Questionnaire Responses of the Rev. Canon Andrew Dietsche
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?
A lifelong Episcopalian, the practice of daily prayer I was taught at an early age was shaped by the language and rhythms of the prayer book. But as a college student I was introduced to the discipline and the solace of the Daily Office, which has formed the bones of my Rule of Life through my adult life. Time spent daily with scripture, together with the prayerful invitation into Adoration, Thanksgiving, Supplication and Confession have blazed the trail over which I have traveled in my evolution as a Christian. Yet when I became Canon Pastor, serving so many people over a vast area, I needed a specifically broader and deeper practice of intercession to vest this sprawling ministry with coherence. So I have built into my morning office a rather structured and quite lengthy pattern of those intentions, and that intercessory prayer for others, specifically for the churches, clergy and people of New York, has become the heart of my spiritual life.
One morning I arrived at Grand Central, still on kind of a “prayer buzz” from the morning office, and was moved to begin praying for the people on the subway platform as that river of faces streamed past me, each by each, until soon I had to look away. It was so emotional to see through the eyes of prayer how much a person reveals in the unguarded face. I began to discover the larger possibilities of prayer to bind the many into one, and the richness inherent in the call to “pray without ceasing.” So now I include “stranger prayer” every day in my intercessions. I am astonished by the power that the fabric of prayer has to pull one deeply through intercession into the communion of saints.
I no longer have charge of a parish of my own, but for six years I have had a part-time ministry with one of our small rural churches, which began as liturgical leadership alone, but has evolved into increasing pastoral oversight. I have continued this as a free offering because I love them, because we are waiting to see what God intends for us, and because I consider this to be an element of my Rule.
Scripture and spiritual writings stoke my spiritual furnace. Writers as diverse as Crossan, Tillich, Dillard, Bonhoeffer, Merton, Will Campbell and Nikos Kazantzakis informed my early seeking. Kazantzakis’ Report to Greco never lets me forget that if the Christian life is not an adventure of astonishing wonder we must be doing it wrong. Will Campbell’s uncompromising vision of Christian reconciliation keeps me brave and honest. In my stack right now are Miroslav Volf, Marcus Borg and a dense tome entitled “The Religious Imagination in Modern and Contemporary Architecture.”
I make occasional retreats, but more often take personal quiet days of reflection and prayer. I am deeply fed by literature and art, and make regular pilgrimages to MOMA. An hour spent with Nolde’s Christ Among the Children will make a Christian out of you. As it does for me, every time. I have a great hunger for such expressions by people who speak passionately of God in other vocabularies.
Born into an army family, I spent a childhood in almost continual movement. When I was sixteen we made our fourteenth move. So many of my childhood memories are of watching the trucks on the highway through motel or diner windows all across this country. We lived always at the threshold of an uncertain and unknown future, but everywhere the church was our touchstone. My father served on the vestry and trained acolytes; my mother taught Sunday School and sang in the choir; and always knowing that within a year we would have moved on again. As a boy I wondered at a tract by the church door with its call to “turn your collar around!,” and a half dozen parishes later I asked my priest to tell me of the deep meaning behind those words. I am molded and shaped by the language and rhythms of Episcopal worship, but as expressed in so many forms. And now I am in a different church almost weekly, and find the breadth and diversity of how we pray exhilarating.
Everywhere there have been great influences for me. The priest who called me to an adult life in the church. The monks at Mount Calvary who told me about vocation. The layreader who taught me to pray the offices. The rector I served as curate who taught me everything about priesthood. “Andy,” he said, “if you want to be humble you have to be willing to be humiliated.” And I have never forgotten that one of the blessings of the Christian life is that it is costly.
But my biggest influences have been the people I serve. I am first a pastor and am passionately interested in people, and thirsty for what they know. What I have learned from the many who have invited me into their lives about God, and the love of God, and of the heroism it takes to live faithfully in a chancy world continues to make me a better person, a better Christian and a better priest. And for ten years the clergy I serve in this diocese have been apostles and missionaries to my desert shore.
As a parish priest I developed a comprehensive program of spiritual formation that had a third of my active congregation returning every Wednesday for faith development classes, inquirers classes, worship, healing liturgies, and Bible study following a curriculum of my own creation. The transformation of my parish happened there, and as a parish priest was where I most formally witnessed to my own spiritual vision and taught practices of devotion. But now, leading regional workshops, vestry and parish retreats, preaching in our churches, giving keynote addresses, and especially in my every day pastoral ministries I continue to convey what I have learned of God, what I believe God invites us to become and requires of us, and I listen every time for the new thing I hadn’t known.
