By the time you read this, the Chicago teachers’ strike might be over. But it might not, and the way in which these events have unfolded gives pause to educators everywhere, especially those of us whose job it is to help shape faithful leaders. It was heartening to see so many local churches step up to offer programs for children (and harried working parents) who had no place else to turn. Less heartening was the confrontational rhetoric from leaders on both sides that almost immediately turned vicious and personal. All this in the midst of a national election where personality trumps fact, and where personal attack based on race or religion takes precedence over reasoned argument when push comes, as it does almost inevitably, to shove.
At the end of the month, I will be joining my colleagues Bob Bottoms, Ruth Frey, Diana Butler Bass and Bill Sachs in Ponte Vedra, Florida, for a conference on leadership, to be held at Christ Church, whose rector, Rick Westbury, is a Seabury graduate. You will see a full description of the program on our website. Although the program title focuses on leadership in the Episcopal Church, we are talking about more than church, especially in this election season. Unease about what it means to be a leader, and dissatisfaction with the divisive models we are being presented in the public square (and too often in the church), cut across denominational lines. Leadership is not a Biblical word. But as I hope to explain in Ponte Vedra, leadership is nevertheless a Biblical imperative. In this time of polarized politics too often founded on polarized readings of Scripture, part of our challenge as Episcopalians is to reclaim the Bible—and our own heritage as Anglican Christians—as both source and mandate for generous and compassionate leadership in our churches, our schools, our neighborhoods and our nation.
We will be talking about these issues and many more in our time in Jacksonville. If you haven’t already registered, I hope that you will consider attending, and spread the word to other colleagues and friends who might be able to join us. We are grateful to the Chabraja Foundation for its support of this program, and for future programs like it in other parts of the country. These new ventures speak to Bexley-Seabury’s commitment to shaping leadership for the next generation of the church, whether in our MDiv program in Columbus, our DMin program with the Kellogg School in Chicago, or in our various joint programs in Anglican Studies and lifelong Christian formation. In the current demoralized political and religious climate, the mission of our new federation is more important than ever.