1) Describe your relationship with Christ and how it forms your ministry.
Years ago I walked into a church and saw a radiant resurrected image of Christ with beams of light projecting around the face. The image was both invitational and joy-filled. In ways that I’ve never been able to articulate yet always sensed, the image clarified who Christ has been and will always be for me. Christ is the One who extends a loving, caring presence when my life gets turbulent. Christ is the One who promises that, through the cross and Resurrection, we are inheritors of eternal salvation. Christ is the One who invites each and every one of us to see the possibility of the Kingdom of God in full fruition here on earth. Christ is the One who offers us forgiveness so that we may know the absolute depth of unconditional love and share that love as we forgive others.
Yet this gift of Christ is not solely for individuals to be made whole. Rather, like the image over the altar, Christ shines on the world which is in so much need of love, renewal and compassion. For me, Christ is the One that offers unity in discord and joy rather than despair. Christ of the world shines light as we fight injustices and offers hope in the reality of climate change. Christ of the world offers us abundance when we may feel a sense of scarcity. Christ is the Light whose radiance stretches across time and space into our hearts and souls.
2) What is it about our profile that gets you excited and how do you think your skills and experiences are well-suited to serve the Diocese of New York as Bishop Diocesan?
The Diocese of New York’s map is what initially excited me. Having spent more than half my life in the Diocese, I recall the rural roads in Callicoon, the winding Hudson River and the busy city streets. In these landscapes and communities, the thing that strikes me is that we are all bound together in love, hope, and the diversity of God’s creation. The joys and possibilities for a vibrant church rests in the people and places as we put uncertainty behind us, looking forward together to the promise of a new creation in God.
I was raised in Washingtonville when it was a rural community. I attended Fordham University at Lincoln Center. Early in our marriage my husband and I decided to settle in the Mid-Hudson River Valley, where I was working in the environmental field. We found our spiritual home at St. Peter’s, Peekskill. We were welcomed into the congregation known for radical hospitality, outreach, inclusivity and deeply nourishing worship. St. Peter’s is where our children were baptized, my husband served on the vestry and I realized my life-long calling to ordained ministry. In New York, I am home.
Yet I’ve been gone from NY for over a decade and recognize that, just as I have changed, so has the Diocese. It has faced unprecedented challenges and unexpected opportunities. In this time, I’ve grown as a leader also facing challenges and joy-filled situations which deepened my faith in the living Body of Christ.
At the congregations I have served, I’ve realized the important need to discern what God is calling us to do. At St. Paul’s, our congregation has reimagined our church space as a hub serving the larger community, and bringing in many new community groups to our space. I’ve been intentional about building opportunities for shared ministries with other denominations and faith traditions, which I understand is foundational to the identity of the Diocese of New York.
As the Chair of the Episcopal Church’s Task Force on Care of Creation and Environmental Racism, I’ve learned to lead from behind, allowing the extraordinary breadth of experience and knowledge of the members to guide our mission and program. It’s a model of leadership that can serve many facets of Diocesan work, including commissions and boards.
Finally, I have learned by sitting on boards and committees that leadership is about listening and giving room at the table to fully hear other voices. I’ve begun to learn to look around, consider who is not at the table, and extend invitations. I recognize that there is always more growth to do in this area of leading. Yet I know that this type of leadership can be transformative and life giving to any organization, particularly for a Diocese which is socially, economically, geographically and racially diverse.
3) What new and hopeful perspectives and ideas can you bring to the conversation about church decline that support and encourage long-term solutions?
Among the ideas I’ve considered to address the changing church, five seem particularly relevant that may help to inform a vision for the Diocese of New York.
Supporting faith communities in transition
St. Ann’s in Washingtonville, the loving, life-giving church where my parents worshiped for over forty years, is closing. When the doors of the church closes for the final time there will remain faithful, resilient people. I imagine ways of sustaining those faithful people which may include house churches or new shared community spaces. In these and other creative spaces people would gather for the love of God. With the guidance of the Spirit, those “smoldering embers” will be rekindled for all who have and continue to be faithful to the Body of Christ.
Reimagining ministry with youth and young adults
Youth ministry is central to my calling and I still continue leading a youth group at my current church. When developing our annual youth program, I always ask the teens what they would like to do as they know what will nourish and sustain them. My own two children, now young adults, have grown up in the Church. They recognize that God is present in the world and in their hearts, yet feel the church is not always relevant to their lives. Young adults are more than capable to develop their own vision for the Church that honors tradition while speaking to their current realities. I would suggest that the Diocese take a time of faithful discernment, and gather feedback from youth and young adults about what will help their faith flourish. Then, together the entire church commits to help enact their vision.
Formation of diaconal leadership
I’ve been blessed to share ministry with an amazing deacon who has consistently reminded me and our congregation that we are called to be outside the church walls. Having seen the transformative effect a deacon can have on a congregation, I would be honored to help the Diocese expand the discernment process for today’s realities, encouraging people in all stages of life to respond and live fully into their calling.
Sustaining lay leadership
Without strong lay leadership, the remarkable changes in our congregation would not have happened, yet juggling busy lives with church ministry takes a toll. We’ve begun to develop short-term efforts for lay leadership to join, while shortening the terms of the wardens. As a Diocese, we can model short-term lay roles in our committees. Recognizing the ministry of all people and responding to those who feel called, we can offer opportunities and training to encourage lay preaching and lay-led Daily Offices.
Sharing our resources
There is widespread anxiety about financial resources and human capacity. At St. Paul’s our connection with nearby churches has created shared concerts, programs and services. As we strengthen the bonds of faith with neighboring congregations, we foster frank conversations about how well-resourced churches can share with churches that are not as well-resourced. Building on this work, we may faithfully move forward in collaboration and cooperation.