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 believe that one of my strengths is the articulation of the big picture, although as Canon Pastor I pend most of my time in personal, direct engagement with individuals and vestries. But these go hand-in-hand. For example, a few years ago I led the annual Mid-Hudson Regional Council on the subject “Why Church?” I spoke throughout the day in broad visionary language of the challenges we face being church in our time and place, and of our fundamental reasons for being the Church, and I outlined some principles for parish transformation. This was very much “big picture,” and well received as such, but I have accompanied that with local work applying those principles to specific places. Since the spring I have worked with two churches looking to strengthen themselves by a future of shared ministry. We are hammering out the down-to-earth questions of buildings, finance, governance and shared mission, and it is just as exhilarating as painting the larger picture on a broader canvas.
New York faces substantial challenges, and developing a strategic vision will involve the whole diocese. A third of our churches have been supported financially in the past but most are no longer, and lots are in daunting transitions. We have deep pockets of urban and rural poverty, particularly in the Bronx and Catskills, and our mission support in those places must never wane. Some fifteen percent of our churches “in the middle,” which had never been aided, are treading water. I have walked the hard road with four priests whose parishes can no longer pay them. We have more small churches than any other diocese in the Episcopal Church, and they live in continual vulnerability, while the level of obligation placed on our resource congregations is unsustainable. All need deeper assessment relief than we have done. Yet even as the challenges before us loom larger, our budget has been substantially reduced from its levels of three years ago.
But, to borrow a phrase, I think this is our Sputnik Moment. For what is such a moment if it is not the occasion to re-engage our future? We are always called to ask what God is inviting us to do and be, now and in those years to come which only God can see. But when the resources on which we have depended can no longer be taken for granted we return to that exploration with greater urgency. We must ask again what a healthy parish — especially a healthy small parish — looks like. And to ask again how to be the church. And to ask again why God asks of us what God does, and why we keep getting up every day and coming back to plow the same mission field. And to trust again the source of our hope and vision.
It is a time to be brave and faithful. No strategic vision will prosper which does not boldly trust God — committing to our poorest communities, securing churches at risk, helping congregations in transition, and honoring and learning from the strengths of our resource parishes. I am convinced that we are called again to plant new Hispanic congregations, and to make new church starts in places where we are not. We must foster stability even as we ask the bigger questions of mission, so that that mission discernment will not be driven by fear. I am confident that the Diocese of New York, and all of our parishes, have a brilliant future as long as we are not afraid; as long as we do not bury our talents in the ground.
But the development of that strategy, when every part of our diocese is facing such disparate needs, requires broad participation and must speak directly to the specific concerns of every place. The bishop must bring sustained personal leadership to the process, but there will be parts for Standing Committee and Council; Adjustment Board and CSP; diocesan staff; regional and local bodies; lay and ordained Hispanic leadership; and representatives of churches large and small, urban and rural. Leadership will come from the top, but wisdom from the places where people are ministering day by day. This will not be top-down, though paradoxically I believe it will require more of the bishop — offering a new and challenging vision to the diocese, and then deep in personal engagement with Christians in every place. This will not seek one solution for a hundred churches, but a hundred solutions, and we must do this together.
The Bishop of New York must be the chief pastor, particularly of the clergy. This has been my ministry in this diocese, and it is my passion. The bishop must build structures to be regularly present among clergy and lay leaders across the diocese, and create an array of supporting pastoral resources. But the bishop must also be the engine which drives the strategic plan. Such expenditures of time and energies will require a re-prioritization of the bishop’s office, and building effective staff will be critical. They must have the flexibility to respond to and work effectively in evolving circumstances and requirements. They must be people of patience and compassion. I would look for people, ordained and lay, whose own passions are for parish life and ministry, with track records of effective collegial work, who maintain lively spiritual practices, and who understand diocesan work to be a spiritual vocation.
Disagreement and discord will be commonplace in any community of diverse peoples. This may be especially true in the church, which encompasses and cherishes such great diversity in the lives and loves of its people, in its theology, in its politics, in its worship, in every thing about which its members care most deeply. The steady leadership of our bishop blessed us during the controversies of the last decade. Yet among us could be found every conviction which rocked the larger church. In the midst of that I was called upon for pastoral ministry by clergy across that spectrum. I offered my genuine respect for the inherent dignity of each person; with acknowledgement that their convictions were sincerely held in good faith.
