Questionnaire Responses of the Rev. Cathy Hagstrom George
Please note that the Rev. Cathy Hagstrom George withdrew her nomination on October 23, 2011
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?
Prayer is the heart of my life. Daily prayer, monthly spiritual direction, and annual spiritual retreats inspire the discipline, and provide the encouragement that keeps my prayer life vibrant. My pattern of daily prayer began at summer youth camp where I was taught to set aside time each day for God. Over time, my walk with God has come to the center of my life, deepening my friendship with Jesus.
Reading and meditating on Scripture, or spiritual reading, then listening and talking with God begins my day. In the morning or at mid-day, centering prayer (the practice of silence) increases my ability to pray in the midst of activity. Whether making difficult decisions, or enjoying laughter in the food pantry kitchen: practicing the presence of God in the moment, sustains me. Silent meditation increases my ability to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit when life is far from quiet! The practice of yoga and meditation incorporated into my prayer life grounds and unifies my spiritual practice.
God has blessed me with mentors, spiritual directors, and friends who have encouraged my discipline, and increased the intimacy and honesty of my prayer. Sister Katharine Hannigan, former Director of the Center for Spiritual Direction was my guide for 15 years, helping me learn to keep my focus, in all things, on God’s action. Sister Miriam Pollard, the Cistercian Abbess at Santa Rita Abbey in Sonoita, Arizona taught me to rely less on feeling, and more on my conviction of God’s presence in my life and the lives of those I live and work with. Curtis Almquist, SSJE, master of spiritual direction, has been an immeasurably helpful guide in my spiritual life. For over 20 years, spiritual direction has guided my prayer life and helped me notice the ways that God is present in daily life. Set apart from the daily routine, the uninterrupted time of annual spiritual retreats builds a foundation for my daily practice.
Articulating and sharing a spiritual vision with others is something I do through sermons, spiritual writing and my style of leadership. After church, I am often asked: “how did you know what I needed to hear?” Before preparing a sermon, and before preaching it, I pray for the people who will hear it. I ask God to give me the words they need to hear. Preaching is a way for me to offer public pastoral care, prophetic challenge and articulate and share a spiritual vision.
Positions of leadership have given me opportunities to share a spiritual vision. Prayer, in the heat of a stormy meeting, gives me courage to lead people and allows me to invite the Spirit to guide our deliberations and decision-making. The detachment that is a fruit of regular prayer allows me to stay focused on my role as overseer.
Leading St. Anne’s in the Fields in the renovation of her beloved sanctuary began by my carving out space for us to pray together. Growth in the membership of the parish necessitated that I lead a small, relatively comfortable parish to think big about her mission. Helping the parish to broaden our parish mission began in prayer. My spiritual vision for the parish, that God was going to use us in ways we had not yet imagined, was rooted in prayer. As we faced roadblocks, and successes I continued to ground our work in prayer. As parish leaders began to expand their vision of their parish community, we embraced growth, new members, and a $4.6 million dollar capital campaign. Our work was never focused solely on building a beautiful sanctuary or creating meeting space. Spiritual growth took place in our parish through the accomplishments of our building project and our subsequent outreach to the inner city. We learned to recognize God in our midst.
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?
My leadership is characterized by collaborative team building, with a clear delineation of authority. Through strategic planning I have led communities in shaping worship (how we pray), mission (how we go from prayer into the world), stewardship (how we find the time and money to do it), and evangelism (how we invite others to join us).
My style of leadership is to step into the fray, to be in the midst of people, listening, working together, grappling with the issues we face — and stepping a part. I have found it helpful to cast off in a boat alone, or turn to the mountains to pray, climb a hill that enables me to take in the landscape of the people I am serving with a wide lens. As overseer my role is to lead with the whole organization in mind. Keeping a broad perspective, while building inclusive teams of the constituents necessary to make considered, wise decisions.
During my 12-year tenure as Rector of St. Anne’s in the Fields I undertook a successful leadership role. Membership began to grow, and we faced the challenge of a building that needed renovation and expansion. We needed space to devote to the ministries we felt called to; a youth group room, children’s classrooms, space for silent prayer and meditation, a theological library, conference rooms and offices, a parish hall to host our weekly forum, fellowship, dinners and receptions. We renovated our sanctuary, increased the seating capacity, and designed liturgical improvements reflecting our life together in worship.
The lay people and clergy I worked with inspired my leadership. We learned to argue with each other, compromise, and stay together. We learned how to improve our argument rather than raising our voices. I regularly reminded people ready to move in one direction of the importance of bringing others with us, and asked those who did not want one thing to listen to why it was so important to someone else. At times my leadership role resembled that of a referee, asking one person to stop talking and listen, asking someone else to speak their mind here in the meeting, rather than afterwards in the parking lot.
