Leadership & Legacy|2 Reflections

Lafleche United Church (Lafleche-Limerick Pastoral Charge)

Trinity United Church (Lafleche-Limerick Pastoral Charge)

Legacies and Leadership. For every one of us, as we endeavour to live into our discipleship, there have been, are and will be times when we will have to step into leadership. Whether that is in our families, with our friends, in our places of work and play, whether that is for a moment, a short time or in respect to work and vocation, we will have to find ways to respond to others and communities that help them, us, get from here to there. Though, in those moments when it might seem impossible, we long for a roadmap, blueprint or agenda, often it simply begins with a faithful step, trust and courage. Legacies and Leadership is a very old dance for Christians.

There are many threads within the Christian tradition that we can explore in this reflection. For this moment, however, I would like to focus on two: purity and plurality. In a recent TED talk, Wanis Kabbaj, the director of global strategy for healthcare logistics at UPS, explores this tension through the lens or nationalism (purity) and globalism (plurality).

In the world outside of these walls, it is clear in the public discourse, the uncivil tone that pervades the social commons that they remain as relevant now, as they have for the millennia in which the Christian tradition has journeyed and circled between exile and power, oppression and liberation.

These two threads are important. They are important because as we embrace our roles as leaders it is important to know why. It is important to know why because it reminds us from where we have come. It is important to know where we come from because, as the scriptures we have heard, from the Psalm to the Gospel, remind us that those who lead, those who dawn the mantle of discipleship as a way to be in the world, are called to teach and prepare a just way for those who shall follow.

So, those two threads. They have a very ancient pedigree. In theological language purity and plurality fall into two traditions: the Priestly and Deuteronomical.

The first thread – purity – tends to focus on rules that exclude so as to ensure righteousness. The second – plurality – tends to occur in a context of globalisation and sees its role as bringing everyone into the fold.

Though there is a great richness in how we might explore these traditions, I think there are two very important pieces that we must recognise:

  • First, they have often been placed in opposition to one another. In other words, one is right and one is wrong. I have no doubt that either/or position reminds us, once again, of the public discourse we hear outside of the church, and – perhaps if we are honest – sometimes within it; and,
  • The second thing to note is that the threads have often, if not always, become very apparent in times of change. Change that was often violent and/or grounded in a struggle for power. And if we look to the long journey upon which we have been as a Christian community, it is not stability that is normal, it is change.

Trinity United Church (Lafleche-Limerick Pastoral Charge)I am pretty certain change is something we can collectively agree is a foot. Since my own choice to come into the United Church of Canada in 1997, to my commissioning as a Diaconal Minister in 2009 and now my honour to walk into the role as the Principal at St. Andrew’s College, change has been sweeping throughout our denomination constantly.

In this reality of change, when voices debate purity and plurality, when we want to either hunker down and test who is allowed in, so as to keep others out, or we want to throw opens the gates wide and let everyone in, those in leadership must consider what are the legacies we have inherited and what might we want to leave behind. Whether this is as individuals or faith communities, theological schools or denominations, countries and nations, any choice that is made without intention has, does and will have implications that cause harm. Discipleship might be a light burden, as Jesus taught us, but it is one ripe with responsibility.

One of the legacies that we have had to recognise is the choices the church has made in respect to our relationship with our Indigenous neighbours and kin. These are not easy conversations. They remind us of other ones, in which culture and faith got confused. During the years between World War I and II, while our United Church advocated for peace in various ways, we were also actively involved in supporting legislation that framed European, Middle Eastern, Asian and Jewish people in stereotypes. The intention of this legislative work was to grade and bar, accept and reject the Other as the world was turning upside down very quickly. Today we take serious pause before excluding people from the safety this country affords in our multicultural aspiration.

Legacies and Leadership: what that means, how we respond to this ongoing conversation of teaching and learning, of responding to prepare the way for those yet to come is just as important as it has ever been. In the contexts of farms and changing climate, of faith communities and depopulation, of theological education and secularisation, where we look and what we ask has, does and will inform what we see.

Lafleche United Church (Lafleche-Limerick Pastoral Charge)

Lafleche United Church (Lafleche-Limerick Pastoral Charge)

If there is anyone thing I think those called to Christian leadership must tightly hold onto in the reality of an interconnected and pluralistic world it is Hope. By this, I do not mean a saccharine card or reality-based-tv-show that promises the unattainable, but I mean Hope grounded in a theology of resurrection. One where we take seriously that this blessing of Creation, to which we are invited to steward so all creatures thrive, is not about deficit, but abundance, not about despair, but joy, not about intolerance, but dignity. Leadership and Legacies, as disciples, requires us to see with eyes not of this world, but with those of Creator who sees in each of us, a spark divine, a blessing meant to shine.

