Questionnaire Responses of the Very Rev. Peter Eaton
1. Our Diocese is looking for a person with a robust and articulated spiritual life. Describe for us your personal spirituality and prayer life. What practices do you follow regularly? What experiences have most profoundly contributed to your spiritual life? What or who has most influenced you; how have those influences changed over time? How have you articulated your spiritual vision to others?
All my life I have been an Episcopalian, and this is central to my spiritual formation. For 25 years my work has been that of a congregational minister; my life and worship that of a priest. My spirituality is, therefore, relational, pastoral, and incarnational. I was raised in an extraordinary parish in New Haven which lived a rich, sacramental, focused, committed, inclusive Christian life. That parish gave me a faith in God that I have never had “to grow out of,” because it was a large enough faith to grow with me. As a consequence I have not missed a Sunday Communion since I was a child. This early experience grounds me even now in a spirituality of the community of the baptized — believing, belonging, and being transformed together in worship and mission. For me, spirituality is corporate as well as personal.
Anglicanism in different countries and cultures has shaped my spirituality and prayer life. I have lived and worked in three English-speaking Churches of the Anglican Communion, as well as among Spanish- and French-speaking Anglicans, and this has given my spiritual life a breadth from which I constantly draw. The congregations and colleagues with whom I have lived have changed me, expanded my sympathies, and encouraged my own growth in life in Christ.
I was formed from a young age through contact with desert spirituality. The living traditions of several other Churches have enriched my prayer and devotion. I became an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross at 15, and the discipline of the Rule has been the core of my daily rhythm for almost 40 years. As an ordinand I had a close relationship with the Sisters of Saint Margaret in East London. I have said the Daily Office since I became an Associate of OHC. I spend time in chapel before Morning Prayer each day, make two silent retreats a year, and
am under regular spiritual direction.
My involvement in the worlds of Islam and Judaism have opened my eyes to the spiritual riches of these Abrahamic traditions, and I have come to understand how we can appreciate each other’s integrities and learn from each other. In silence and contemplative practice Christian, Jew and Muslim have learned to hear the wordless voice of God in our complementary ways.
My spiritual life is bound up with reading, discussion, teaching, writing, and reflection. I have never been able to make the distinction between head and heart. My study of languages has also been a spiritual exercise. Equally, I have experienced God in my relationships with others, both in and outside the Church. The dinner table is a holy place. The cinema, the performing arts, literature, hiking, bike riding, snowshoeing, and even the “quotidian mysteries” of caring for a household, have been remarkable arenas of the Spirit for me. I have an acute spirituality of place.
In 2004 I was married for the first time and I discovered firsthand the mystery of marriage. Kate has been for me a living sacrament of God’s love, forgiveness, and commitment like no other I have ever known, and for which I am daily thankful.
I love congregations, and am passionate about their vitality and health. I have been fortunate to have worked in parishes of different sizes and resources in various communities and in dioceses that have the full range of urban, suburban, and rural congregations. I have served as a mentor for clergy and as a consultant for congregations. The clergy and laity whom I have been privileged to know and who have brought me into the joys and sorrows of their lives have enriched my spirituality.
Over the years, the manner in which I articulate my relationship with the living Jesus has evolved and known different emphases. For some time I have been in exploration of the Gospel of John’s compelling understanding of what it means “to abide” in Jesus. Among the many theologians who have shaped my spirituality have been William Stringfellow, Michael Ramsey, Anthony Bloom, Austin Farrer, Michael Mayne, Herbert McCabe, Sebastian Moore, and Helen Oppenheimer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and T. S. Eliot were staples at a young age. The Mexican bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo showed me the energy that liturgy, theology, commitment to those in need can produce even among non-believers. Janet Morley’s expansive English liturgical writing has changed my world, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel’s books on theology, spirituality, and women broaden my understanding, and the English rabbi, Lionel Blue, teaches me how to be open to the unexpected. Peter Gomes and Jeffrey John whet my appetite for deeper exploration of Scripture. Among poets I love John Donne, George Herbert, Mary Oliver, Jane Hirshfield, Ted Kooser, Seamus Heaney, and A. E. Housman. Films like Babette’s Feast and Of Gods and Men break open my prayer life in new ways, and sometimes music, from Mozart to Brahms to Bach and so many others, is the only language my heart can hear.