God has given me the gift of perceptive and intuitive leadership — finding the right person for the right task — and it is invaluable to me as a leader in the church. At one juncture I needed a decisive, bold voice to offer a financial challenge, at another the calm voice of trusted wisdom. My goal was to guide lay leaders in a manner that ensured that the resulting renovation and deepening spiritual maturity of the parish community belonged to them. Ninety percent of the parish contributed financially to the building project and the fundraising work was spread across a team of 40 people.
At one point I paused the project’s time line in order to pay attention to the fracturing of the parish community. Differences of opinion over the renovation of the historic sanctuary were dividing the community. I insisted on sacrificing expediency for unity. We slowed the pace, and talked to each other. In parish gatherings people spoke openly about the pain of having their church community change. We took time to listen to each other. Leaders shared a vision for building a church for the future, imagining people they would never meet coming to worship God in our parish. With the guidance of a monk who I invited to lead the vestry through a weekend retreat and discernment process, the vestry arrived at consensus and was ready to lead the parish.
A faithful elder in the parish voiced strong opposition; she did not want the sanctuary she loved to change. One weekday morning, after its completion she was in the sanctuary giving her neighbors a tour. There was pride in her voice as she told them why we changed it as we did, how she can hear better now, how we gather in a circle for communion, how the whole community came around the font for her granddaughter’s baptism.
As a leader I consistently seek guidance and input from a team of people. The energy, skills and creativity that emerge from a variety of perspectives becomes more than the sum of its parts. A search committee participated in hiring each staff member. It was clear that I bore responsibility for the hiring decision, but I welcomed and depended upon the full participation of members of the parish. I work best when leading a team I can trust and rely upon, people who will disagree with me, and believe in me.
My call to the inner city taught me new ways to lead. I arrived to communities with no sextons, or secretaries, and buildings in terrible disrepair. Where would I find resources? I hired two 20 yard–four ton dumpsters and we filled them in an afternoon. I began to carve out office space, and rooms for us to meet in. We needed plumbers, exterminators, and electricians. I called upon city leaders, and experts from across the Diocese as I immersed myself in the diverse parish community.
My leadership meant something different in a world that communicated less with words and more with expressions, attitudes and phrases that held significant meaning. I developed new ways of listening. I was a stranger in a strange land. I got lost in neighborhoods, floundered as I sought to understand my role, and struggled to learn how to be trusted. People communicated at vestry meetings in ways that were foreign to me. We all spoke English, but I was learning a new language. They looked at the floor when one warden spoke, or rolled their eyes when they met each other’s glances, but didn’t say anything. Once in the middle of a meeting the senior warden asked a question and when no one answered and he turned to me and asked me to run the rest of the meeting!
I learned new skills. I watched people’s eyes, paid attention to their expressions as much as their words. They quoted Scripture to make a point allowing me to sense the urgency of an opinion. I sat, I watched, I prayed, I listened and I learned to ask for help. I learned to admit when I needed something explained or repeated. I learned to laugh at myself, and use humor to build bridges. I learned to respect and understand new ways of communicating.
Trust in my leadership emerged as I consistently did what I said I would do, never missed a meeting, learned names, and laughed often and easily. What I had come to know as holiday weekends: Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day, now, in my city parishes, these were weekends people enjoyed celebrating together, they were Sundays that vestry meetings took place. Laughter was key, and thanks to the people God places in my path, it has become a part of my ministry. Preaching sermons and officiating at baptisms and funerals gave me an opportunity to offer pastoral care. I added food from my table to the community meal after church on Sunday, as everyone did. At the same time, I had to deliver bad news: the rectory must be closed, it had extensive mold, a safety hazard. The cost of the roof repair was far outside the budget. We would share worship with a sister church.
The leadership in one of my two churches refused to merge to secure their future as a parish. The Bishop and I met with them, and I forged a way for us to move ahead together. The two parishes are merged in mission, joining together to feed over 100 families each week at our food pantry and joining the youth groups. We invite each other to special services, and attend funerals together, and the mutual affection, in the midst of the discord, is an unexpected blessing.
St. Mary’s began a new chapter in her life, her renovation was assessed at $2.8 million and we had $400,000 from the sale of a nearby closed church. I invited experts to analyze property values, zoning, and assist in the renovation. Under the guidance of a project manager who was a member of Diocesan Council we squeezed every drop of juice from our $400,000 orange. A new furnace allowed us to worship in the sanctuary in winter. A new roof, exterior paint, flood-lights, and fencing: interior floor sanding, carpet and paint made it sparkle again. Under my leadership a stunning Historic landmark now welcomes new members and raises the esteem of one of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. We began with a community of 12 my first Sunday and on Easter this year we welcomed 114 people to our celebration.
