Pastoral Provision for Same-Sex Couples
Listening Hearts

The Presiding Bishop –– An Appreciation and Reminders for Parish Leaders

By Bishop Paul Marshall

[During her visit to the Diocese of Bethlehem, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was attentive, appreciative, and evocative. She gave feedback. She was encouraging. She could, when necessary change. She maintained a non-anxious presence and she stayed connected. –– The Bishop's column below will appear in the December issue of Diocesan Life.]

November was a banner month for our diocese. For the first time in more than two decades we were honored by a visit from the chief pastor of The Episcopal Church, the Presiding Bishop.

I designed the visit as carefully as I could to insure that she saw our best efforts, our most innovative efforts, along with our challenges and deficits. Bishop Jack and I also individually spent private car time with her so that she would know what the episcopate is like in this diocese.

I need to thank, in order of occurrence, the Standing Committee, New Hope, the Stewardship and Evangelism commissions, the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Grace Church and School in Allentown, New Bethany Ministries in Bethlehem, Trinity Soup Kitchen in Bethlehem, the gathered staff, St. Luke’s in Lebanon, Project REACH and St. Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral in Wilkes-Barre, the youth of our Diocese, the assembled clergy, and Good Shepherd in Scranton, all of whom helped give the Presiding Bishop an accurate picture of our life together.

Additionally, so many hands and voices provided hospitality, music, and general assistance (including parking!) with this project. Mother Hillary Dowling Raining and Ely Valentin did the heavy lifting for the visit.

I am also grateful for those who engaged the Presiding Bishop in conversation at the three churches where Evensong, receptions and open forums took place and at clergy day.

There are some aspects of leadership that Bishop Katharine demonstrated that all who lead might think about.

In the first place she was attentive. Every place we visited, she noticed things that were unique about the place and took the time to really look at them. This was even more true with people and programs: she gave whomever she engaged her complete attention.

Then, she was appreciative. She worked to understand what was being said or shown, and to see its value. She was verbal in her appreciation and respectful of her interlocutors, whether they were homeless persons or elected officials of the diocese.

She was evocative.  We have a little saying in our office that Bill Lewellis developed from an old Wall Street ad. Our version is, “When we listen, people speak.”  People tended to hesitate to ask the first question, but Bishop Katharine’s way of listening carefully and respectfully when that question got asked, had other people in the room bubbling away.

She gave feedback. Particularly with the youth group, she took what they said seriously enough to pursue conversation with them. That in turn brought forward more conversation and genuine growth in thought. She taught gently by making sure lights were turned out when groups left a room.

She was encouraging. Every church and ministry she visited heard from her that they were appreciated for what they were doing, and encouraged to keep it up. She offered suggestions as appropriate.

She could, when necessary, change. As it became apparent to her in each evening’s discussions that certain remarks at General Convention had perplexed some people and alienated others, in her closing sermon to the clergy she finally just said she was sorry to have not been clearer, and recast the remarks in a way that would make sense to all.

Most important, I think, is that she maintained a non-anxious presence. She never made the mistake of taking oppositional words personally. In the face of some tough questioning, she kept the focus on her vision for the church’s participation in the work of God. This is the hardest skill leaders have to master, and she is one of the best models I have seen of the non-anxious style of leadership. It has none of the excitement of demagoguery, and for that very reason invites sane people to follow.

Finally, her mission is to stay connected. The Presiding Bishop is required by canons to visit dioceses once in a nine-year term. That averages out to about twelve a year. Ours is the eighty-ninth visit she has made in only three and a half years. She leads the church by being present in it.

I think, then, along with all the fun we had during the week, we also had the opportunity to see an expert leader in action and we all felt a desire to rededicate ourselves to our ministry and mission.


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