Christianity is about what we are, and what we are becoming: transformation and resurrection lie at its core. Truth is always important, but it is untidy, often inconvenient, sometimes just plain unwelcome. We may wish that this were not the case; but we know from painful experience that this is a fact of life, and a fact of life in the Church. Our Anglican spirituality has always been willing to face this human and divine untidiness, even if we do not know precisely how a problem will be worked out. We have been willing to endure suspicion and ridicule when we question the easy answer, avoid the quick fix, or distance ourselves from inflexible dogmatism. Yet this is what it means to make our lives a continual Eucharist of praise, thanksgiving and self-offering, so that God may continue to dwell among us to heal and transform.
2. Describe your leadership style. Where do you range on the spectrum between “big picture”, leaving execution to others, and “hands on”, giving your personal attention to details? Please give examples. How would you go about developing a strategic vision for the Diocese? The Diocese of New York is large and complex; its parts have varied strengths and problems. What sorts of tasks would you hold to yourself; what sorts of tasks would you feel comfortable delegating to others? What qualities would you look for in hiring Diocesan staff? How would you deal with disagreement, discord or disaffection within the Diocese?
I have always ensured that leadership is shared at every level of our life. This has ranged across the spectrum, from developing strategic vision, to deepening a commitment to the life of stewardship, to re-vitalizing existing programs, to establishing a new worshipping community, to embarking on fresh ventures. When I came to the Cathedral, I understood that I could easily become the bottleneck in which energy and enthusiasm could get stuck. So together we worked out a strategy to avoid this that has served us well and that enables me to be a useful participant, depending on need, from “big picture” discussions to specific help with particular issues.
Four years ago we began a new Sunday evening congregation. The initial energy came from several people, and we invited group of laity to work on this. After helping to get them started, I let them get on with it. From this emerged one of the most important, successful ministries at the Cathedral in years. The service draws 90+ (mostly the unchurched and the long-ago churched) to a creative, experimental Sunday evening liturgy that we call the Wilderness. It has caught the enthusiastic attention of Phyllis Tickle, Diana Butler Bass, and others.
Oversight demands discipline, and I have learned that I cannot know the details of everything that is happening. But I do know who does. From the perspective of our day-to-day life, although I take my place with others in our regular activity, nothing absolutely depends on my presence. In a large, complex organization like the Cathedral, this is essential. So much more gets done this way.
Strategic vision is a shared experience from beginning to end, and it comes out of focused conversations. The development of a vision begins with the dreams we all have about the dream that God has for us. There are many who can help bring these dreams to fruition in a diocesan-wide conversation, and strategic plans certainly help at this point. The bishop can embody the openness and enthusiasm that we all need in order to bring our dreams into reality.
In a diocese as diverse as New York, and in our post-modern world, it may be important to be open to “strategic visions” (in the plural) that reflect the range of opportunities before us that are contemplative, creative, grounded, responsive, and accountable, yet that are united in a common commitment to worship, nurture and mission. It is possible to sustain a “sacred center,” while enabling regions, inter-parish councils and other local groupings of the Diocese to reach the farthest margins of our diocesan life and live out a particular vision of their own which all can celebrate and affirm.
At this stage it is hard to say exactly what tasks I might hold for myself as the bishop, what I might share with other bishops, and what I might delegate to others. However, in the course of my rectorships, I have delegated every aspect of my ministry to others at one point or another, including my full authority as the Dean when I was on sabbatical. In every case it has been a time of growth for the community, for the individuals, and for me. I would make it a first and lasting priority to know the clergy and their families well, and to find a way in which I might meet with them to discuss their lives and ministries. In a diocese like New York, this is a huge undertaking, but several large dioceses have developed ways for the bishop to build solid relationships with the clergy. The best bishops to me have been those who have known me well, loved me, supported me, expected the best of me, and have themselves been experienced parish priests. I would want to model this.