A playground for a children’s summer school was designed, funded and built through partner churches I invited into the city to work with us. A tutoring program for youth, a concert series, our youth group’s steel pan drum band and the expansion of our food pantry allows St. Mary’s to be an oasis of safety in the neighborhood and a place that reaches out to its community.
I would begin a strategic vision for the Diocese of New York by listening. What are people asking for? Why is this need felt? What has been done in the past? What are the implications of the changes that need to take place? How broad is the consensus, and what steps would the Diocese need to take to realize a goal? Exploratory conversations across the Diocese, led by Diocesan lay and clergy leaders would broaden and share the vision. Once clarity emerged and an accompanying urgency to reach the goal, a strategic plan could be developed. Teams of leaders would be invited to take on roles necessary to build interest and momentum in larger cross sections of the Diocese. Leaders would prepare for the conflict that will take place when differences of opinion and opposition emerge. Then fundraising begins. Guided by the Holy Spirit, my leadership would shepherd the strategic plan, inspiring and motivating the community of leaders that would bring it to completion.
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?
A good pastor is an attentive listener. Years of pastoral experience have prepared me for the role of chief pastor to the clergy and laity of a Diocese. I am a naturally empathetic person with emotional intelligence. My experience has equipped me with pastoral wisdom and judgment to guide clergy. I have faced tragedies with families and parishioners, (suicide, mental illness, parent’s losing children, domestic abuse and divorce, court rooms, and burn units). I am comfortable and prayerful in the face of emergency situations that call for pastoral leadership and decisive discernment.
Juggling administrative and pastoral roles has been a regular part of my work as a priest. Constraints of time naturally bring the two roles into conflict, but one role is empty without the other. When possible I pass the administrative tasks to a staff member with demonstrated capacity to fulfill the role. I feel equally qualified for both roles, but when one interrupts the other, I consider myself a pastor first.
There are two kinds of administrators. One is an administrator whose work enables and supports the work of a leader (if you have worked with a gifted administrator you know what I mean). The other is an administrative leader who takes the work of others and leads, putting ideas into action, galvanizing a group, articulating a vision, preaching a sermon, leading a meeting, and inspiring others to lead. This is the kind of administrator I am. I cannot work alone; I rely upon talented administrators that enable me to take up administrative leadership and its essential public role as Bishop.
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?
The Diocese of New York has qualities that embolden it to provide leadership in the House of Bishops, in the cultural, political and religious centers of New York, and across the Anglican Communion. Its size and diversity give it the capacity to represent the broad Anglican blessing, as relevant in our world today as in the time of Jesus, of unity without uniformity, proclaiming the message: all are welcome.
I have a passion for broad diversity. I love differences in people, in cultures, in traditions, and practices. St. Mary’s community includes poor and professional, gay and straight, Caribbean Anglicans, former Roman Catholics, black, white, young and old. The Episcopal Church is small, but we are large-hearted. Spanning the protestant and catholic spectrum, home to conservative and liberal alike. In an era of divisiveness and line drawing in our national and international communion The Diocese of New York’s unity speaks volumes to the larger church; demonstrating that it is possible, as Christ’s body, to join hands and sit at table with each other, regardless of the differences that define us. What calls us together is stronger than what pulls us apart.
The Anglican embrace of difference is a hallmark of our tradition worth proclaiming. In May of 2004 Massachusetts law legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples. The Bishop appointed me Chair of the Diocesan Task Force on Same Sex Unions. Our charge was to formulate policy and provide theological, legal and liturgical resources to Diocesan clergy and congregations. The committee faced the implications of a legal ruling that exposed a wide range of opinions and passions, as several parishes prepared to secede from the Diocese over this issue. I convened a committee of theologians, lawyers, clergy and lay people to offer resources to the Diocese. As Chair, I held disparate groups together toward a common goal, defining the Diocesan response to the legalization of same sex marriage. Conversations were not easy, stark differences emerged and were hurtful. People did not agree, but no one left the Task Force, and no one was discouraged from speaking.
The Ecumenical Institute at St. John’s, Collegeville, Minnesota has invited me to participate in seminars with Christians of all denominations. Aware of the differences included around an ecumenical table, we locate what we share in common and build on it to forge a future that increases understanding and appreciation for what is different.
Respect for difference is the foundation of interfaith dialogue. I am inspired by Muslims’ uncompromising devotion to surrendering to God, with lives interrupted at intervals throughout the day for prayer. I learn from the teachings of Buddhism a quality of detachment, central to its practice, that enhances mine. Far from being thrown off the center of my faith, interfaith dialogue deepens my practice of faith. The Bishop of Sweden and Dean of my seminary, Krister Stendahl, was an early, esteemed leader in interfaith dialogue. He warned against what he called the “bland soup” of reducing religions to what they have in common. “Holy envy” was his term for grasping the distinctive character of another’s faith tradition. Tasting the distinctive spice that gives each tradition their flavor was the principle that could guide religions toward appreciation of each other’s uniqueness. The Diocese of New York has the gifts and the challenges of diversity empowering it to speak a prophetic word for unity, not uniformity.
