By Kelly Brown Douglas
Within 25 years, most Americans will be people of color. This demographic shift has brought to light the reality of bigoted injustice, oppressive intolerance, and white supremacist ideologies that have long been a part of the nation’s social, political, and even ecclesiastical fabric. It has catalyzed even greater resistance to pluralism in some quarters. Within this context of racist and xenophobic resistance to America’s increasingly diverse population, we must ask not only what it means to foster faithful leadership, but also what it means to be Church. For to be Church is to embody the reality of God’s future, in which all people are treated as sacred and valued human creations regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual expression, or religious beliefs. Being Church, therefore, requires carrying forth into the world Jesus’ ministry of sanctuary and witness.
Sanctuary means fostering gracious spaces for all who are made to feel targeted by social, political, or ecclesiastical structures, practices, policies, ideologies, and ways of thinking. Witness involves working to dismantle and disrupt dehumanizing and degrading systems, structures, ideologies, and beliefs so as to make real the justice and love of God. So we must ask: how do we prepare faithful leaders to be sanctuary and witness in a world that belies God’s future and thus stands in opposition to what it means to be Church?
Such preparation involves critical historical, theological, and liturgical engagement with the diverse richness of the Anglican/Episcopal communion by a deep spiritual foundation. Through this engagement, students will gain the foundation for faithful leadership in a culturally and humanly pluralistic world by recognizing the array of human traditions and experiences that allow us to appreciate more fully the reality of God.
This way of preparing leaders also allows us to explore and learn from the Anglican and Episcopal churches’ complicated story of both encouraging justice and advancing injustice. Finally, engagement with the diversity of Anglican/Episcopal traditions fosters appreciation for the relationship between social-cultural contexts and liturgical and worshiping practices, thereby allowing leaders to develop new liturgies for changing and diverse contexts even as they are practiced in the standard liturgies of the church.
If the Episcopal Church, which is 90 percent white, is to thrive in the future, we must produce leaders who can respond to the experiences and realities of a non-white nation and world. By doing this, we can perhaps lead the way in being Church faithfully.
The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas is dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary and canon theologian of Washington National Cathedral.
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One question, eight reflections
This is the second of eight essays in which The Living Church and the Episcopal Church Foundation asked eight of the foundation’s Fellows this question: How can we form faithful leaders for tomorrow’s Church?
The eight voices published here represent only a small cross-section of over 50 years’ worth of ECF Fellows whose work continues to focus on forming leaders for tomorrow’s Church.
ECF identifies and supports scholars and ministry leaders who are committed to forming the next generation of leaders, both in the seminary classroom and beyond seminary walls. The application process for the 2018 Fellowship is now open and the deadline is March 16. If you would like to learn more about becoming an ECF Fellow, be sure to visit the ECF website.