Questionnaire Responses of the Rev. Canon John T. W. Harmon
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?
My personal spirituality and prayer life is simply one of paying attention and listening for God. I desire to lead a life that encourages a deeper relationship with God, humanity and the world. I believe that Prayer and Christian Spirituality is an essential part of every Christian life, and even more so in the life of a bishop, who is called and set apart to be an exemplar of the faith.
My spiritual and prayer life is most invaluable to me. I strive to protect my personal time and space for prayer, devotion and study, all of which are critical to my vocational life. They are the well from which I drink. Like Samuel, I seek the counsel and support of the elders in my life and I benefit from their constant reminder to say: “speak Lord for your servant is listening.”
As a way of practice, my personal spirituality and prayer life has been girded and sustained by the daily office, Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey and St. Ignatius’ Examen of Consciousness. These are punctuated by periods of fasting from food and technology. As a way of enriching and breaking the pattern of my practice of the daily office, I do invite others to share in the experience and discussion of the readings for the day. Sometime ago, I spent three months saying the office with an elderly lady in her eighties. Praying with my wife and children is a special joy. I enjoy working with my hands, and the solitude of that time too is a part of my practice. I am also in spiritual direction.
When I was fifteen years of age, my mother died. Her death marked a critical moment, a shift in my spiritual journey. I experienced a spiritual maturity. My mother and father were my first teachers and practitioners of faith and worship, of prayer and hospitality. I grew up in a home in which regular family prayer was the norm. My mother and I were very close, she in many ways prepared me for her death and this actually freed me of the fear of death and the unknown. Her death brought into sharp focus the wisdom and faith that my parents had imparted to me. As my mother always said, “You belong to God. You are God’s child.”
My interest in the Holy Spirit and the Spirituality of Holiness heightened after her death. I knew the end and reality of the Easter story but it became relevant and clearer within my heart. Death and the grave have no eternal sting or victory. Further, her death crystallized a particular wisdom that I had previously taken for granted. In my usual busy-ness with Church activities, as an acolyte, and other ministries in the Church, my mother said me, “Don’t get too busy doing the work of the Church that you forget to do the work of God,” and it is this statement which frames my vocation as a priest. Now, I pray I will never lose sight of God in my desire and engagement with the activity of the Church. My question about my work and many things is always, “where and how is this the work of God?”
My parents for certain, but crowning the influence of my parents, I have been influenced by my parish priest and lay leaders, college chaplain, seminary professors, the mysticism of Howard Thurman and Rabindranath Tagore, St. Augustine’s thought about memory and self, Hegel’s observation about consciousness, my travels and the wisdom of those who have encouraged me in my pursuit of a spiritual and holy life. These influences have changed over time as I observe the passion of young adults to change the world, and as I embrace the suffering of others, particularly the poor and elderly and helplessness of children. The congregation and people I have served, the clergy and seminarians I have work with, all have impacted the early influence of my spirituality. As a result, I see holiness not simply as a setting apart, but also as kindness; and love not simply as giving, but as good will toward the other.
I have articulated my spiritual vision in my daily life and work, in my communication with family and friends, through my preaching and teaching, and in my pastoral visits and letters to parishioners, friends and family members. My current ministry emphasis is also an expression of my spiritual vision in that we feel called to minister to the concerns of the poor and marginalized, attend to the needs of the seniors and children in our communities, including the sick, to speak to the issues of injustice, and to honor the hopes and humanity of all persons.
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 think of myself as a visionary-servant leader with discerning gifts and abilities that are grounded in a strong pastoral sensitivity and compassion for others. I believe in building and working with a team.
I prefer to consult and involve others in the decision making process, and cultivate a culture of trust and hope. I also like to delegate and allow others to lead and make decisions. In these instances, I set priorities and delegate particular tasks. I find it most important to work with a team, and draw on their knowledge and skills. I am an encourager of people. I care enough to confront whatever is before. I am strong enough to lead. I also collaborate and seek consensus.