But at a time when some were willing to divide the church, I held my unwavering principle that communion is inconsistent with anathematizing anyone. Inscribed in my prayer book are these words of Richard Hooker: “God hath created nothing simply for itself: But each thing in all things, and of every thing each part in other hath such interest, that in the whole world nothing is found whereunto any thing created can say, ‘I need thee not.’” Yet this commitment to unity and my pastoral ministry took place in the context of my insistence that the church had acted rightly to further and guarantee the equality and dignity of all people, had acted legally, and acted definitively. These principles I believe will always serve us well: articulated respect for the worth and beliefs of others; acknowledgement of our differences; fidelity to actions taken legally by the church in convention, which is our governance, and to the principles behind those actions; and insistence that the mission we have been given by God calls us to maintain and preserve communion with one another. So that even or especially when it’s difficult, we may make our witness that in Christ all may be one.
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?
Pastoral care of clergy has been my whole life in this diocese for ten years, and I have been a participant in and advisor to the continuing administrative functions of the bishop’s office. I understand the harmony which must bind the pastoral and the executive. The bishop is CEO, but that shares little with the same role in a corporate setting. The executive work of the bishop is made possible because he or she is also first the pastor. We are a covenanted people, defined by vows made and promises kept, reminding us that the guiding principle even for the prosaic decision-making and governing activities of the church must be love. Then our processes and polity may be a witness to counter worldly systems of authority based on the exercise of power. Authority in the church is given to the bishop, and to priests and lay leaders, entirely for the building up of the holy people of God.
So that when people do wrong we must be about growth, transformation, amendment and reconciliation. I have always come to those occasions with understanding and charity, looking to restore people’s effectiveness within a working environment of fairness and opportunity. Every job in the church is a ministry, and when we are at our best we witness to different ways of treating both successes and failures than we would see in other settings. As a parish priest I have had to dismiss employees for cause, but always with regret that those failures were wounds in the fabric of our gospel life, and years later they remain in my intercessions.
Now I minister also to clergy whose actions have warranted canonical discipline. I come with the prayer book in one hand and the canons in the other, determined that they come through a troubled season with their lives and vocations intact. I am committed to their re-engagement of the vowed lives they have as baptized and ordained people — the accountabilities they accepted by their promises. That demands humility, acknowledgement of what they have done, an absolute commitment to truth, charity toward their accusers and fairness to their adversaries. Jesus gave means for repentance, reconciliation and return. They are counter-intuitive, yet holy and effective. And I have seen deeply moving and inspiring occasions of redemption and restoration, victories for the principles of gospel reconciliation. But even when these have ended with resignation of orders or canonical deposition, the journey made with the troubled cleric has always been sacred, and I have never failed to learn much from those I have counseled. I remember that even people whose ministries end badly nonetheless began them with open hearted self-offering before God, and I will never stop honoring that.
So I have not felt that the administrative and the pastoral require juggling. I believe they are a seamless piece of a priestly ministry. I believe I was an effective administrator during years of parish priesthood. I brought a church out of long-term deficits into financial stability, dramatically increased attendance and stewardship giving, led a successful capital campaign and renovation of the entire physical plant, established sound financial practices, supervised staff, and created a diverse program and mission life. I also set up folding chairs, washed dishes, and stood on the roof in the rain raking leaves out of the storm drains. But in that same church I also made a thousand hospital calls, and far more nursing home and house calls. For almost twelve years I buried someone almost every two and a half weeks. And I am convinced that that seamless pastoral work, and the humdrum tasks of the day, and the administrative leadership of the church are of a single piece.
I like to say that when a priest arrives at a parish the people will immediately extend the trust to lead them where they already want to go, but it takes time to earn the trust to lead them where they didn’t want to go. That is where transformational parish leadership happens, and the machinery of it is pastoral care. That fidelity gives the priest the right to stand at the altar, but also to chair the vestry meeting, or to negotiate with the plumber. A priest’s day will include the commonplace and the holy, matters of business alongside matters of spirit. This is the nature of the vocation, as the intermingling of the worldly and the heavenly sanctifies the whole and reveals God in every thing. I am convinced that the varieties of ministries in which I have engaged have well prepared me for a ministry which contains both high administrative and deep pastoral demands.