4) Social justice is near and dear to the heart of the Diocese of New York. How has social justice been a part of your ministry? Please give examples.
For as long as I can remember I have been passionate about my love of Jesus and my love of God’s creation. Jesus was present as I camped near the Ashokan Reservoir, walked near the Hudson River and throughout my career educating and protecting the environment in the Hudson River Valley and the NYC watershed.
As I responded to the call to ordained ministry, I felt the tug in my heart to integrate what had been two separate parts of me – my deep love of Jesus and my care for the environment. Over my years as an eco-minister, my understanding of care of creation has evolved. Initially, I saw my role as a steward of creation, caring for the world because of love of God and love for future generations. That still remains true as congregational greening, community gardening and energy efficiency are important to the lives of many congregations and God’s earth.
As I’ve engaged more broadly in the church and nation around the climate emergency, it is apparent that the climate crisis is at the intersection of so many of our social justice ministries: environmental racism, food insecurity, the plight of refugees, immigration and poverty. We have experienced climate driven droughts, fires, floods and hurricanes impacting all people. People of color, indigenous people and those who live in poverty experience the most extreme impacts of climate change. As a church, we have worked to recognize this reality and to create a climate justice movement. I have been part of this growing movement, along with so many strong lay and clergy leadership.
Hoping to foster prophetic preaching, I have led preaching classes on “Hope in the Face of Climate Change.” As part of my personal commitment to educate my community around justice issues, I have regularly written newspaper columns about ecojustice and environmental racism. I have participated in lobbying in Washington, DC seeking better renewable energy solutions. Since 2015, I have helped draft resolutions and advocate for fossil fuel divestment and reinvestment for the church, speaking at General Convention
legislative hearings. In 2014, I organized a bus called “A Journey of Hope” for people from throughout New England to participate in the People’s Climate March in NYC. As chair of the Task Force on Care of Creation and Environmental Racism we have re-focused our grant programs to encourage creative ministries that address the intersection of climate change and environmental racism. In the 2018 General Convention, I was honored to address the joint House of Bishops and Deputies to speak about God’s creation.
5) Given the impact of COVID on the life of our ministry, we are curious about how you will pastor our congregations, both clergy and laity.
In the uncertainties of long COVID and the impact of COVID on countless broken families, the pandemic has hit us harder than we could have ever imagined. However, the sad reality is that COVID is only part of our daily struggles. We are drowning in the ravages of rising gun violence, the long delayed movement to racial reckoning, the realities of living in the midst of the climate crisis and the threat of a widening war in Europe. Some of us are completely exhausted. Some of us are numb. Many of us have righteous anger.
In this new reality, we are best helped by prayer, fasting, rest and rejoicing. As we witnessed after September 11, there is a collective need to lament shared tragedies. I can imagine the Diocese calling for a season of healing with rituals allowing us to reflect, mourn, and acknowledge our dependence on God alone.
From both the pulpit and in communication opportunities, I believe we should strongly encourage people to give themselves permission to turn away for a short time from the constant barrage of overwhelmingly negative news. As Christians, we are without a doubt called to witness and respond to the tragedies of the world; yet if we are continuously beset by the magnitude of the world’s suffering we risk paralysis and despair. A temporary fast may give us emotional space to refocus on goodness and hope.
I’ve also been intrigued by dioceses that encourage church staff to take time off to rest and recover. In my current Diocese, my staff and I have been deeply blessed by having the Fifth Sunday of the month streamed by a different church, letting us worship without leading.
Creative ideas like this can build up energy for the journey ahead.
Throughout these past few years I have preached and written newspaper columns about taking time to delight in each other and God to help us heal through what seems like the darkest of times. Pausing to rejoice in all that God has given us and to enjoy the goodness of one another and the earth, allows us to recharge our batteries, and restart with new eyes and hopeful hearts to fully experience that abundant love.
6) A significant part of episcopal ministry is overseeing administration, property, and financial development. Give some examples of when you have done this kind of work and what you have learned from the work you’ve done.
I have found much satisfaction in tackling financial and administrative items facing our congregation. Early in my tenure, it became clear that the nursery school, a centerpiece of the church and community for 60 years, would need transformational change including replacing the school director who had served for three decades. It also became apparent that the financial relationship between the church and school would need to be formalized. With vestry and school leadership, we began a nearly year-long process of developing an Agreement of Understanding outlining a payment structure, areas of individual responsibility and shared expectations.
By re-establishing the lay-led Buildings and Grounds Committee, we have identified capital and operational needs for the next 5 years and developed a list of priorities to be addressed. We then launched a capital campaign for immediate needs. With an aging infrastructure and large campus, we’ve begun to take the early necessary steps to ensure that our buildings and grounds will continue to be maintained.
Like almost all churches, our congregation has seen a drop in pledges. With a doubling of nursery school enrollment, we’ve been able to increase the school’s annual contribution to the church helping the church’s finances to stabilize. We are also now strategically looking at how to leverage our assets, including our property, to decrease the continued withdrawal from our savings and endowment.
One of the hardest parts of leadership is responding to the personal toll some decisions have on individuals. In my first year, it became clear that several staffing decisions were required for the church to function more efficiently. With the support of the leadership team, we identified staff who needed to be let go and developed a pastoral process to implement those decisions.
Throughout these changes and opportunities, I have been reminded again and again that consultation, collaboration and cooperation with lay leadership is the only way forward. I am always mindful that I am a short term steward of the church, while our congregation will continue to be stewards in the decades ahead. Lay leaders are often strained by family, professional and personal commitments so I’ve focused on Ad Hoc committees and short term assignments for leadership to jump into problem solving and stakeholder support. With God’s help and with deeply faithful leadership, our congregation continues to work through the issues that appear in a multi-faceted and engaged community.