June 28, 2019

Leadership: Trust in God and Pray

One of the odd perks of being a millennial, even if an “old” one, in the Episcopal Church is that I have always been expected to be a leader. Someone once suggested that it’s because I have some special quality or other, but probably it is just because I have continued to show up. Given that nearly all the millennial Episcopalians I know, no matter their shape, size or color, are also priests, I suspect that my experience is not entirely unique. Although this sort of experience may have been more common than I realized at the time, parts of it still strike me as odd.

During my youth there were plenty of occasions when I was asked to take on some small task or to coordinate some small group, which is all meet, right, and good. I imagine that this is normal for most kids who grow up in church. The odd part was that most of the time I was the only kid who showed up to church. This resulted in quirky absurdities like being named the leader of a youth group of which I was the only member. (I even received diocesan training for it!)

Being the only person my age in the church often created the puzzlement: What do you do with a kid who shows up at church Sunday after Sunday? The default answer always seemed to be “Put him to work.” You can imagine the creative ingenuity required of members of the clergy. Most were welcoming and supportive. They gave me books to read and things to do—Lead Morning Prayer, sit in on vestry meetings, visit Bible studies, teach Sunday school classes, pray with Altar Guilds, and show up to funerals for those whose labors had come to an end. One bishop was really creative and told me to become a missionary. (And I did!)

You can learn a lot about the church when you when you show up day after day, week after week, and the church can be full of surprises (good and bad). Perhaps the most surprising thing at the time was that so many people my grandparents’ age and older trusted me to be with them, to pray with them, and to lead them, even if but for brief moments, and little by little, those churches that allowed me to lead in their own way taught me to do so. I like to think they trusted me to lead because they trusted God to lead us both. I remain grateful for the many saints, who now rest with Jesus, who prayed and trusted that the Holy Spirit would guide me along way.

Since those teenage years, I have tried to study the question of leadership with a little more precision. I’ve read books, I’ve chatted with experts and practitioners, but I am convinced that spending so much time in church with people of that older generation was what truly prepared me for leadership and the sort of cross-cultural ministry I've been involved in for several years now. It taught me to try to listen and to understand those who differ from me in some way, whether it's age, appearance, ideas, language, or culture. I must confess that there are days when all this feels like really hard work, and, as much as I would like to have nice formulas with lots of ready-made answers, leading people isn’t easy. Those are the days when I return to the lesson the kind folks of that nearly-past generation taught me: Trust in God and pray.