From the bishop’s vantage-point the bishop has the responsibility to ensure that the community hears voices from every quarter, especially those voices that come from unexpected places at unexpected moments. Others can do this, too; but the bishop can support different voices in a unique way so that all may hear. The bishop is also the chief (but not the only spokesperson) of the vision, mission, and core values of the Diocese. I would be concerned to keep my own focus on the Diocese as gospel-centered, servant-hearted, and mission-focused in the broadest sense.
One of the greatest gifts that a bishop brings is to be present. This is more than simply having an important person in the room. It concerns all that bishops bring that is unspoken, but very real. The bishop’s presence is about showing God to be near and about caring about an individual, a group, or a situation. The bishop’s presence is about the care of the Church, and this can be very powerful. Our lives now and our future are bound up with each other, and it is part of the bishop’s ministry to communicate this by being present.
With respect to staff, I look for a combination of a thoughtful, flexible, imaginative, collaborative personality with specific skills and potential for growth. I appoint staff who enjoy their work, who know how to have fun together, who have a sense of humor and proportion, who embody the diversity of the community, who know when to ask for help, and who are committed to energetic mission. We all have some tasks to do that are not necessarily congenial, so we all need to laugh at life and at ourselves, and love what we do. In dealing with disagreement, discord, or disaffection, help needs to be as personal as possible as soon as possible. Sometimes things do not get to the bishop until they are complicated, even intractable. I would want to sustain an environment in which all members of the Diocese would know what resources on my staff are available to them and who can help at an early stage.
The Church has forever been a community in motion, following in the footsteps of a Master who is always going before us, and the Christian tradition has been our fuel, not our brakes. A fine image is the bishop’s crosier — a walking stick, a sign of that Celtic understanding that the bishop’s leadership is not confined to one place in a diocese, but finds its best expression of the bishop on the move, not aimless, but with intent, to the next opportunity for mission, the next community in need of encouragement, the next chance for the Good News.
3. A Diocesan Ordinary is at once Chief Pastor to the Diocese, especially its clergy, and Chief Executive Officer of the Diocese. What connection do you see between the two roles of the Bishop? How do you deal with errors or misjudgments of those under your supervision? How have you juggled pastoral and administrative roles in your prior and present positions? Do you think you are better qualified for one or the other?
The life and ministry of the bishop is intimately bound up with the life and ministry of the Church as a whole, and in reflecting on the specific work of a bishop one must begin with the larger Christian community. Our baptismal covenant demands this of us, and our classical understanding of the Church gives us the framework that will help us.
The Church is the living communion of love and trust — of our love for, and trust in, God, and of God’s love for, and trust in, us. It is that “wonderful and sacred mystery.” This communion of love and trust is not bound by time or space, by life or death, or by the distinctions between ourselves we so like to make. God has the inexhaustible trust in us that we will have the capacity to respond to that Love that is revealed in creation, and most marvelously in the birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is what grips me most about the mystery of our relationship with God in the Church.
The bishop always acts with others, and is accountable to the community of faith. The work of pastoral care and administration are two aspects of oversight, and one might add the bishop’s liturgical role as chief priest, and other responsibilities that are described in the ordination rite. But these are not differing, competing calls on the bishop’s time and attention; they form an integrated whole as the bishop seeks to live faithfully that particular share in the ministry of Christ that the bishop has been given. Certainly there will be times in any bishop’s life when the bishop will be doing more of one thing than another. But both the ordination rite and the Canons articulate the expectation that the bishop will go out from, and return to, the fullness of the ministry of oversight with colleagues so that each aspect balances the other.
