Trust the Process
By Jade Mohorko Ortiz, part of the Vestry Papers issue on Vestry Leadership (January 2017)
I grew up in the Foursquare Church, an evangelical Pentecostal denomination. My dad is a pastor and my earliest memories include helping my dad minister to marginalized people who were homeless and in need of rehabilitation. My dad ran a sort of halfway home and used Christian military-style rehabilitation techniques to help people who needed him the most. The leadership in my dad’s church was basically him, alone. He would make all the decisions although I remember, over time, that he would include my mom and me in the administration of the Church. He never got paid, but did have to keep careful financial records to send to our denomination. He always had to have other side jobs to be able to make ends meet, but we always had food on the table, even if it was just arroz con gandules (rice and beans).
I started going to the Episcopal Church because my dad and Anthony Guillén, rector at the time of All Saint’s in Oxnard, CA knew each other from their community ministerial work. Anthony knew that my dad was a musician and had a praise band, and wanted to liven up the music during the English service. He invited us to come over to sing once, but very soon it became a regular thing. People were receptive to the music and we started attending services regularly. After a while, we stopped playing and my dad and siblings stopped attending, but something kept me at All Saints. I continued attending the Sunday service and one day Anthony asked me why I wasn’t taking communion. I told him that I was not sure what communion meant in the Episcopal Church. In response, he asked me what it meant to me and said that I thought it was the representation of Christ’s body and blood. He said that was exactly what it was and it could mean anything I wanted it to in my life. My previous experience with communion was firstly, taking it once a year in my Foursquare church at Easter and secondly, feeling hurt for not being able to receive it in my aunt’s Roman Catholic church even though I really wanted to. I decided I would take Communion the next time I was at church. Anthony said that he saw a tear rolling down my cheek when I took communion and he said, “Welcome home!”
The Value of Lay Leadership
One of the things I admired the most about the Episcopal Church was that there was order. There were steps to take, rules to follow, and although it was sometimes uncomfortable, I knew I had to trust the process. I realized one of the reasons I loved the Episcopal Church so much was that there wasn’t just one person in charge. I did not know it at the time but there was a vestry that helped Father Anthony make the decisions and he was not the only one in charge. In my other experience, people helped out and would give ideas, but my dad’s was the final word. In the Episcopal Church, I saw that the vestry had the final say. I took some informal classes with Anthony and later understood they were confirmation classes. I learned a lot about the church through this process.
A turning point for me was the first annual meeting I attended. I saw that everyone on the vestry had a job. The people on the vestry wanted the best for their church and they were selected by the congregation. I saw a democracy because we were able to vote for the people who would represent us. It became clear to me that even if all the members of the vestry had different points of view, they could still work together for the good of the church. To me, this democracy held people accountable because they were being chosen by the people in the church. After the annual meeting, I became a lot more involved in the church. I even met my husband, Victor, in the Spanish service!
At one point, the vestry and Father Anthony felt it would be good to start a youth group so they invited all the youth, including me and Victor, to be part of a committee to discuss ways forward. The group came up with a lot of ideas but it was slightly frustrating because we had to wait for the vestry to approve them. I was so used to a one-person leadership style where things got done quickly but I realized it was a good system to have several voices even if it took longer to make a decision.
A Place for Everyone
Soon after, I left the congregation and moved away from California for seven years. When I returned, I witnessed some major changes. When I had first started attending All Saints, the Latino-Hispanic ministry was new and had introduced many changes, including adding the image of la Virgen de Guadalupe to the church sanctuary. This made the English-speaking congregation a bit nervous and this was manifested in the vestry. There were only a couple of Spanish speakers on the vestry at the time and they felt intimidated by the language and by some of the members. Anthony was very intentional about educating the Spanish speakers in all Episcopal Church matters. He also made them comfortable by providing everything in both languages.
Now that I have been back at All Saints for four years, I can see that there is fair representation on the vestry. The Spanish speakers feel they can speak up and know exactly how the vestry works. There are still differences (for instance, English speakers tend to want to follow the rules accurately while Spanish speakers want to follow the rules but also adjust them to better suit their lived experience), but because we have a process and order, everyone can be heard and work together for the good of the entire church.
There are three suggestions I would give vestries, especially those in churches that are multicultural and multilingual:
- Remember why you wanted to serve in the vestry. It is not only your church, but everyone’s church and we are all there to serve Christ.
- Recognize differences and learn from them. Learn to accept and respect the differences in the cultures and the people in the vestry, and communicate often.
- Think about the future. The decisions you make now affect us all in the future. There has to be change in order to grow. Tradition is beautiful and it is what first attracted me to the Episcopal Church, but our mission is what keeps me here.
I am grateful to God that my dad is an active pastor who taught me to help in any way I can.
I am grateful I met Anthony through my dad and was introduced to the Episcopal Church.
I am grateful that I am still learning to trust the process.
Jade Mohorko Ortiz is a Master's of Education student and teacher. Jade is a musician, children and youth director, and preacher at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Oxnard and is the Minister of Children, Family, and Youth at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Oxnard. She and her husband, Victor, have two children and live in Oxnard, California. She has a Bachelor's in History Pedagogy and will have her California teaching credentials later this year.
- "Episcopal and Baptist Governance" by David Perkins, Vestry Papers, May 2012
- "From Above or Below?" by Alberto Cutié, Vestry Papers, May 2012
- "Lift Every Voice" by Anna Olson, Vestry Papers, January 2015
- "Multilingual Leadership and Multicultural Churches" by Sandra Montes, Vestry Papers, July 2015
- The Constituency Model, a tool to map or demonstrate the levels of connection in a congregation or organization
- "Connectedness and Stewardship" by Sarah Townsend, an ECF Vital Practices blog post
- Who’s Responsible for What?" by Melanie Barnett Wright, an ECF Vital Practices blog post
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- How did you learn about lay leadership and decision making in the Episcopal Church?