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 of New York 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?
When Paul Moore became the Bishop of New York, I was in college three thousand miles away. But I still have the Newsweek Magazine whose cover celebrated that occasion. He made me so proud to be an Episcopalian. New York and its bishop, by the nature of what and where we are, must always play a substantial role in the nation, in the world, in the Episcopal Church, and in the larger Communion. We have a diversity of peoples almost unparalleled, and contain pockets of the country’s greatest wealth and deepest poverty. Every social, economic and ecclesial issue in the world is also an issue for New York, and the wisdom and the resources of this diocese are gifts we have a responsibility to share. There must be no place where the voice of this diocese is not heard.
The first face and voice of the diocese will always be the Diocesan Bishop. But our current Bishop Suffragan has made a substantial mark in both the national church and the communion. Often the Diocesan must speak for New York, but it would be hoped that our political and prophetic leadership will always be a partnership. Indeed, such collaborative leadership, involving not only our bishops but lifting up other lay and ordained persons who have the unique gifts and passions to speak for the church as a witness to the gospel, provides a harmony in the diocesan voice which redounds to our benefit. The leadership must be the Bishop, but it may be profitably shared.
Our diocese is a natural leader for the church, and so our bishop must be a prominent voice in the House of Bishops. If our voice is not exercised there, the learnings that come from our extraordinary diversity might not be heard. And by our size and position, the costs and blessings that flow from every action of the church are magnified and amplified in our diocese and parishes. So the active role of our bishop in that House in and of itself serves the furtherance of justice. Similarly, the Episcopal Church exercises a particular kind of religious voice which has a needed contribution to make to the wider religious and civic culture. We proclaim a revealed faith, but interpreted by the light of reason. We believe that God acted uniquely and essentially in Christ, while we respect and learn from the other world faiths. As the father-in-law of a brilliant young Hindu man I am reminded every day that it is the genius of God to have planted our fundamental common humanity in a thousand different forms and voices. Our church is tolerant and gentle with people; Christian and humanist. Not all traditions can say the same or want to. Our voice must be heard in the larger conversations, and the Bishop of New York must be there.
So every matter of economic and social justice, and the energies expended to act on them, must be priorities of the Bishop. Once the Bishop could speak and that would be news, or just show up and make the cover of Newsweek, but no longer. If the Bishop’s voice is to make a difference now, it must be of a piece with the broader active witness of the diocese. We cannot simply speak news, we must be news. Statements of principle must rise out of and give voice to the reality of a transformational, prophetic, brave and honest community of reconciliation. We must be the gospel we proclaim. I will exercise the public voice of the Bishop with vigor and integrity. But I will also work with lay and ordained persons in the diocese to wed that public voice to specific ministries of daring and prophetic witness, that our voice may rise out of and give expression to the tangible, real work of the church among real people in real places, where the reconciling and just purposes of Jesus are lifting up and blessing all the holy people of God.
I began my involvement in ministries of hunger and homelessness decades ago, and later in refugee ministries. These will always enflame my conscience. But there are urgent issues of social justice which are not only of concern for the wider culture, but which touch immediately upon the gospel and every part of the life of this diocese, and I am passionate about them.
Over the last decade the Episcopal Church has made a witness to its embrace of the LGBT community, and to marriage equality, which has informed and enriched, and even brought leadership to the national conversation. But we are also seeing a renewed acceptance of racist language and discriminatory polity in the public square, and in our region of such rich diversity I am scandalized by the privations that America continues to visit upon so many of its people of color. We are called to a significant reinvestment of our energies and resources into our poorer communities. In our own churches we have many, many people — our own brothers and sisters — whose immigration status requires them to live in the shadows, which is anathema to the freedom in which God desires all to live. We must be leaders in the work for immigration justice and reform, and providers of sanctuary for the endangered. The growing divide between the rich and the poor is at the heart of the economic injustice which demeans the lives and possibilities of so many of God’s children. In a diocese which contains the richest and the poorest in America, this is not just a social concern – it is our own life.
We have been given the opportunity and the obligation to discover for ourselves and then make a witness to the larger world of what a cohesive, united, just and loving Christian community looks like which contains people of every color, nation and sexual orientation; citizen and immigrant; documented and undocumented; wealthy and poor. The powers of this world will pit these one against the other, and define our common life as a competition, but we have been called to bear witness to a better way. So we must.
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?