Our leadership meetings at the Cathedral try to ensure that there are few surprises. That does not always happen, but it is our goal. My hope is that my colleagues will feel able to take risks, and not be afraid of inevitable mistakes. I would rather help deal with mistakes and errors of judgment than miss an opportunity for good. I have always surrounded myself with people who are smart and able, often smarter and abler than I am. As a consequence I also place myself under their assessment of my mistakes and errors of judgment. Leadership is asking the right questions and reaching into unfamiliar territory, and, if mistakes we make, making them in the right direction. With staff, clear expectations, regular conversations, and formative reviews all maintain effectiveness. In those rare instances when there has been a difficulty with a staff person that needs rather different attention, I have relied on the wisdom of other leaders to help.
At the Cathedral central principles guide us. One is our daily worship as a senior staff. So we have a built-in system of dealing especially with the unforeseen, because we see each other twice a day. Our general expectation is that pastoral emergencies take priority over everything else. In terms of our ongoing life, both pastoral and administrative work have time in the calendar of meetings as well as in our weekly schedule of work. In both areas of our life we include members of the parish who exercise serious and extensive responsibilities.
I love being a pastor, and I am always keen to be visiting homes and hospitals, and meeting with parishioners to explore their deepening transformation in the Gospel. There are aspects of administration that excite me, especially those that involve so many others in work that changes both their lives and the lives of those they touch. I have had to be both pastor and administrator in fairly equal measure. I have never been a lone ranger.
The ministry of bishops is changing, and the way that the next generation of bishops will do their work will be very different. We do not yet know clearly how these patterns of episcopacy will look, but in your history you have embodied many models that have sprung from new circumstances. You have provided resources for mission and ministry differently at different times, and these continue to evolve. Your financial reports, especially A Diocese That Serves and your narrative budget, are evidence of this careful response. Bishops lead as much by example and by encouragement as anything else, and I am excited at the possibility of exploring new models of episcopal ministry with you which will benefit not only the diverse communities that make up the Diocese of New York, but which will be helpful to other dioceses that face similar realities.
4. New York is one of the nation’s and the world’s major economic, political, and cultural centers. Historically Bishops of New York have played leadership roles in the National church and the Anglican Communion. How does that tradition fit with your vision of the Bishop of New York? What role should the Bishop of New York play in the House of Bishops? How should the Bishop of New York deal with other religious or secular communities in the City, in the Nation? How active should the Bishop be with respect to issues of economic or social justice? How would you go about creating that role for yourself? Which activities have you been involved in, which have particularly interested you; which are those you think you are particularly qualified for?
Our understanding of creation, as well as our faith in the incarnation, mean that there is no human concern that is outside the concern of God, and therefore of the Church. Our Anglican DNA makes us temperamentally unwilling to confine ourselves solely to our own denominational concerns: Anglicans have always had an instinct for caring for the entire community in which the Church is located. The history of the Church in the Diocese of New York sparkles with the Church’s broad attention to the needs of all, especially of those who have nothing, and who would have no other voice if the Church did not speak with them in support of them.
In the face of these questions, once again I understand the ministry of the bishop within the life of the baptized community as a whole. It is the vocation of God’s royal, priestly people to stand in the breach between our history and our hope, to be the living, sacramental sign to everyone of God’s original purpose for creation and to proclaim God’s sure promise that this original purpose will be fulfilled. This fulfillment is heralded chiefly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and continues in each and every place, in each and every life, where we die to self and the hope of new, resurrected, eternal life shines in the darkness.
The ordained are sacramental signs of the ministry of Jesus in the Church that we share: all the baptized are called to service, and all are called to offer the sacrifice of praise. Bishops are representatives of a Body that knows itself to be a community of ambassadors of Jesus Christ and the reign of God in a world that God loves so much that God gave everything for our life. So the leadership of the Bishop of New York in all these areas will be intimately related to the leadership that all the baptized exercise at every level of the Church and the wider community. Leadership can come from anywhere among us, and often from an unexpected source. The bishop’s high-profile meeting at the UN or with city officials in Manhattan will be grounded in the bishop’s understanding of the place and community in which the bishop lives. Such events will be related to a confirmation in Saint James, Callicoon, for example, or to a parish celebration at Trinity, Saugerties. They are a seamless garment.
