I hope you and yours are enjoying our rather rainy summer. Please join me in rejoicing and thanking God for a successful launch of the first-ever College for Congregational Development sponsored by the Diocese of Rochester. This week-long intensive involved the engagement of eighteen congregational teams of clergy and lay leaders who met and marinated in learning-communities. If you pause a little and take just that information in you will realize that about half of our active diocesan clergy sat in learning communities with their lay leaders to engage in intense aspects of everything from personality characteristics, spiritual practice, change theories and many more important aspects of being church leaders in this changing world.
Along with these teams, we also had representatives from four neighboring Dioceses, namely, Central Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Western New York and Central New York. We are grateful to Paul Frolick and Alissa Newton (Diocese of Olympia), for organizing and leading a team of trainers from around the country alongside our own Sara Peters, Chris Streeter, and Winifred Collin, who helped immensely with their dedicated work in pulling this vision off. Many thanks to Diocesan Council and Convention for supporting this vision, which will help with our fruitfulness for decades to come. It’s about healthy leadership, saints!
We have also experienced, in our larger world, some stark expressions of hate and saber rattling with white supremacist group protests and counter protests, alongside the threat of nuclear war. In keeping with what I have been saying so far, let me reflect a little on what I perceive as a subliminal impact of leadership. Jesus famously said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” I believe, good shepherding is one of the clearest fundamentals of leadership that assumes that the long-term culture of a system, be it a household, an organization, a community, or a country, takes its cues from its leader/leaders.
When I was a young priest in South India, I worked under a Bishop who was quite irritated and seemingly angry about almost everything. As a person, I had a lot of respect for him. He was one of the pioneering Dalit Bishops in the Church of South India and was a passionate and gifted man. He was just angry most of the time. He would manifest his anger by yelling at people and especially by publically humiliating people he disagreed with almost with predictable consistency. Intellectually, I did not appreciate this kind of leadership. Most of us were just afraid of him and would avoid him as much as we could.
After serving under him for a few years, it occurred to me one day that I was tending to raise my voice with people in my system when we had disagreements. I realized slowly that even though I did not intellectually approve with or appreciate my Bishop’s leadership style, I was beginning to mimic it unconsciously. Our leaders impact us, whether we agree with them and their style of leadership or not. It is a cautionary to all of us because these attitudes and behaviors, as I found out, are not logically determined. They are the kind of things that are informed and controlled by what scientists refer to as the limbic system of the brain, located on both sides of the thalamus and beneath the cerebrum. The limbic system is also referred to as the paleo-mammalian cortex. In his book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek speaks of this and its impact on what makes us tick as and work toward becoming healthy leaders. I recommend the book, but more importantly the practice of being still and reflecting on Jesus, the good shepherd and his teachings.
Have a safe and refreshing summer!