I have spent much time over this last year praying about the fact that people I dearly love and truly admire have said that they want me to be their bishop. It has been one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life. And yet, while the decision to go forward with this process was not easily made, and involved much prayer and a whole lot of talking with Margaret, I have become filled with great excitement and a profound desire to embrace this ministry should I be called to it. The work of the next bishop will be challenging, but the opportunities inherent in this call to bring new leadership to the church in an uncertain age touches and kindles my deepest passions.
I have ministered in this diocese for ten years. I have run through one car and have 180,000 miles on its successor. I have driven well over once around the earth each year without leaving the diocese. I have been many times to and worshipped in every church in our diocese. When I came here I had no idea how powerfully I would come to love this diocese, its churches, its people, but it happened, and now you have my heart. And I am ready and excited to be your bishop.
I am first and foremost a pastor, and I have been engaged in a pastoral relationship with the clergy of New York since the first days after September 11. This has been a ministry of great flexibility. Some clergy have asked little or nothing from me but friendship. But most have sought out my ministry, and a fair number have me on speed dial. I find that I have been called upon to spend a disproportionate amount of time with clergy in small and mid-sized churches, struggling parishes, who have fewer resources at their disposal. This keeps before me always the challenges which so many of our churches face. I have worked hard at the ground level in every kind of church, and I am constantly astonished by the heroism with which so many in our diocese — clergy and lay — carry out the ministry of their churches.
The first reason why I am open to this call is that it would be the privilege of my life to engage those challenges with them, and one of the things I can offer for that work is an exhaustive familiarity with this diocese and its churches. I have had active involvement, as a layman and as a priest, in parishes of fewer than forty members to greater than fifteen hundred. I served in one of the wealthiest resource parishes of Illinois, and I spent years ministering largely among the working class. I walk into church after church in our diocese and think, “I know this place.” I know what the challenges are in every different church. I know what the opportunities and possibilities are. I am so quickened by the prospect of engaging those challenges and possibilities with you in a new way.
Yet I know that there are no easy formulas for parish transformation. Each church is unique, and so will be the responses to their challenges. On the best days parish ministry in many places is swimming upstream and on the hard days you can feel like you are drowning. But it is wonderful and never less than completely fulfilling, and I know that part of that fulfillment is the cost it exacts from us. As a pastor to our clergy, a consultant to our vestries, the leader of workshops and retreats, and a former parish priest, I get this, and that understanding and appreciation of it I now bring to this discernment.
The title Canon for Pastoral Care might not suggest deep administrative roots. But my most significant experience of parish ministry was spent in a mid-sized parish which I brought from significant decline to health and stable well-being. Over years I lead the parish from low numbers and crippling deficits to vibrant membership, solid stewardship giving, and financial stability. I brought vision to the creation of a comprehensive outreach and mission portfolio. I led a successful capital campaign and the renovation of the entire church plant. I called for transparent and accountable financial structures. And I led a “reinvention of vestry” and challenging new structures of stewardship and finances to position our parish to meet the demands of a changing world and church. And always, everything, with minimal staff and few financial resources. Every important thing I learned about parish ministry and running the institution of the church I learned the hard way, and it stuck. Now I work intimately on a larger stage alongside the bishop, the chancellors, the financial officers and other staff on matters which go to the canonical and administrative heart of the diocese. I know that I am a more than able administrator.
I was also into my thirties a small businessman. As a young man I owned my own studio — “Dog & Pony Productions” — as a free-lance graphic designer and cartoonist. I interfaced with corporate clients, advertising agencies, printers and publishers, and I handled the administrative, financial and entrepreneurial responsibilities of my business. And I still keep my drawing board warmed up, drawing the cartoons for the Episcopal New Yorker. I bring a lively sense of humor to my life and ministry, and when I stand at my drawing board, my hands and clothes smudged with India Ink, reflecting on the wonderful absurdities that mark our beautiful, holy, brilliant and sometimes frustrating common life as Christians, I am reminded that even when being church is hard, it is still the fount of our joy.
I have a pastor’s heart. The love I have for the clergy and people of this diocese is deeper than words. I have a passionate interest in people, and am continually awed by the self-offerings which people make of their lives through baptism and ordination, and of the sacrifices they make to live those lives. Sometimes it’s all uphill and sometimes we’re coasting, but it’s always a wonderful life we’ve been given, and there’s lots and lots to do. Look and see: the fields are ripe for the harvest.