Most clergy can tell you that their theology has decreased in
complexity over the years of their ordained ministry, and I am
no exception. The study of systematic theology in seminary is a
daunting, though necessary, exercise. It is only when the priest
begins preaching and pastoral care, however, that the real work
of theology begins. This is because, for me, the place where belief
and practice intersect is where theology is “done.” As
Episcopalians, we look to scripture and tradition to inform our
beliefs, and use reason to apply them to our lives. Our systematic
theology is to be found in our creeds and Articles of Faith; our
Catechism offers a way of understanding and teaching this theology.
The best example of this “doing theology” I can offer
is in the Education for Ministry (EFM) program. In this four-year
course which I completed as a lay person and now teach as mentor,
we are constantly challenged to state our theology and to examine
how it is expressed in our lives. This means that theology is not
only a set of beliefs about God, but a living expression of those
The elements of scripture, reason and tradition handed down to
us from Richard Hooker (although he did not use the phrase himself)
are another way the Anglican via media is expressed: we do not
hold to either the sola scriptura of the Protestant tradition or
the authority of the church of the Roman tradition. And it is in
that Anglican via media that my own theology has developed and
I believe that the scriptures are not just our story, but God’s
story of extravagant love for the human race and for each individual
human. As such, they deserve our study and meditation and discussion,
for they contain for us a way to understand how God has made Godself
known to us, that we might discern how to live in God’s kingdom.
Church tradition for us as Episcopalians is our history book.
We sometimes forget that the book tells our history from the time
of Jesus rather than the time of Henry VIII. And as a story of
our life as the body of Christ, The Episcopal Church branch, it
is full of times of failure as well as times of exceptional glory.
Reason as it is understood in the elements of scripture, reason
and tradition does not only mean theoretical reasoning or the ability
to understand and use the mind for decision-making. It was handed
down to us in the classical sense, as a participatory knowledge:
to know something is to experience it. Not only is reason experiential,
but it is a collective exercise, which takes place in community.
The House of Bishops is a place in which reason is wrestled with,
just as the Diocese and congregation are.
No one of these elements alone can keep us faithfully seeking
after God and God’s will for us. It is the integration of
these three elements which expresses balance, depth and inclusion.
The balance is expressed in the lack of dependence upon one authority
for all matters of faith and belief. The depth speaks to our ability
to immerse ourselves in one element. The inclusion allows that
our faith is held not only individually, but in community, and
especially in the action of the community.
The major difference between my style and focus when functioning
in a pastoral role versus a leadership role is that the pastoral
role is more focused on individual relationship and the leadership
role is more focused on the larger community and issues which affect
that community, as well as how those issues relate to the gospel.
Pastorally, I am one who believes that presence has great power.
My own experiences with pastoral presence and connection encompass
not only my clerical and church experience, but also previous experience
as a layperson and professional caregiver. I recall a time in the
first few years of my return to church life after an absence of
about ten years. I had found a parish which had shown me the true
meaning of evangelism by sending a visitor to me in the hospital
when my son was born. A follow-up call came a week later with an
offer for help, or just company. When I later became an active
member of the church, I was offered again and again the ministry
of presence from others. So when tragedy came to the family of
a friend in the death of their infant daughter, I knew that I needed
to do something. And so I found myself the next morning standing
on the front steps of the family’s home with a box of Dunkin’ Donuts
in my hands. I rang the doorbell and as I waited for an answer,
I was suddenly possessed of the most awful feeling: What in God’s
name was I doing at the home of a family whose daughter was dead,
with a box of doughnuts in my hand? I nearly ran down the steps
to my car, when my friend opened the door. She was so moved by
the gesture, and there was no need for words – a dozen doughnuts
became a sacrament. This experience left me convinced that the
ministry of presence is so valuable because only the power of God
is necessary: not learning, or words, or anything but the simplest
Ministry at the time of death is for a priest and pastor a time
when presence and connection are in the forefront of pastoral care.
There are often many relationships to negotiate as serious illness
and death enter the family’s life. I recall the time I was
called to a hospital by a family whose mother, aged 81, had suffered
a debilitating stroke. Around her bed were her husband of sixty
years, and one of her grown children who had driven all night to
be there. The woman had been active until the moment of her stroke.
We had had conversation about her wishes, which fortunately she
had expressed in an advanced care directive. As her family gathered
from all over the world over the next few days, I visited at the
hospital, at home, and met them at the church to plan the subsequent
funeral. Throughout that time I saw myself as one who was present
as an affirming and supportive and sacramental presence: to listen
to their thoughts and feelings, to witness the withdrawal of life
support and speak the Litany at Time of Death, to help them express
their grief to each other and in the context of the Burial Office,
and to celebrate life in the Eucharist that accompanied it. I listened
to stories of the woman’s early life and years as a mom and
nurse, not just to know her better for liturgical purposes, but
also to be a witness to her life and her importance to those who
Pastoral care is one of my most treasured gifts. Perhaps that
is because when I give my listening presence, I am not “on.” I
am not deacon, priest or bishop, but brother or sister in Christ.
The true power of healing and comfort comes from the Holy Spirit.
It is a time when I am very conscious of being a vessel. It is
a difficult thing to describe, although we talk about it often
in the language of the church. The best way I can relate to it
is in my role as sign language interpreter. When I hear the message
with my ears, it goes through my mind and out my hands. I am a
conduit, through which the message flows. That is what pastoral
presence is for me: I am the vessel through which the Spirit flows.
It does not mean I just sit and let it happen; I must have something
within upon which to draw. The “something” is my own
spiritual grounding which empowers me to do less talking than listening
and to be comfortable with silence. It helps to be prepared, to
know something about grief and loss. As an interpreter, it is best
if I am rested and if I know something about the message I will
translate, as well as the speaker. I certainly can interpret when
I am tired and if I don’t know the meaning of one or two
words, but the experience is much more powerful and effective if
I am prepared.
And so it is with pastoral care: the preparation is the care of
self, the knowledge of scripture and prayer, the knowing of the
person in need. And if I cannot know the person in need, I certainly
can know or learn what it is like to be suffering, lonely, or afraid.
And it is my responsibility to know what Jesus Christ, as well
as the church, has to say about such things.
My leadership style is also collaborative and visionary. I work
with the community I have been chosen to lead to identify the challenges
of our common ministry and work toward our vision.
One way to understand my leadership focus and style in greater
detail would be to describe the gifts I believe I use most to lead
a community. I have the gift of encouragement. I am also skilled
at empowering others for ministry. St. James’ recently completed
a capital campaign to fund a fully accessible plant. From the core
group of vestry and capital campaign committee, we involved fully
half of the households in some part of the campaign. I encourage
vestry members to ask people to help with various tasks, knowing
how empowering it is for us to invite others into ministry.
I am also an extremely competent administrator. In my administrative
duties, I am a problem-solver, continually working on discerning
the difference between a problem which needs to be solved and a
situation which needs to be monitored or left alone. I know the
difference between confidentiality and secrecy. I led St. James’,
with the assistance of the Diocese, through a difficult period
of time in my first year of ministry with them.
I seek out people who are experts. Although I love to learn, I
do not need to know everything. I strive for consensus, but will
not compromise vision for consensus. I am skilled at handling conflict.
I take care of myself. I recognize my limitations and those of
the parish and diocese, and I allow that God can change those limits
if God chooses. Just as I cannot know everything, we cannot do
everything. The Diocese of Nevada, in following the gospel vision,
will accomplish great things; and some things which it wants to
accomplish, or which other individuals and parishes believe it
should accomplish, will not happen. And God will be glorified in
our dedication to follow wherever God may lead.