On the range of the spectrum between “big picture” and “hands on” I believe I stand somewhere in the middle. Although I am able to envision and see the big picture and delegate, I do believe that I must follow through to make certain that the task assigned is completed. In other words, I trust, but I also verify.
In one parish, I gathered some leaders to present a concept for a new ministry. The concept was presented to the group and they were asked to be part of a vision and develop a plan. The plan contained two phases. Two leaders were identified to serve as chair and assistant chair. The chair was most effective through the first phase of planning and organizing the concept but was uncomfortable moving to the next phase of implementing the vision. While I trusted the group with the “big picture”, I also checked in to verify. It was then I realized that while the vision was ready for implementation, the chair did not feel comfortable leading this next phase. With mutual consent, the assisting chair was asked to lead the next phase with the support of the out-going chair. There was a smooth transition in leadership and the conceptual vision was implemented. This ministry continues to be a vibrant part of the life of the parish.
Although is most important to have a vision, having a vision does not make all things possible. It is even more important to do effective planning and create a vision large and challenging enough to include all and energize most of the people. It also important to make the vision plain and understandable.
In developing a strategic vision for the Diocese, I will initiate a process for “Listening conversations” throughout the Diocese that would enable the people of the Diocese to participate, along with the bishops. From this process we can gain new insights into the aspiration and concerns of the Diocese as well as confirm what is already known. A vision should also be broad and maintain some strong core values that are important to the diocese and its mission. It should be appropriate to its context, clear and flexible in its execution. A strategy for the diocese should also take into account the past history of success and failures, the current state of the diocese and ministry and discover or rediscover what the diocese deems as its purpose. All this should happen in a framework that is committed to keeping the vision spiritual while seeking the best opportunities for the dioceses to give birth to a movement that is led by the Spirit. A good strategic vision will unify a diocese and build a good foundation for the future and the next generation. Therefore the vision should address who we are and what is God’s call of us? A strategic vision should focus on change that will make a positive difference in the diocese and the lives of those served.
In support of whatever vision strategy that emerges, I would seek to strengthen my own gifts through collaboration and consultation with the best minds and leading thinkers and practitioners. Additionally, I would incorporate best practices to help the diocese explore ways of living out its mission into new grounds of transformation and change while paying attention to the unique success that already exists.
Beyond the obvious tasks of the Episcopal office, and among the tasks I would hold to myself is that of being a pastor, supporter and nurturer of the clergy and for the growth and health of congregations. I would feel comfortable delegating the administration of diocesan programs and outreach, while maintaining appropriate oversight and monitoring.
I will seek passionate and committed persons who are willing to take the initiative. I will seek in their background something that says this person is able to move an idea into action with a strong sense of faith. A person who shows faith in himself/herself tends to see the power and gifts in others. Another quality is a person’s expressed loyalty to the vision and mission of the diocese.
I am endowed with the kinds of gifts that can help lead our Church through its current struggles into a more positive direction. I would offer a different but cogent voice on matters of healing and reconciliation. Disagreement, discord or disaffection in any diocese are inevitable and should be expected. What is important, however, is not the absence of conflict or discord, but the building of effective community and the fostering of a spirit of reconciliation. I will strive to keep disagreement and discord above the surface and encourage parties in conflict to resolve the conflict in a Godly manner. I would rather live with open conflicts than pretend to be a united community with buried conflicts that poison the ground waters of the community.
I would attempt to lead the diocese in a process of seeking opportunities and affirming what it sees as its mission within God’s Church. It is important to note that a mission driven Church or diocese will focus less on conflict and is better prepared to deal with the issues of brokenness and controversies, healing and reconciliation. I will invite the diocese to look beyond itself and see how it is connected to a much larger world to which the gospel is calling each of us to be agents of change and reconciliation.
