Bishop Sauls writes to the staff

Bishop Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church, sent the following e-mail to the church’s staff yesterday in the employee newsletter. In it he discusses the role of the Church Center staff:

Not Being Overcome by Fear

Our attention as a staff will undoubtedly become increasingly focused on General Convention as we enter the homestretch to July. Some of that attention will be on various resolutions reflecting things that we as a staff are working on. Some of it will be on what it feels like to be micromanaged by a committee of over a thousand people. A great deal of it, no doubt, will be on the budget and the budget’s consequences for the work we do and on our livelihoods. There is no doubt that General Convention is an anxious time for the staff of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. It is for the Church as a whole, too. And it is even more anxious at this moment of fundamental change, and indeed, crisis.

With that in mind, it is perhaps a good time to remind you of something I said when I first had the chance to address you as a staff last September.

I believe The Episcopal Church is being called to a great adventure at this particular moment, the adventure of reforming the Church for a world unlike any it has ever tried to serve before. All of us, to one extent or another, are having a hard time letting go of what we have known in favor of grasping what is becoming and, indeed, shaping what is becoming. It is true at all levels of the Church’s leadership. It is true of bishops, dioceses, congregations, and individual members. It is true of the General Convention. It is true of us as a staff. It would be untruthful of me to tell you there was no element of risk in this adventure before us. In truth, I think there is a great deal of risk in it.

The very name of our organization, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is adventurous. Being a missionary is inherently adventurous. What we are setting out to become is a domestic and foreign missionary society in a much more fundamental way than a mere corporate name, in a much more adventurous way than we are currently doing, in a much more risky way than we have had to do before. I think the world’s salvation may be in that. I know ours is.

We as the staff of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society have the opportunity to lead that adventure, and I am determined that we will. Leadership is risky business as I have certainly found out in the last few days. It is dangerous. I have found that out, too. But the adventure is going to be a lot more fun, I promise you, than attempting to cling to an old way of doing ministry that no longer matters. We might be able to prop up the system we have for a few years more, but the new world God is creating is coming nevertheless. God’s word to us at this moment, I am absolutely convinced is, “Go for it.” For the truth is that we as the DFMS staff will either shape the future or have it shaped for us. And if it is shaped for us, it will then be imposed on us. We have before us the opportunity to shape our own future or stand passively by and let others do that for us. I just don’t think passivity is a very healthy spiritual position to be in. And, as you have heard me say, working for the Church ought not be a spiritually damaging experience. Whether it is or not is largely up to us.

This is where we now find ourselves. What are we going to take the opportunity to shape? Will be “go for it” or not? Will we lead or be led? Will we serve or hide? Will we be active or passive? What the Church needs from us right now is leadership. We have work to do.

So, here’s one other excerpt from my September address to you, then my new colleagues and now my trusted colleagues.

Here’s what really matters. Going for it is always better than not. Adventure is always better than safety. Safety, it seems to me, is at the root of a lot of boredom, a lot of status quo, a lot of disease, and a lot of stuck, but not much at the root of God. That is why it never ceases to amaze me that so much about religion is about playing it safe. Now what I’m about to say, I realize, may be heretical. This, you will come to realize, is not unusual. What is interesting to me is that the word safe is the noun form of the verb to save. Religion may be mostly about being safe. Faith, on the other hand, is not. Faith is about adventure. In truth it involves no small amount of risk. The risks can be material or spiritual, often both.

Being safe is, of course, one metaphor the Bible uses to describe the experience of God, but it is not the only one, and I don’t even think it is the main one. The main one is much more about risking and adventuring. Abraham and Sarah were called to leave their safety in Ur to seek an adventure in God’s promise of a new life. Moses is called to leave the safety of tending his father-in-law’s flocks into a very risky confrontation with Pharaoh. The Hebrew people were called to leave the safety of their lives in Egypt to seek the more difficult path of freedom. Amos was called to leave the safety of dressing sycamore trees to speak on behalf of justice. Jeremiah was called out of the safety of the womb to speak dangerous truth to power. Andrew, Peter, James, and John were called to leave the safety of what they were used to for the adventure of what they were not. I find myself a lot more interested in the adventuring than in the saving. In fact, I think adventure and being saved in the truest sense are actually the same thing.