The ordination rite speaks to the breadth of the bishop’s role, and the bishop’s responsibility to join with other bishops in counsel for the well-being of the Church is clear. A bishop cannot be separated from the community of which the bishop is a part, and where, in fact, the life of the Church unfolds. As a body, the bishops act together with the rest of the Church. The Diocese of New York is fortunate in having more than one bishop, and in these responsibilities, as in every other aspect of episcopal ministry, I would value and depend on my bishop colleagues.
The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine is a good reminder to us of all the issues that you raise in this question. Like our Cathedral in Denver, your cathedral is unfinished, and beyond the rather superficial observation that the building up of the Body is never “finished,” we can claim our place in co-operating with God in bringing to completion that great vision of a new heaven and a new earth which is God’s promise to all.
Your Cathedral is a symbol of this, for in its bays, chapels, windows, and sculpture, it is not a narrowly ecclesiastical building, but a building that seeks to embody the life of the world. From labor and medicine to law and motherhood and more, your Cathedral declares that nothing human is outside the concern of God, and therefore of the Church. An unfinished cathedral also reminds us of the funny, messy, incomplete way in which we Episcopalians are prepared to live the Christian life as a Church, but which, we believe, is the best way for us to minister in a funny, messy, incomplete creation, where there is both much human joy as well as much human misery.
A desert monk once said, “Our life and our death are with our neighbor.” To be a neighbor in the Gospel sense is the imaginative and emotional risk of being willing to be precisely the sort of friend and ally who understands that my life and death are bound up with your life and death. It is a serious business, but it is full of joy, growth, and the discovery of our common life and our common destiny in God. We are saved together.
Here, as in every aspect of the bishop’s activity, the best is demanded of bishops. Prejudice and principle are not the same, and the bishop is in a unique position to help shape our public discourse, to enable us to rise above our biases without abandoning our convictions, and to show us how to distinguish between the two. In a time of shrill voices, the bishop will show a steady hand; in a time of indifference, the bishop will know how to inspire. Bishops need the gift of “tongues” — the ability to speak with different people in different circumstances. But they also need the gift of “ears” — the ability to listen to many voices, and to hear not cacophony, but symphony. Bishops have a huge opportunity to be articulate and imaginative spokespersons for a life in which religion need not be the enemy of spirituality.
As the Bishop of New York I would put myself in the way of creating relationships with leaders not just in Manhattan, but in the other communities encompassed by the Diocese. In my experience, civic leaders welcome religious leadership. I have been involved in a range of public concerns, including education and schools, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, affordable housing, race and immigration, and every parish I have served has a long history of social and outreach ministry both at home and abroad. As a result of our reputation in our community in Denver, I was asked to give the opening prayer at the Governor’s Inauguration in January. In all these ways does the bishop act to lead us in the mystery of God’s love for the world.
5. By entering our process, you have indicated that you are open to the possibility that God might be calling you to this important and challenging ministry. Tell us why you think you are open to that call. After reviewing the material in our information packet, which of your professional and personal experiences would equip you to meet the perceived needs of our Diocese? Which of your gifts and qualities?
The Diocese of New York is a unique community, and there is such richness to your life. You embrace the world within your congregations, religious communities, special ministries, and outreach. This openness and inclusion are at the heart of Jesus’ own ministry, and the Church is at our best when we live these same commitments. For your bishop, this means a flexibility and an attentiveness that I find invigorating and life-giving. I resonate with your declaration “We may not always be of one mind, but we are of one body — the Body of Christ.” This is the message of hope that we have for a new future for the human community.
God’s call comes to us in community, and the Body of Christ is made in a mystery. There is something compelling and often beyond description in our response. As a priest I have placed myself at the service of the Christian community, and those who know me well believe strongly that I should be open to this discernment because of the gifts, experience, and leadership that they have perceived in me. I am genuinely honored by this encouragement, and I have learned over the years to be attentive to the God of surprises. In turn I have considered carefully the qualities that you describe so fully in the section of your profile “Whom Do We Seek?” and they speak strongly to me.
