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By Ven. Perry Chuipka  

I found this quote by John P.Kotter: “MORE CHANGE ALWAYS DEMANDS MORE LEADERSHIP.” The message in that quotation could have easily been Domenic Ruso’s theme for the ministry clinic he led but he had it right in calling it, “LEADERSHIP IN UNCERTAIN TIMES.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this clinic, hosted by the Faculty of Theology at Huron University in partnership with the Anglican Diocese of Huron. Let me say more about our leader. The Reverend Domenic Ruso who has a PH.D and is the Pastor of the 180 Church in Laval, Quebec, guided us with his new insights about being a leader during this uncertain time.

He served us a healthy balance of new leadership concepts sprinkled with his own personal inspiring stories of ministry. He also engaged us by having several small group discussions which I found invigorating as I listened to others in my group sharing meaningful ministry experiences.

One of the things that I found particularly fascinating was the way that Domenic began our session by unpacking this word “leadership”. He gave us this image that we are working alongside people in our organization to discover where God is leading us forward. It is not about who is in front or who is the most important; rather it is about journeying as the Spirit leads us forward. 

Domenic put it this way: “Leadership is about helping others understand that their life matters to God... their lives matter in the purposes of God.” The emphasize is not about the leader having the answers but working with everyone’s questions so that together our faith communities can discover the work God has for them.

Domenic also gave us a fresh new way of looking at this term leader. A leader might re-imagine his/her lives with people, as they walk with God. Leaders, like everyone else, are constantly learning as we walk with God. He referred to the word disciple which in Greek refers to, “student”. Leaders are called to be spiritual leaders, lifelong students, continually learning about God in their lives. This learning practice allows us to be depended upon God’s grace in our journey.  Domenic pointed out that leaders in the church have a unique role as they are called to lead across four or five generations. Each generation needs different things. As leaders we are creating room for each generation to hear how their lives matter to God.

Further on in this clinic, Domenic gave us four important steps that led us to looking at change in our own unique context.

The first step: “to listen, to honour the values and sacrifices unique to the inherited church.”

In order to do this the leader needs to pay attention to the values and sacrifices of his/her faith community. Then find creative ways to celebrate them in your church.

For example, in one of the churches I was responsible for they had several people die two years before I arrived. I came with all these ideas of how I wanted to grow their church. However, a week after I arrived, an elderly woman in the church came to my office. She shared that so many of their important leadership had died in the last two years and that people were grieving the loss of so many principal players in their faith community. She said to me, “if only there was a way to honour them somehow?’ 

Afterwards I had a meeting with the Sunday School Superintendent and I told her what I had heard from one of our elderly women.  The teacher reaffirmed that woman’s observations. The Sunday school teacher had an idea. She loved art. She asked me about getting the Sunday school kids to make white stain glass doves with the deceased people’s names on it. There was a huge beam that was attached to the ceiling in the basement. Her idea was to paint it blue, create a few puffy clouds and hang the doves up there to show that our loved ones have went on to our maker. I took that teachers idea and brought it to our next council meeting.

Everyone loved the idea. So we went to work with this new project which I would have never seen coming if not for the elderly lady and our superintendent. After the doves were created with names of loved ones put on them and the beam was painted blue, we held a special little service at our coffee and tea time downstairs after church one Sunday. It was a celebration of life for all those loved ones who died in the past two years. We honoured those loved ones. Each time people came down to have coffee and tea they saw their loved friends above them, still with them on their journey. It fit into that saying, “a great cloud of witnesses-God’s saints.” I thanked God for that elderly woman who came to speak with me.

The second step: “What are realistic goals for what change or renewal might look like locally in your church setting.”

It was pointed out that this would be different for each church community.  The importance of this step is to realize that each person’s realistic goal will be different from others. Allowing the discussion to look at all these goals will enable a healthy discussion which will empower everyone to have a say in the ways you move forward. The key is to trust the group to discern a healthy way forward. The next step would be to decide who would be the players in this group.

The third step: “Who needs to buy in and when? Where is trusted authority evident?”

Every church has a structure of authority. What is our structure of authority? Who is part of your authority structure? Who do I need to include in this conversation of change. What gifts and skills would you consider most important to have at this time? Having the right players as part of your structure along with inviting important chairpersons of groups will help with this discussion about change. This will send the message that it is not just the priest and the wardens making change but a body of key players who need to be a part of this change and who will convey this change to the rest of the faith community.

The fourth step: “How painful and risky will this become? Is your inner life ready for this leadership task?”

Domenic emphasizes here that your church body needs to be ready to move forward with change. As we say, “timing is everything”. The other important point Domenic made is that  it is just as risky to do nothing as it is to change something. Sometimes, we don’t understand the risk of doing nothing. It’s important to talk about these two important questions. 1. What’s at stake if we just stay where we are? 2. What are some opportunities to fulfil the vision/values and mission of the church?

In conclusion, these are some of the things that I gained from this valuable experience in this clinic. So now let me return to my original quotation, “MORE CHANGE ALWAYS DEMANDS MORE LEADERSHIP. I think all of us are learning that more leadership is required of us during this pandemic. Change is something that we need to continue talking about, continue learning about as leaders. Thanks to Domenic, and the rest of their team and to our Diocese for working in partnership with the Faulty of theology at Huron University with the leadership of Dawn Davis. Thanks also to our Diocese of Huron Coaching Team who helped facilitate the small group discussions. This clinic enabled our clergy, some of our laity and our other leadership across the diocese to have a conversation about dealing with change, helping us discover new ways forward for leadership in this very challenging time.                                      

Ven. Perry Chuipka is a co-chair (with Paul Townshend) of the Huron Diocese Congregational Coaching Team.