June 2002
Best Practices of Ministry

Personal Reflections on Leadership Challenges

Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman long ago helped me realize my limited capacity for facilitating change in persons, systems, congregations and Dioceses that are not motivated to change. In a conversation one afternoon Ed Friedman wondered aloud about “the good people of the world who are burning out trying to change the unmotivated.”

In my attempts to motivate the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana not simply to make superficial and perhaps easy adjustments, but to do more and go deeper — to change the way this small, relatively poor diocese relates to the world and to the larger church — I have described the challenge at the level of our “diocesan DNA.”

Focusing beyond survival
Shall we, can we, by Divine Grace change the DNA of the Diocese of Louisiana from that of a declining church very much concerned with ourselves, our survival, and our “issues,” to a missionary church focused beyond ourselves?

The first challenge was to convince Episcopalians in Louisiana of the greater risk — in remaining as we were — rather than launching out into the unknown as a missionary diocese. This was not terribly
difficult, since by some measures, namely that of Sunday attendance, we had apparently achieved during the Decade of Evangelism the honor of being the fastest declining diocese in the Episcopal Church!

Money follows mission
To frame the risk we began to describe the potential, in the very least, as “failing forward.”

Perhaps the best example of risking “failing forward” has involved the construction of the new Episcopal Chapel of the Holy Comforter to serve the communities of Southern University, New Orleans, and the University of New Orleans. A parish Church of the Holy Comforter was closing. They, and we as a diocese, committed to partner a new collegiate ministry.

To help build the new chapel and fund the ministry to these communities, I called upon one of our leading lay persons in Baton Rouge to ask for a contribution to our capital campaign. He asked, “Bishop, how many Episcopalians do you have at Southern University, New Orleans?” I replied, “None, that I know of. That is the point. We are not here as a chaplain to Episcopalians but as a missionary presence in two university communities.” The gent gave a nice gift. Money follows mission.

Walking in grace and trusting God is a spiritual truth into which we continue to grow. An early realization of our need to grow in grace — and God’s faithfulness to us — was the attempt to gather our diocesan family together for a Rally Day: a time of worship, prayer, learning, encouragement, sharing and fellowship.

Only a few registrations
The goal was set that if we could get 750 Episcopalians together in Louisiana we would have done a good work. Many said it couldn’t be done. Bishop Michael Marshall was booked to come over from England as our keynote speaker. St. Martin’s School was reserved, lunch boxes were ordered, and all the details in place, but few were registered.

Friends and advisors called to urge me to cancel, for this rally was going to be a flop. As my wife Louise and I made our way out to suburban New Orleans that day we got caught behind a line of buses. I urged Louise to get past this slow traffic so we could arrive early.

As we began passing the buses I looked up to see faces that I recognized. These were Louisianan Episcopalians making their way to St. Martin’s! I don’t know exactly how many showed up, perhaps 1014 or so. But most noticeable was the powerful presence of God in that place — a power and an effect far beyond that which I could have made to happen or even planned.

I believe this rally was a good example of God working in this church, and the church walking in and by grace.

From maintenance to mission
The challenges are many, and how this transformation effort shall mature is not as clear to me as I would hope. If the way forward were as clear as I want, little faith would be required to continue the journey from maintenance to mission. But I do have clarity about the triumph of Divine Love. God who became flesh in the person of Jesus has triumphed over death.

And as we grow into the image and likeness of Christ we find our lives grounded in, and enabled by, that same powerful love which raised Jesus to new life — our joy, our hope, our transformation.

Bishop of Louisiana since 1998, the Rt. Rev. Charles E. Jenkins and the fifty-four parishes of his diocese are raising $7-9 million to build a youth conference center, provide seed money for three new congregations and expand campus ministry.

This article is part of the June 2002 Vestry Papers issue on Best Practices of Ministry