I am mindful of the extraordinary stain that disagreement and discord can put on the fabric of a diocese, particularly the recent struggles and crisis faced by our national and global Church. As such, my interest remains to discern and discover what God is doing in our time. This discovery will cause us to seek the holy voice that will shape the future direction of the Church, and assist our movement from brokenness into reconciliation with God and each other. I view our times as the beginning of a new spiritual awakening. Ours is an era of transformation that is seeking creative expressions of faith. We are in the midst of a new Pentecost that is calling the Church to revisit and engage the mission of God, challenging us to be renewed and embrace the work God is doing in the world and in us. What God is doing may not always make us comfortable, but it has the power to deepen and transform our faith.
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 role of the bishop as Chief Pastor to the Diocese, especially to the clergy, and Chief Executive Officer of the Diocese are connected and should not be seen as competing interests. The role of the pastor and shepherd in the Ordinary may be expressed in the support and love a bishop has for her/his clergy and people, and the effective and careful administration of the office will maintain a pastoral sensitivity that can be inviting and assuring of good will toward all who are embraced and impacted by the work and ministry of the bishop.
The role of the bishop as Chief Pastor to the Diocese, especially to the clergy, and Chief Executive Officer of the Diocese are also connected in that both are symbols of unity within the Church. Both roles seek to guard the faith and discipline of the Church. They are also connected in the same sense that justice should be administered with compassion.
I come to my ministry with the understanding that we are called to honor the humanity and dignity of every person. As such, I will deal with errors or misjudgments of those under my supervision with compassion, while maintaining the sense of accountability. I will seek to facilitate a process that would eliminate repeated errors and misjudgments in the future. Further, I believe that when we lead with compassion we are able to lead others without ordering them, build on their strengths without destroying their self-worth, command excellence without shouting at them, and inspire them without preaching.
On the other hand, personal growth, development and innovation are traits that are sometimes borne out of mistakes. To that end, the real mistake is not learning from our experiences. I would encourage wise and smart risk-taking initiatives. Inevitably that will mean an occasional error in action or judgment, but the rewards may be great. I choose to embrace the strength of the lessons learned rather than the curse of the mistake which cannot be undone.
I have juggled pastoral and administrative roles in my prior and present positions by keeping at the forefront the pastoral identity of the Church in my ministry. Since the administrative portion of ministry are more predictable then the pastoral ones, I tend to plan and work ahead on administrative matters and seek help when necessary on administrative matters that do not require my particular presence or skills. Pastoral matters on the other hand are often unpredictable and sometimes urgent. Therefore, I try to attend to the necessary urgencies and to be fully present. There is this sense that an administrator can be hired for the task at hand, but the pastor and shepherd should feel called. I think of myself as a good pastor who does administration well.
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 bishop of New York is a public figure and should engender the respect of clergy and congregation in the diocese and the wider community. A leader’s ability to be effective and influence change is connected and impacted by the way she/he is perceived publicly. For nearly two decades, I have been able to organize cadres of diocesan and ecumenical clergy and community leaders to support important and very challenging causes. An example of this is the ongoing initiative on HIV/AIDS which organized and promoted an extensive citywide collaboration of hundreds of area Churches to combat the epidemic HIV/AIDS in the District of Columbia.
I respect and appreciate the vast responsibilities of the Bishop of New York that are related to the world’s major economic, political and cultural centers along with the historic leadership roles in the National Church and the Anglican Communion. I envision the Bishop of New York as providing a unique opportunity to speak with a spiritual voice to the major economic, political and cultural issues of our times, and at the same time resist the temptation to abandon a theological voice for a political one.
It is important to maintain for the Church a spiritual and theological voice in the world. Ours is the time of tremendous opportunity for growth and witness, for teaching within and without of the Church. While one must approach the ministry of the bishop with humility, kindness and holiness, a bishop should be able to say with the prophet Isaiah “the Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” (Isaiah 50:4) A bishop should also have the courage to speak truth to power without being dishonorable or mean-spirited. It is hoped that the Bishop of New York will maintain an effective witness in New York, the nation and the world, in a concerted effort against injustice and oppression as well as giving a blessed encouragement to all that is good. The bishop of New York can lend a voice and presence, and be a powerful influence for proclaiming hope and reconciliation in the midst of brokenness.
