Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Spirit is at work!

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."  John 3:8

This week, I couldn’t help being aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power at work in various and wondrous ways in the Diocese of New Jersey.  I finished my one-on-one interviews with diocesan staff, including Mary Ann Rhoads who is a “pearl of great price.” Not only is Mary Ann gracious and caring, she is incredibly efficient and has great knowledge of her job as Executive Assistant to the Bishop (and Bishop-elect!) and of the history of the Diocese of New Jersey. Mary Ann also serves as a Board Member of B.E.S.T. (Bishops’ Executive Secretaries Together) an official network of those in the Episcopal Church who hold that unique position.   I can’t express how grateful I am that Mary Ann is in the Executive Assistant’s position in New Jersey! 

Early in the week, there were several meetings that addressed administrative matters including an on-going review with Bishop Councell and Canons Sosnowki, Jones and Alavarez of the parishes and missions of the diocese.  Given that this is a little tedious for them, I am thankful for the gift of their time.  

On Tuesday, I had lunch with former Canon to the Ordinary, Rev. Lee Powers.  Fr. Powers shared with me some of his experiences in that position and his insights about the diocese. This was a great help to me. Thanks, Lee!

On Wednesday afternoon, I met with Fr. Rick Morley and Canon Cecilia Alvarez to plan the Clergy Conference scheduled for November 4 – 6. I had previously shared with Fr. Morley my sense that the concepts and work of Ron Heifetz and the Cambridge Leadership Associates (C.L.A.) around what Hiefetz has labeled “adaptive leadership” are critically important in our contemporary church context. He agreed with me that this would be an interesting and important topic for the Clergy Conference.  I had taken the liberty of contacting Heifetz, who unfortunately is unavailable on the dates of the Clergy Conference.  He did, however, refer me to his highly qualified colleague and associate, Hugh O’Doherty.  O’Doherty teaches at Harvard, is part of C.L.A. and is internationally known.  O’Doherty has also worked with Episcopal Church leaders before. 

Hugh O'Doherty
Fr. Morley, Canon Alvarez and I were able to speak with Mr. O’Doherty in a conference call on Wednesday and firmed up his participation as our conference leader. The Conference will be a basic introduction to Adaptive Leadership.  It will provide all who participate an opportunity to increase our understanding of the concepts and build a common language and understanding about adaptive leadership in the church today.  I am very excited about this and believe it has huge potential to help us face the challenges before us.  Those interested in knowing more about Hugh O’Doherty and the Cambridge Leadership Associates are encouraged to go to their website at  You might also want to read The Practice of Adaptive Leadership:  Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (Harvard Business Press - 2009 - Hardback - 326 pages - ISBN 1422105768) or Leadership on the Line:  Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading (with Marty Linsky – (Cambridge:  Harvard Business School Press, 2002).  

On Wednesday evening, Susan joined me and we met with members of the Union of Black Episcopalians (U.B.E.) for a dinner meeting in Matthew’s Conference Room of Diocesan House.   About a dozen members were present.   Annette Buchanan is the Chair and hosted the meeting.  Following dinner, Annette and the other members briefed me on the status of the 11 historic black churches in the Diocese, parish by parish. Five of these churches have no clergy person in place. One is vacant as a result of a retirement, one is about to become vacant as the result of a retirement.  Only two are being served by full-time priests. Moreover, there are not enough black clergy, or clergy of color, especially young clergy, in the pipeline to fill the vacancies. These are challenges that face us across the diocese and across the church.  Finding a way to preserve the tradition and heritage of the historic black churches is critical as they represent a powerful witness to a vital heritage of endurance and faithfulness in the face of persecution and prejudice.   

At one point in the meeting, Annette said to me, “Members of the U.B.E. love their Lord and they love the Church.”  I responded to her, “Even when at times the Church has not treated you well.”  Heads around the table nodded in agreement.  I was grateful for the warmth of the people that attended the meeting, for their honest appraisal of the challenges facing the historic black churches and for their candor. They are seeking greater support from me and the Diocese and its entities in strengthening these churches for mission. 

Congratulations are due to Annette Buchanan.  As of July, she is President of the Union of Black Episcopalians - National.  This is a great testimony to her leadership and commitment not only to this historic organization, but also to Christ and his Church.  Congratulations Annette! 

It is wonderful when members of our diocese participate in the leadership of the wider Church.  During the meeting, Annette announced that the next Annual Meeting of the Union of Black Episcopalians - National will be held June 29 – July 3, 2014 in Atlantic City.  It will be a great honor and privilege for the Diocese of New Jersey to welcome members from around the country.