With respect to your desire for a bishop who lives the Good News, I am committed to living the pattern of Jesus’ life as we know it principally in the Gospels and in our Baptismal Covenant. For each of us our lives are an exploration into God that is both death and resurrection, the dying of the old so that the new may be born — in us and in the world around us. Given my background and the circumstances of my life, I am energized by diversity and I love being with people in a range of contexts, from worship, to parish celebrations, to conferences, to retreats, to gatherings for various purposes. As a pastor I have always been moved by the confidence that others have shown in me by opening to me the tender places of their lives. I am vigorously healthy, I am never shy of hard work, I enjoy raising money, and I am eager to learn.
We are called to proclaim the Gospel afresh in each new generation, and this offers a particular opportunity to the bishop. There has been a long tradition in the Diocese of New York of voices that speak beyond our walls. I am reticent about claiming that I speak with a prophetic voice, but I have been a part of congregations that have displayed the words and actions of a beloved and authentically prophetic community. I am encouraged by your desire to have a bishop who both listens and speaks, and who will have the courage to speak truth not only to the world, but also to the Church, for we must be willing to be transformed ourselves into the change we wish to see. Our language is all about “community” and “communion,” and in our striving to be faithful we remember that love is the crown and glory of the Church and our life together.
As one whose father was a priest and professor of Old Testament, I was impressed at an early age by the centrality of the Scriptures in our life and our proclamation. Each day both in worship and in preparation for preaching and teaching I am drawn in, confronted by, and captivated by my reading and study of the Scriptures. As I grow in ministry, the Scriptures continue to reveal new excitements and commitments to me. The Anglican tradition has been the spiritual, cultural, and intellectual grounding of my life, and I value the experience I have had of Anglicanism in different countries and cultures. I have learned that the truth is to be trusted: we welcome truth from wherever it comes. There are reasons why, in every community, and in every time, others have looked to the Episcopal Church and to Anglicanism for leadership, because at our best we understand how to live faithfully and fully in our tradition while being able to relate at the deepest levels with others to find common ground and common purpose for the common good.
I am committed to this heritage, and to the Church’s vocation to be a builder of bridges, an encourager of civic dialogue, and a facilitator of change. I have been engaged both locally and globally in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and activity for many years, and we are a leader at the Cathedral in our Abrahamic Initiative. I also sit on the Episcopal Church’s Standing Committee for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, and have organized and participated in a number of local and international inter-religious activities. Most recently I was a member of the first group of Christian clergy chosen from across the country and the denominations to be fellows at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and I was a participant in the 2009 Common Word Conference at Georgetown University.
The bishop is both servant and pastor par excellence, and this finds its chief expression in the bishop’s ability to be open and compassionate to each person and each situation in all their uniqueness, while being able to relate their uniqueness to the fullness of the whole Body. To be a steward means, therefore, to understand our life as a whole, and to take the long view. In this commitment are the seeds of a ministry of reconciliation.
In our congregations, we encounter God in worship and community, and place ourselves in the way of God’s transfiguring Spirit. In them our children are nurtured, taught and given a faith for a lifetime; those in need are cared for in a variety of ways; and those beyond our walls experience Christ made real for them. I can celebrate and preach in Spanish and French, and I would welcome the opportunity to strengthen my language skills. I have varying degrees of ability in a number of other languages as well.
Administration is central to the building up of God’s people for ministry, and is a means for sustaining our mutual interdependence. Strategic planning is about gathering the community to ask fresh questions and to dream new dreams. Bold leaders are willing to take risks, believe in the dreams that the People of God have dreamed, and lead us in the confident expectation of the new things that God has in store for us.
In This Planted Vine, James Elliott Lindsley ends his story of the Diocese in this way: “Whoever writes this history is constantly aware of what can, and can not, be written: the prayers gone up, the lives enriched, wrongs confessed, compassion enacted, human dignity asserted, wisdom gained, the Christ seen and God praised. That is, and must ever be, the history of the Diocese of New York.” From learning about you since you invited me to enter this process, it is clear to me that you are committed to the extension of this remarkable witness into the future. It would be an honor to take this journey with you.