The role of the Bishop of New York in the House of Bishops may vary from time to time, but to be a consistent influence and present among other bishops he/she should first be a person of prayer and spirituality, a pastor and unifying figure, and fellow servant and companion on the journey of faith. Given the diversity of the diocese, the Bishop of New York should engender the respect of other bishops as a compassionate and trusted colleague and benefit from constant prayer and study, training and mentoring.
I believe that we are living in one of the most important eras in the life and future of the Episcopal Church, and the Diocese of New York. An effective episcopacy can lead God’s people in a prophetic response to the gospel imperative found in Isaiah 61:1–3, and Luke 4:18–19 where Jesus said he came “…to preach good news to the poor. … to bring release to the captives … proclaim liberty to those who are oppressed.” The bishop of New York is uniquely positioned to be a voice of hope and reason, and a spiritual and mindful presence in the City and Nation. For this reason, the bishop should engage other religious or secular communities in the City and Nation in a partnership and continued conversation that will reveal the truth about ourselves, expose the brokenness of our world, and at the same time open all of us to the healing and reconciling love of God.
New York is also a microcosm of a broad and diverse world and this means that its people are interdependent, and the progress of one group is intertwined with the progress and success of the other. While this dynamic is magnified in a city like New York, the need for interconnectedness should take on a national and global approach as well. The Bishop of New York, therefore, is distinctively positioned to encourage leadership that leads toward cooperation, reconciliation, prayerful collaborations and mutual understanding. I will stay in regular dialogue with other religious and secular leaders about anticipating and shaping the issues of the city.
The Diocese of New York is positioned to be an extraordinary voice for unity and reconciliation. It should also be a champion for justice and truth in our Church and the nation and the world. With its diverse communities, the Diocese of New York is blessed to draw upon the experience of many experiences of tolerance. As such, it should continue to foster learning and listening communities that will be encouraged to address the spiritual needs and concerns, the social injustices and disparities of people in the diocese and elsewhere.
No matter how grounded people are in their faith, many equate the power and existence of God with the ability to find justice in their own lives. It is no wonder then that the most potent displays of God’s power to transform and heal have been in the context of God’s people fighting for justice, fairness, freedom and equality. God’s love for us demands that those of us who would represent God’s people and speak the words of faith should stand and act firmly against social and economic evils, personal cruelty and systemic and institutional injustice.
Regarding the role of the bishop in community, one should not seek to “create” any specific role out of ambition but as a servant of God called to be with and among God’s people. At the same time, a bishop should be willing to assume and embrace a leadership role and be guided by a strong sense of prayer and Christian Spirituality, morality and fairness especially when faced with the opportunity to advocate on behalf of those who have experienced injustice and have been marginalized.
The gifts I would bring include the ability to support and nurture the clergy and laity in visioning, and creativity; prayerful and attentive listening; the ability to manage change, anticipate and resolve conflicts, the capacity to understand situations and to lead people out of crisis with a spirit of reconciliation as we seek to embrace new possibilities and paths of hope. I have led congregations successfully through major changes. I would bring the ability to organize and mobilize people, nurture and foster a strong culture of inclusion and compassion, forgiveness and tolerance. I feel particularly qualified as a pastor, a visionary and organizer of community.
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 scriptures maintain that “if anyone desires to be a bishop that person desires a good work” (I Timothy 3:1). However, desire alone is not enough to be an effective bishop in today’s Church, rather a prayerful discernment of God’s call, an intense interest in the wellbeing of God’s people, and a careful reflection on one’s life and gifts, passion and experiences are also necessary.
Equally as important is the realization that a bishop leads congregations and clergy in to a deeper relationship with God as to make more evident God’s presence in the world and in our individual lives. I also feel constantly called to serve God and to be faithful in my ministry and life.