On Thursday, Canon Sosnowski, Canon Alavarez and I met with Skip and Joyce Vilas. Skip is serving as Interim-Rector at St. Bernards in Bernardsville and has a broad sense of the history of the so-called “Conover Churches,” that is, the cluster of parishes founded or reinvigorated by the Rev. Thomas Conover of St. Bernard's in Bernardsville in the first half of the 20th century.  The other “Conover Churches” include St. Luke's, Gladstone, St. John on the Mountain, Bernardsville, St. Mark's in Basking Ridge and All Saints in Millington. Skip provided us with some of this history and insights about mission and ministry in the area today.  He and his wife Joyce are an energetic ministry team.  We are blessed to have them sharing their gifts and knowledge with us in the Diocese of New Jersey.

Thursday afternoon, Bishop Councell and I met with Canon Connie White and Rev. Canon Jack Belmont who are the Co-Chairs of the Committee on the Priesthood.  This was to bring everyone up to date on the people currently in the ordination process in the Diocese of New Jersey.  Currently there are 14 persons active in the process.  Of those, seven are under 35 years-old.  While we are grateful for God’s call to all persons who are active in the ordination process and are blessed by their gifts, the number of those under 35 is good and important news if we hope to reach the 20-30 generation that is currently missing from the Church.  Bishop Councell has made a particular effort to recruit younger clergy and his efforts are paying off. The Spirit at work!

Debi Clarke of New Jersey and Myra Garnes Schuler of Long Island
Susan and I drove down to Point Pleasant on Thursday evening, to reconnect with the Youth Mission of New Jersey and Long Island doing Hurricane Sandy relief work.  We were warmly welcomed by Fr. John Thompson-Quartey, Rector of St. Mary’s and we joined the group for dinner and their closing Eucharist.  They all looked pretty tired, but indicated they had a great experience.  I sat with a few of them who had spent the previous day repairing a roof in Staten Island.  That’s grueling work!  We should all be proud of this group of our young people who gave up their last week of summer vacation to serve others. Thanks especially to Deacon Debi Clarke and the other adult leaders: Keith & Lucy Adams,  Steve Clarke, Liz Heenan, Robin Henry, Suzanne Jorgensen, Danielle Neals, Frangelin Pozo, Johanna Tineo.  The gift of their time to the youth of the diocese is a great tremendous blessing.

Diocesan staff got together on Friday for a luncheon to celebrate the ministry and birthday of Cynthia McFarland who is a treasure of the diocese.  For health reasons, Cynthia is stepping down from her responsibilities as Canon for Communications.   She will, however, continue to serve part-time as Historiographer and Archivist for the Diocese. She has done phenomenal work in organizing the many records of this diocese’s long history.  We had a lovely lunch and Cynthia’s energy and positive spirit were infectious!   

Without question, the highlight of the week for Susan and me was participating in the Spirit-filled worship of the people of Christo Rey in Trenton.  Having met Father Pozo and his lovely wife Angela during the episcopal election process, and having witnessed his high energy and clear faith and love of the Lord during that process, Susan and knew we were in for something wonderful and special. We were not disappointed! 

In how many churches does the priest dance in and dance out in a spirit of joy to lively wonderful music?  In how many churches do 150 people in the congregation dance up to the offering basket placed in the front of the church, and drop in their offerings gladly singing a song of thankfulness?  Go to Christo Rey, you will see all of this and more.  More important, you will experience the palpable excitement of the Holy Spirit at work!

Connecting the morning’s worship with last week’s observance of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Fr. Pozo related  the Gospel about seeking the lowest place with a message of hope and being sure each person has a dream that we strive for. Following the sermon, he called for the descent of the Holy Spirit and asked any who wanted to, to come forward for anointing with oil and a prayer of blessing.  He invited me to join him in laying hands on the people.  Nearly everyone in the congregation came forward!  Wow!! 
With Fr. Pozo and the people of Christo Rey

After the last person in the congregation was prayed over and anointed, Fr. Pozo knelt in front of me and asked me to anoint him, and I in turn knelt in front of him and asked him to anoint me.  He called forward the congregation who all held their hands over me while he prayed and anointed me.  It was powerful!  At the conclusion of the service, Fr. Pozo invited me to dance down the aisle with him to greet the people.  Susan and I both knew we had been to church!  The service lasted two hours, but no one was looking at their watch.  Everyone was caught up in the Spirit, joy and love of the Lord.  A week ago, I posted an opinion piece that appeared on the CNN website by Jon Acuff titled Should Christianity be so boring? His article began, “No one has ever accused us Christians of being fun.”  Mr. Acuff should attend Christo Rey in Trenton!  It was fun and filled with faith.  Yes, the Holy Spirit moves where it will.  After Church, Susan and I took the Pozo family out to lunch.  It was a great and blessed Sunday!!

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