The Episcopal Church is a church of welcome. We do not require people to believe one way, vote one way or practice one way. A variety of practices have sprouted from the orthodox earth of our tradition. Honoring the authority of Scripture, inviting our experience in the world to inform our faith through the gift of reason forges the fire of a faith that looks to the future with much to offer the world we live in.
Talk to young people who will carry our faith into the future, they care very little about the arguments dividing conservatives and liberals. They care a great deal about making a difference, doing something for those in need. They are more acquainted with AmeriCorps, Teach for America, Medical Missions, and Peace Corps than they are the church. Few of them ever imagine themselves belonging to a faith community. The church has been too shy in sharing its mission to inspire care for others, while offering a community in Christ, nurturing and sustaining the spiritual lives of its members, offering a place to belong and a path to grow one’s soul. The church stopped speaking to a whole generation that I believe is hungry to embrace the gospel.
In my affluent suburban parish, no one was interested in giving lip service to our concern for those who had less than we did. We wanted to make a difference, to get to know people different than we were. We went to an inner city parish that hosted an after school program to tutor, to repair buildings, to build a summer program, to create a playground, to help with medical evaluations, and college preparatory work. The increasing gap between the richest and poorest of God’s people troubled us and called us to action. Jesus’ uncompromising care for the least and the lost called us into relationship across the great divide between inner city and suburb. It called me to leave my community and serve in a community that I have come to know as highly under-resourced economically and educationally, and highly resourced spiritually.
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?
My professional experience in leadership, in the Diocese, in growing rural, suburban and urban parishes, in leadership development and ecumenical councils, have endowed me with gifts that prepare me for this call. My love for young people and children, my respect for the wisdom of our elders, my enjoyment of people different than myself prepares me for this call. My relationship with Jesus, study of the Bible, preaching, teaching, and pastoral gifts prepare me for this call. And prayer, the animating force of my ministry prepares me for this call.
I love the sight of open church doors, flung wide for all to enter, and staying open to call us back out into the world. My favorite place to meet the church, the people of God, is on the street, in school, at the hospital, in the cafeteria, lunchroom, police office, boardroom, or ballroom.
I strive to “live out by word and example, the Good News of Jesus Christ in all aspects of my life”. Looking for this quality in your next Bishop drew me to your search. I have a prophetic voice that strives to articulate the “Christian faith for the 21st Century.” The story of Jesus of Nazareth, the cross of love on Calvary, and the forgiveness emanating from the sacred heart of Jesus is hiding under a cultural bushel. Our churches cannot become museums for tourists when our story is so alive and its song so well-tuned to the problems we face in the world. God has given us a powerful heritage in the church, she is ours to care for and shape and use for the 21st century. What could be more exciting than that? Being able to express our gratitude to God, by catching our dwindling church in free fall and opening our hearts to ask God to show us how to resurrect it with a prophetic word for the world we live in, with the balm and comfort to the souls of the faithful that come to her.
Gifts God has cultivated in me over my years of ordained leadership respond to the hopes you have for your next Bishop. I love the church for offering all of us a family beyond the families who raise us. I love that we are a place that young and old come together, where republicans and democrats drink from the same cup, where jazz preludes, Gregorian chants, and Hip Hop; tattoos, dreads and earrings, blue blazers and ties are all welcome. I love the wide spectrum of our belief and practice, the diversity of our race, color, and spiritual practice. Our institution fails and triumphs like any other, but the people, through reconciliation and forgiveness and the power the Spirit gives to us, are the church that I love.
I am a strategic thinker, a prayerful pastor, someone who loves to hear a good sermon and preach one. The first time it dawned on me that God had endowed me with the gift of leadership was in the sixth grade. My teacher scrawled across my evaluation: “Cathy will be a great leader some day!” I can still see his swirly handwriting on my report card, and have never forgotten his words.
The words of your profile: “take heart, you are not alone” drew me to read further. Your definition of yourselves as “ordinary people coming together to do extraordinary things in Jesus name” defines what I love about the church. Despite the looks, location and budget of our buildings, the body of the faithful is the living membership that gathers to hear and receive the presence of Jesus and return to the world to live in him, and with him. I am open to this call most of all because of who you are; your love for your churches, your love of your unfinished cathedral, your capacity to stay together across the spectrum of languages, and backgrounds and your desire to be led by someone who can articulate the gift of our faith for the 21st century.