All this has something to do with why the most prevalent angelic message in the Bible is this: Do not be afraid. It is what the angel told Mary when God had an adventure to propose to her. It is what the angels told the shepherds when suggesting they leave their flocks behind to go in search of something else. It is what the angels told the women who found the tomb empty on the first Easter. Like Mary and the shepherds and the woman at the tomb, it helps to be reminded of this basic message: Do not be afraid, or in other words, “Go for it.” Go for it because what is safe and secure is an illusion, and illusions are never of God. God is in the adventure.

When the people of God choose adventure, there will always be someone urging what is safe instead. Sometimes they will actually do everything they can to prevent the adventure. Safety is admittedly tempting. I just don’t see much evidence that God is much in it. It was the adventure of the Exodus that became the standard for the people of Israel. I’m not sure I can think of a time when Jesus ever chose to play it safe. None of the people we regard as saints were much about safety. “Fear not,” the angels always say, which of course doesn’t mean not to feel fear. It means not to be overcome by it.



What are your thoughts about his e-mail?

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Category : The Lead

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  1. Bishop Sauls writes: “For the truth is that we as the DFMS staff will either shape the future or have it shaped for us. And if it is shaped for us, it will then be imposed on us. We have before us the opportunity to shape our own future or stand passively by and let others do that for us.” – I rather disagree with the good bishop about the role of the national church staff. I don’t believe the future of the church is theirs to shape. That is the job of the General Convention, of the deputies representing the people of the church and of the bishops. And, yes, what the people of the church through their representatives determine the future to be is “imposed” on the staff – I would rather say “entrusted to” but however one wants to view that, that is the polity of our church. Staff does not decide; staff carries out the decisions of others. The future is not “imposed” upon the church by a relatively small hired staff; it is delegated to that staff by the General Convention.

    In my opinion, too much is already “decided” by the staff and simply rubber-stamped by the GC. The recent uproar about the proposed budget for the coming triennium is a case in point. This is a staff-driven budget and the people of the church apparently are not happy with it. One hopes that the deputies and bishops will have heard the concerns of church members, and reorder the priorities in that budget, and make it clear to the staff what the future of the church should be.

    One hopes, too, that everyone in the process will do their work prayerfully and listen carefully to the promptings of the Holy Spirit because, when all is said and done, the future ought to be understood to be fully in God’s hands, not ours. Not the staff’s, not the bishops’, not the deputies’ … God’s.

  2. Wayne Kempton

    I’m not comfortable with saying that General Convention is the ultimate arbiter either. Ultimately the people in the pews vote with either their treasure or their feet.

  3. Paige Baker

    I confess that my first thought was “Did you have Bishop Sauls’ permission to publish this?”

  4. Jim Hammond

    Is Bishop Sauls really saying that it is the job of the Staff of TEC to shape their work and the future of TEC? I hope perhaps I misunderstand him. He even seems to speak condescendingly, even dismissively, of General Convention, when he speaks of being micromanaged by GC. Wow.

    The General Convention of TEC is the responsible body for determining the shape, direction and future of TEC. If I were a Deputy to GC (which I am not), I would pay ever more attention to the material coming out of 815 given what Bp. Sauls appears to be saying.

    Jim Hammond

    retired priest

    Warrenton, Virginia

  5. Elizabeth Kaeton

    It’s a ‘pep talk’ to a staff I can only imagine to be very anxious.

    I’m curious to know what Bp. Sauls means by “Leadership is risky business as I have certainly found out in the last few days. It is dangerous. I have found that out, too.”

    Did I miss something? What happened “in the last few days” to teach something the good bishop should have learned years ago.

  6. I read this and checked to make sure it wasn’t April 1. This is an unbelievable statement. But it certainly highlights Bp. Sauls misunderstanding of his job and the job of those who work at “815”.

    His job is to lead the staff, their job is to follow the lead of GC, not call the shots. But now the incompetently forged budget makes perfect sense as it preserves staff jobs so they can “lead”.

