SIM News




By Bishop Robert C. Wright

I like to think about the practices of leaders.

One practice is “balcony time.” Because business as usual is corrosive to good work and because it diminishes your ability to pay attention, we have to build in the practice of balcony time. I am an encourager and I am encouraging vestries to do this twice a year: Step back, look at your purpose statement and look at your data, and ask, “How are we doing?” We need to create the capacity of churches to do this.

We also need to increase the capacity of that group to solicit unflattering interpretations because that is the only way you are going to see.

Jesus goes up the mountain to meet with his Executive Committee, but Epiphany isn’t for building booths. It’s for going back down to the valley with new insight into questions like, “Are we on a mission?” “Where are the gaps?”

I like mutual ministry reviews because they give people the capacity to hear others being both kind and candid. By giving it all some thought you may be helping me see a blind spot. And you know, in these conversations, when someone cares.

We leave opportunities on the table because we have an aversion to data. We want to feel and not think. In the Book of Common Prayer, we give thanks for the “gifts of memory, reason, and skill,” (p. 370) but I have yet to see this proved in a lot of ministry cohorts. And it’s even hard to get the House of Bishops to focus on data. An aversion to data is a hindrance.

It is a misunderstanding of Anglican identity that by our simply holding onto tradition we’re safe; we have worried too long that we’re losing our identity. We’re countering adaptation with, “I am a cradle Episcopalian.” When we do this, aren’t we valuing longevity over fidelity?

I think we can celebrate what we have received and look at the exigencies of time. We are always meant to be on the edge. We are not meant to be ambulance chasers on liturgy, just making it up. Neither are we to celebrate the religion of King Henry. We can and should get permission from our Anglican identity to adapt. So, we need time on the balcony to reflect. We need data or we cannot adapt. And we need to understand that it is our Anglican identity that gives us permission to adapt.


I do not want to lose the post-catastrophe dynamic of learning and growing through pain. Perhaps it sounds insensitive to ask, “What does COVID want to teach us?” but in adversity, there is a lesson, and there is learning in pain. We have learned that the church is not closed, the church is adapting. That’s all we’re doing. We are still reaching out and we’re not going to stop. What worries me is some folks are pining to go back to cruising altitude. What’s is hopeful is watching people learn out loud. I don’t want to lose the “never-been-done-before” ideas. What we’re working on is a new delivery system for walking/talking Anglicanism and Corona is forcing us to do it.

There are so many people for whom this pandemic is a bone crusher. This is a particularly hard time for the middle class. We have benefitted from stability, from the system, from the status quo. This pandemic is forcing on a largely white, middle-class church some lessons other people learned a long time ago. God is everywhere – in lots of different kinds of places. If you have a Book of Common Prayer at home, it’s not for decoration. Pray Compline together! I’d love it if we were already doing that in households and we didn’t need to do it online.

I hope this is the time when we are reminded of what we know – that in your Bible God was upset with people who created systems of preferential treatment that fattened the haves and gave a sprinkle to the have-nots. I believe some might gain a heart for those who are walking across borders. I’m hoping…because nothing cracks the heart open like this kind of tragedy does. Of course, some are “stiff-necked” people. No one can say it like the Bible. Good Lord.

Maybe on the way to adaptability is humility. Perhaps the perspective of humility is something we can gain from the “balcony” now. Because there is a lot to gain by saying to people “now is the time to really be a neighbor,” because so many Americans are shut out.

“Woe,” Jesus said, (a funeral word) If you keep walking down that street and there are some bad things on that street. We walk with a swagger, for instance, because our passport is blue. On 9-11, I was at St. John the Divine, and I went down to the Pile while it was still a fire. It was amazing to see how many people from around the world were gathered there and to see the church as a public voice in society naming a moral moment about our neighbor. The Lent of 2020 may not have been the Lent we wanted but it may have been the Lent we needed, and that our country needed. It certainly reminded us how little control we actually have and reminded us of our systemic arrogance. These moments come and we are reminded what we have is each other – and it can lead to some kind of reconciliation. God can use everything to teach us what God wants us to learn. We aren’t our best when so many Americans live so close to the bone. For America to be great you must make sure everyone is cared for. I hope there will be a strong reminder here. Greatness is not the height of our spires but the depth of our commitment to the cross. Think - when the odds were against us this is what we did. This is how we pivoted. Remember! Rigor mortis sets in if we don’t move. We need to keep stretching our muscles. If we can come back to this moment, we remember there is nothing like shared adversity to build community.

What if we were to apply in less urgent circumstances how we have adapted to COVID and to other challenges and opportunities coming up – like consolidating dioceses or creating employment for clergy ministering on the fringes? I wonder, how many online ministries will be born out of this season? COVID could even push us toward incorporating new demographics. There is so much to learn. I’m hoping we have pushed beyond talking about these things and into actually doing them. If you talk about it you get nowhere, but if you give people an experience you give people a taste. I hope for instance people will discover that we all have multiple altars in our homes: the dinner table, the study, the bed, the living room, and so on...each are extensions of our incarnate, spiritual lives.

This is an anti-clericalizing moment and there is a lot of fear there because ordination is an identity marker. But what do you want? Full churches or people full of their sense of being spiritual beings? In our church, we have a lot of deferred maintenance across the board when it comes to spiritual maturation.

But nothing burns away bullshit like suffering.


On the one hand, we are sending a lot of spiritual babies to seminary and expecting miracles.

I sent an email to a seminarian regarding his Ember Day letter. It was horrible. Three long paragraphs with no mention of God at all. I had to send it back and said an atheist could have written this. You’ve finished Clinical Pastoral Education – now what do you know of God? Is there a piece of scripture that you now know what it really means? Or is there an honest confession that you are with the psalmist in asking, “God, where are you?”

When I served on the Commission on Ministry, I was the one who said, “Tell me about some God stuff, some personal stuff. What’s your personal life with God like?” We are talking about the Cross, and that needs to be lifted up as art. That brings us back to suffering. They lifted Jesus up in front of his mother outside this city wall. We need leaders who can sit with people in suffering, and who maybe do not talk but wait to say some words. When suffering burns away the bullshit and people get really clear, that is a major adaptation. And that is the purpose of the church.

In this rapidly iterating world, what is the formation task, and how do we form disciples who have a chance to exercise spiritual leadership? We prioritize so many things other than this very thing.

On the other hand, how do we raise the expectation that you are the spiritual leader of your household? It is in the Prayer Book. Maybe Corona is going to help me/us claim that. Why don’t we, as church leaders, encourage people to develop their own spiritual leadership in their homes and perhaps come to church twice a month? Maybe we should be teaching people to lead family prayers and have a book that logs how many times you have led family devotions. And perhaps in your parochial report you include how many of your members said they worship in their homes.

In this rapidly iterating world, what is the formation task, and how do we form disciples who have a chance to exercise spiritual leadership? We prioritize so many things other than this very thing. If we’re not careful we can lose the benefit of Corona. She has some lessons to teach on how to be a church. Like 9-11, like Katrina, this is a moral moment to see the Church as a strategic partner in the transformation of the world.