At St. Andrew’s, in this time of change, legacy and leadership’s dance reminds us that the College has always responded to need and innovated – in fact that is kind of how the prairies roll. Necessity has helped identify the needs that have required solutions from a box not yet designed. The out-of-the-box solutions have often arisen here well before the rest of the denomination.

Whether that was the reality of the inclusion of women in ministry leadership, equipping lay people when there was a lack of ordered ministry and the ability to engage in conversations about theology, agriculture and resources that has resisted the language of right and wrong, St. Andrew’s has, is and will continue to find ways to equip Christians as they walk into leadership. The world is changing, so offering the language of faith that allows us to make sense of our lives, whether at work and play, vocation and family, is more important than ever.

Trinity United Church (Lafleche-Limerick Pastoral Charge)

Trinity United Church (Lafleche-Limerick Pastoral Charge)

Hope – where do you find it in this changing landscape? In the context of INSERT NAME, what are some of the ways that you as an individual in this faith community and as a collective have found ways to model a radical kind of leadership that holds purity and plurality together?

Purity – at its worst, excludes and rejects, while on the other end, pluralism can water everything down to the point that meaning is lost for the sake of sameness dressed in the guise of conversion. Neither of these poles is helpful, especially when what I believe Jesus’ ministry asks of us is deep listening, intentional reflection, sound thinking and just doing. It is one thing to say you are right, it is another to listen to others who feel that same way with a goal to do what is best not for me, not for you, not for the church, not one’s town, village, city or country, but for the children who will come.

I believe that the Indigenous Iroquois teaching about the seven generations finds a parallel with the Hebrew Scripture mandate of stewardship. As those who take seriously the responsibility as those who make decisions now, our task is not to reap what has not been sown, but to ensure that what we have inherited thrives in order for it to be passed on to those yet to be born. How we do that, as leaders, has been, is and will be different. We cannot use our today to judge the past, but we can learn from it, in order to identify the stumbling, mistakes and even hurt caused. Just as importantly, we can use our today, to bring forth what was good in the past, in order to not only be better, but to be great.

Greatness – the possibility for people to individually and collectively shine – is a blessed pursuit. Not for ourselves, but to sow greatness of spirit and generosity, to nurture greatness of kindness and compassion. These are some of things that Christians disciples do well as leaders. When we do this knowing that we are God’s Beloved children, then that is the very message we must take into the legacy we intend to leave: when all is said and done, what legacy do you intend to begin to nurture now for those yet to come?

Thanks be to God

Legacies and Leadership. Though, in those moments when it might seem impossible to step into the leadership to which we are called, when we long for a roadmap, blueprint or agenda, often it simply begins with a faithful step, trust and courage.

There are many threads within the Christian tradition that we can explore in this reflection. For this moment, however, I would like to focus on two: purity and plurality. In a recent TED talk, Wanis Kabbaj, the director of global strategy for healthcare logistics at UPS, explores this tension through the lens or nationalism (purity) and globalism (plurality).

In the world outside of these walls, it is clear in the public discourse, the uncivil tone that pervades the social commons that they remain as relevant now, as they have for the millennia in which the Christian tradition has journeyed and circled between exile and power, oppression and liberation.

These two threads are important because as we embrace our roles as leaders in a theological educational context it is important to know why. It is important to know why because it reminds us from where we have come. It is important to know where we come from because, as the scriptures we have heard, from the Psalm to the Gospel, remind us that those who dawn discipleship’s mantle, are called to teach and prepare a just way for those who shall follow.

The first thread – purity – tends to focus on rules that excludes and rejects so as to ensure righteousness. The second – plurality – endeavours to bring everyone into the fold. Pluralism can water everything down to the point that meaning is lost for the sake of sameness dressed in the guise of conversion.

Neither of these poles is helpful, especially as Jesus’ ministry asks of us to deeply listen, intentionally reflect, think soundly and act justly. It is one thing to say you are right, it is another to listen to others who feel that same way with a goal to do what is best not for me, not for you, not for one’s college or denomination, but for the children who will come. We must take this seriously for the leaders we will need to prepare to navigate well in a constantly changing world.