I see the episcopacy as one way of engaging my faith journey, and as a means of offering myself and my vocation to God’s service and glory and to promote the welfare of God’s people and Church. This perspective includes encouraging and building up of the body of Christ, raising up new vocations of both lay and ordained, strengthening existing congregations, and creating new and sustainable congregations and communities that advance the mission of God and the Church.
The ministry of a bishop is also about encouraging and fostering unity, respecting diversity and supporting the full inclusion of all within one community of faith, the body of Christ. I will seek to enlarge and enhance the ministry of the bishop by inviting the diocese to explore new and emerging praxis. I believe that the offering of oneself to this process is itself an opportunity for intentional and focused discernment and insightful consideration. Simply, I desire to be open and attentive to the working of the Holy Spirit.
I bring a deep and abiding love for the Church, which is truly God’s and yet ours in every way to live and move within. I am discerning a call to the episcopate because I am committed to God, the Church and its peoples and desire to support a Christian faith that is attentive to the life of the soul of its members but cares as well for the welfare of all humanity. The Church is at an important crossroad where the essential questions of life and community, of faith and justice remain as crucial tasks. I wish to offer my gifts as an insightful leader of people, an effective organizer and builder of community, a collaborator and visionary, and a teacher and preacher of a Church that is willing to struggle with and live through the tension of that which glorifies God and honors the life of all people. As a compassionate pastor and advocate of people, especially children and youth, the elderly, the poor and marginalized, I envision a Church that will continue and maintain a sacred space where clergy and congregations are encouraged to be attentive to their soul’s health, and where an emphasis is placed on seeking opportunities to be a mission minded and ministry focused Church.
The episcopacy also provides a unique opportunity to lift up and model a life and spirituality that is grounded in prayer and study. The obvious expectations and opportunities for teaching and preaching, and inspiring and encouraging the faithful and those who have lost their faith are also enormous. Furthermore, the privilege of living among and embracing a diverse and inclusive community with a platform for nurturing hope and cultivating a willing and giving heart presents an extraordinary opportunity for stewardship and good relationships which can contribute to the health of a diocese. I believe that a bishop must not only enrich the spiritual wellbeing of the clergy and congregants but also advance and promote a robust stewardship equal to the ability and obligation of the people of the diocese.
The Diocese of New York information packet presents a large and diverse community that invites a keen examination of self. Thus, whenever we examine and consider our own abilities and experiences, especially as it relates to new and challenging responsibilities, we soon discover that the successful enterprise of leading and providing leadership is closely related to the specific society of people as well as the context and character of the community in which one is called to serve. The same is true, I believe, of the Church since it is never separated from the influences of the larger society. To the ministry of bishop, I will bring my gifts as an effective pastor of people and diverse communities, a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ, a love of the Scripture, the Church and its tradition and liturgy. While I will also bring significant administrative skills from my current and prior ministries in two parishes for twenty years, the ministry of the Bishop of New York, however large, requires a clarity of vision and yet an openness to incorporate the wisdom of others. I have an innate ability to perceive and crystallize ideas and bring them into realities. I will bring the experience of getting things done without compromising the core values or my integrity and that of the community. I will bring a life of prayer.
In terms of my gifts and qualities, I feel blessed with a pastoral sensitivity that has allowed me to be present with others, with the ability to listen and be nonjudgmental. I am a witness to what an effective pastoral presence seeks to offer in the life of an individual and community. I believe that a successful movement of change and reform, particularly challenging ones, may depend on the pastoral relationship of a leader to the clergy and people. It has been a blessed privilege to be invited into the personal space of parishioners and others and to wait in love with them through some of life’s most difficult and challenging moments.
While I also bring a more than general knowledge of finance to my vocation, and having managed in the aggregate, multi-million dollar budgets, it is my experience in fundraising that has proven to be the most evident element in this area of my ministry. Major grants have been secured from local and federal sources as well as foundations and corporations. Small and large gifts were secured to support new and innovative ministries and to sustain and enlarge the scope of existing ones.
I believe I am a compassionate and committed pastor; a servant and visionary leader who finds joy in following Jesus Christ.