached Word shared by a skillful preacher has the ability to serve as an event through which people are inspired, invited and enticed into a life of leadership. This happens both because the Word has power in and of itself and because the Word mediated through the presence of a well-formed preacher draws others in.
Q: There is an approach to reaching out beyond the church’s current walls that relies on dumbing down our Christian distinctives, dropping the creeds and liturgies. You’ve said that you see Anglicanism’s particular gifts in something older, and you find younger generations warming to that. Why and how?
I am no advocate of dumbing down or making what we do more generic. I believe we should go the opposite path — drawing on, teaching about and embracing the ancient roots of our faith and assisting those in our churches to enter into the depth of Christian life and practice.
In my experience, many younger people are famished for this kind of substantial food in their life of faith. Many from other ecclesial traditions are also famished for this kind of food. I often think that these two groups help us rediscover where the “gold” of our own tradition lies buried.