I think there are two very important pieces that we must recognise:

  • First, purity and plurality, have often been placed in opposition to one another. In other words, one is right, and one is wrong. Once again this either/or position reminds us, of the public discourse we hear outside of the church, and – perhaps if we are honest – sometimes within it; and,
  • The second thing to note is that the threads have often, if not always, become very apparent in times of change. Change that is often violent and/or grounded in a struggle for power. And if we look to the long journey upon which we have been as a Christian community, it is not stability that is normal, it is change.

In this reality of change, when voices debate purity and plurality, when we want to either hunker down and test who is allowed in, so as to keep others out, or we want to throw open the gates wide and let everyone in, those in theological leadership must consider what are the legacies we have inherited and what might we want to leave behind. As a College committed to theological education any choice made without intention could have implications that cause harm. Discipleship might be a light burden, as Jesus taught us, but it is one ripe with responsibility.

Legacies and Leadership: what that means, how we respond to this ongoing conversation of teaching and learning, of responding to prepare the way for those yet to come is just as important as it has ever been. In the context of theological education and secularisation, where we look and what we ask has, does and will inform what we see.

Sometimes the theological endeavour has placed us into silos – where we preference our truth to an extent we cannot hear one another. Though ecumenical endeavours have often tried to find places of commonality, it has sometimes been easier to avoid the differences: the elephants in the room.

What I have experienced, however, since arriving at St. Andrew’s is that it is it is those differences, which have traditionally reinforced the polarity of purity (nationalism) and pluralism (globalism), which may very well act as a bridge in which collaboration, not competition, aligns St. Andrew’s. This time of change feels like a moment in which Hope invites ecumenical and secular partners to recognise a shared commitment to prepare resilient, pastoral and justice-servant leadership.

If there is anyone thing, I think those called to Christian educational leadership must tightly hold onto in the reality of an interconnected and pluralistic world it is Hope. By this, I do not mean a saccharine card or reality-based-tv-show that promises the unattainable, but I mean Hope grounded in a theology of resurrection. One where we earnestly embrace that we are invited to steward so all creatures thrive, is not about deficit, but abundance, not despair, but joy, not intolerance, but dignity. Leadership and Legacies, as disciples, requires us to see with eyes not of this world, but with those of Creator who sees in each of us, a spark divine, a blessing meant to shine. As Dr. Donna Brockmeyer reminded us during Dr. Still’s installation last week, higher educational institutions are beacons in this time of change.

This Hope is clear to me in the Faculty’s works with Indigenous partners as they work on a publication about the church’s responses to the call to implement UN-DRIP. I see this Hope in the recent Ecumenical & Interfaith Joint Statement for the Rohingya from 20 partners reflecting the diversity of Canada. I have seen Hope in discussions with friends at the University of Saskatchewan, members of the Saskatoon Theological Union and St. Thomas More that have and are preferencing collective ways to share a commitment to liberal arts education that fosters critical thinking and democratic values in a changing and turbulent context.

As we accept the responsibility as those who make decisions now, we must ensure that the social good we have inherited thrives in order for it to be passed on to those yet to come. How we do that has been, is and will be different. We cannot use our today to judge the past, but we can learn from it, in order to identify the stumbling, mistakes and even hurt caused. Just as importantly, we can use our today, to bring forth what was good in the past, in order to not only be better, but to be great.

Greatness – the possibility for people to individually and collectively shine – is a blessed pursuit. Not for ourselves, but to sow greatness of spirit and generosity, to nurture greatness of kindness and compassion. These are some of things that Christians disciples do well as justice-servant leaders. When we do this knowing that we are God’s Beloved children, then that is the very message we must take into the legacy we intend to leave: when all is said and done, what legacy do we intend to begin to nurture now for those yet to come?

Thanks be to God

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2018-11-20T20:42:51+00:00November 8th, 2018|Tags: , , , , , , |

4 Comments

  1. Jane Burton November 9, 2018 at 08:35 - Reply

    As the throng of refugees approaches the US it makes me think about your reflection and I wonder how purity and plurality fits into this reality of human suffering and despair. What would God want us to do? Do we throw open the doors or not accept unless they have been properly vetted? This becomes part of our legacy indeed. May God give our leaders the grace knowledge and humility to make such decisions.j

    • Dea. Richard November 9, 2018 at 11:07 - Reply

      I think that is indeed a great example. Framing it in binaries or right and wrong, I have found, too easily allow us to dehumanise one another. With deep listening and reflecting, however, options and opportunities may become clear as opposed to right – and wrong. Perhaps that opens space for the knowledge and humility to which you refer?

  2. Jane November 9, 2018 at 12:47 - Reply

    Thank you for your words of inspiration and faith as this provides clarity.

Your reflections are most welcome!

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