    Were there a past or present history of leadership from the staff we might cheer. But there simply isn’t. The tradition is actually the sort of dismissive arrogance shown in this letter, a perfect look at a total institutional culture,

  7. Rev. Thomas Ferguson

    Elizabeth, I believe that’s part of what he is quoting from his original September address, and the “last few days” refers to the kerfuffle from his proposal for a Special GC at the HOB.

  8. Elizabeth Kaeton

    Thanks, Thomas. I guess I missed that memo about the kerfuffle at the last meeting of the HOB. I’m glad he’s getting some push-back.

    I think Sauls knows his job. I know he knows how TEC works and the centrality and importance of GC. I think he’s deliberately – some might say desperately – pushing the envelope.

    Say something enough times and it begins to sound like the truth – or, at least the way it should be.

  9. Pepper Marts

    A number of years ago I wrote for a meeting of Via Media:

    “Bureaucracy’s chief sin is idolatry. Members of an institutional body are encouraged to idolize that body and put its welfare ahead of whatever the original purpose may have been. This assertion is equally descriptive of governments and their military services, of corporations, and of the Churches. The first victim of this institutional idolatry is truth. The second is beauty.”

    It appears nothing has changed.

  10. Jan & Susie Erdey-Nunley

    Note that, judging from the DFMS personnel list, at certain pay grades, the experience of risk seems to be unnaturally attentuated.

  11. Mary Ann Hill

    I’m a first alternate deputy, and I was at the Province VII pre-convention meeting this past Friday and Saturday. The Presiding Bishop, the President of the HOD, and Bishop Sauls were all there and spoke to us. My understanding is that their presence at the meeting was unusual.

    There is a lot of energy and a lot of angst around restructuring. Given what I heard Bishop Sauls say Friday night, I read this as a pep talk for a staff who may be much more comfortable with the status quo. The sense I’m getting is that he’s encouraging them to be proactive and embrace the possibility of change to come.

    There are certainly people involved in GC who desperately want it to remain as it has always been. Maybe pushing that part of the envelope is not a bad thing…

  12. Jim Naughton

    Mary Ann, I think there is good news on this front. I don’t think many of the leaders of the General Convention are opposed to significant structural reforms. Of course I don’t know them all, but the ones I know believe significant reforms are necessary.

  13. Michael Russell

    Bp Sauls’ comment about 1000 people “micromanaging” the staff is out of line and sets the tone for the letter. As is his comment about having a future “imposed” on the staff.

    Frankly the staff needs some “macromanaging” since the financial staff, with three years warning could not produce a competent budget document and apparently lack the professional saavy to either do what EC told them to do or to ask questions in a timely fashion to gain clarity.

    The practice of dumping big items on GC on the last day with a “you have to pass this” message has to stop.

    Bp Sauls should spend his time helping the staff perform their most significant duties instead of trying to restructure TEC or encourage the staff top think they are TEC’s leaders.

  14. The seat from which I view the action on the field is too far in the nosebleed section as to be helpful, so a thousand volunteers or whatever – it matters less to me. I do think the interpretive material about adventure, etc. is interesting. In this sense the bishop could’ve been a great blogger, and I suppose still could. As a pep talk to a staff, I dunno.

    Torey Lightcap

  15. John Simpson

    Wow…tough room.

    As I understand it, the structural reform the staff is preparing will result in the downsizing of that very staff. Isn’t it natural the staff “feel” a certain trepidation about this? But the work goes on.

    In the end, GC calls the shots. Are we, the faithful, being prayerful and acting accordingly to inform the debate and move in a healthy direction?

  16. tgflux

    If you’re going to dump on the staff, could y’all at least TRY putting yourself in their shoes? Empathy?

    JC Fisher

    who is not/has never been TEC staff.

    @ WayneK: “Ultimately the people in the pews vote with either their treasure or their feet.” What’s wrong w/ the parish/diocesan meeting? Actually democratically VOTING?

  17. Lionel Deimel

    It sounds to me like Bishop Sauls is leading a palace coup, not trying to reduce anxiety.

  18. Bill Dilworth

    It seems awfully convenient to state that the present mess the Episcopal Church is in is a “call to a great adventure” on the level of the call of Abraham; framing it as “God’s will” sure sounds nicer than “We screwed up.”

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