Questionnaire Responses of the Rev. Canon Petero Sabune
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 brother’s death in 1976 at the hands of Idi Amin, was the most profound turning point in my spiritual life. Up until then I had resisted the call to ministry as my father was an Anglican priest, and had prepared myself for a career in international affairs. Shortly after my brother’s disappearance I met Jim Forbes, professor at Union Seminary, who literally recruited me to ministry when he challenged my resistance to the call of the priesthood. My earliest recollection of spiritual courage was witnessing my mother stand up against a group of armed soldiers who came in the middle of the night during the Civil War to rape the girls taking refuge in the hospital. Her courage won out against their weapons.
My spirituality was further formed by senior clergy in the Diocese of New York who took time to mentor young clergy: Draesel who presented me for ordination, Scantlebury and Walker in neighboring parishes, Luce at St Ann’s in the Bronx, Heffner in Mt. Kisco, Zabriskie in Larchmont, Webber in Bronxville and Eddy in Tarrytown. Perhaps the greatest influence on developing a disciplined spirituality was Carol Anderson of All Angels in Manhattan who mentored young clergy and would hold us accountable for our spiritual discipline, by teaching us time management and urging us to take regular retreats.
My spirituality and prayer life have evolved over the thirty years of my ministry. When I first started out as a seminarian I prayed out of a sense of obligation because I thought this was expected. But gradually I started to feel a need for prayer, and prayer became a part of my daily life. In the last ten years of my ministry I no longer need to think about praying, it comes to me as naturally as breathing.
I wake up at 5 a.m. every morning. I begin with Morning Prayer using readings from Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church by Robert Wright. I use the One Year Bible. I read the Bible in its entirety very year. Then I use Daily Reflections from Saints, Prophets and Witnesses of Our Time by Robert Ellsberg. I do a similar reading at 11 o’clock at night before I go to sleep.
Each day I ride my bike from 153rd Street to 43rd Street. Though this is not exactly a spiritual discipline, it has become for me a spiritual experience. As I ride in the early morning, I see families, children and parents, people walking their dogs. I see nature, I hear the birds, I pass block after block of stores, churches, buses, traffic, and everywhere I am surrounded by the beautiful mosaic of people that make up New York City. During this ride I feel safe, connected and part of the community. When I reverse my route each evening, it is with an appreciation for the close of the day and the rhythm of daily life that I share with others.
I have a spiritual director with whom I meet once a month. And I take an annual directed retreat. I’ve always had a group of clergy with whom I’ve met once a month for mutual support and fellowship. I also try to worship at least once a week where I am not conducting the service, but sitting in the pew. I also worship at least once a week with my family, and try to find a church where there is a service on a weekday, Sunday afternoon or Saturday.
I have taken up mentoring relationships with clergy over the past thirty years. I meet with them regularly and encourage them to have not only a disciplined spiritual life, but to have regular physical exercise. I encourage them to take a regular day off, on as non-negotiable a basis as possible.
I have been an Associate of the Community of The Holy Spirit since 1979 and I try to communicate a sense of joy in my own ministry to the clergy. I have been and continue to be a retreat leader for clergy and lay people. I have lectured in dioceses in the US, Canada, Europe and Africa, on spirituality, ministry and mission. For the last twenty years I have developed seven principles of spiritual development for church leaders, which encourage courage and compassion. I believe the 16th Bishop of New York will need to encourage clergy to rejoice in each other and in their own ministries.
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 first began to develop my leadership skills in 1973. I was a college student and I had a series of jobs supervising others. One was to supervise strawberry pickers in Milton, NY who earned 25 cents per basket; the second was to coordinate a voter registration drive; and the third was to supervise a cleaning crew at an office building. What I learned then and still believe today is that the job of a leader is to decide, delegate and supervise. Once a vision or direction is firmly established, tasks must be delegated based on the abilities and strengths of the participants. The leader’s role is to oversee and supervise throughout, moving in and out of the process as needed to ensure that it progresses, and that conflicts are resolved.
My leadership style today includes two components: courage and compassion. Courage without compassion is arrogance. Compassion without courage is sentimentality. Throughout my ministry I have taken on challenges that others have advised me not to take on. These have included forming a partnership for Resurrection House in Jersey City; and in Newark, creating the Cathedral Resource Partnership and forging an agreement between the City of Newark, the Cathedral and other Newark churches, the Diocese, suburban churches, the State and Essex County. Courage and compassion were required to lead these congregations and governmental entities into embracing a vision for the future.
When I became Dean of the Cathedral of Newark, it was a deeply fractured place. Trinity Church was founded in 1746; St. Philip’s was founded in 1845; Trinity Church became the Cathedral in 1944; and Trinity and St. Philip’s parishes became one in 1966. When I came in 1992, you could cut through the historical and political tension with a knife, and I stepped into the situation with very little information. The Cathedral of Trinity and St. Philip’s needed to figure out who they were and how to move forward together.
Though some leadership skills can be learned, trust must first be earned. The first priority of a new leader must be to earn the trust of those with whom he works. Once trust is established and a situation has been analyzed, the leader needs to articulate a vision and lead others to action. When hiring Diocesan staff, this relational trust is again paramount. The staff must be competent and have experience in the relevant area, but more importantly, I must have confidence in each person’s sincerity and willingness to pursue a common vision.
A strategic vision and plan for the Diocese of New York needs to be established by the Bishop in the first 18 months of his or her tenure. Strategic vision cannot be developed in a vacuum. It is a process that should involve the entire Diocese, unfolding and growing through prayer, dialogue and reflection.
When faced with disagreement, discord and disaffection, fear is often what underlies the superficial issue. Only by deeply listening can you discover the underlying cause of discord. The apparent issue is often a secondary one. By requesting “tell me more,” and asking, “What makes you think that?” we can understand better the root cause of the negativity or dissatisfaction and find common cause. With compassion, we encourage people to take action to change their situation and move forward with a common vision.
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?
I see the two roles as Chief Pastor to the Diocese, especially its clergy, and Chief Executive Officer of the Diocese as integrally connected. My primary gifts are those of a pastoral and visionary leader, but I have honed my administrative skills and recognize the vital importance of effective administration through working in complex institutions. In my role as Dean of the Cathedral in Newark, Grants Officer at Trinity Wall Street and Vicar of St James, Madison Avenue, I learned to juggle the administrative, supervisory and pastoral responsibilities of effective leadership. I had to remind my congregations that the church needed to be run with the transparency and accountability of a business. Annual audits and parochial reports are critical to the health and long term viability of each parish and are necessary for building and sustaining trust within each church community. My challenge would be both to mentor clergy and to help them grow as pastors and administrators. I see my past successes as resulting from my capacity to both oversee and mentor those to whom I have delegated key administrative roles.
In each of my positions, I was faced with errors and misjudgments with those under my supervision. It is important to first set clear goals while mentoring those reporting to me. I ensure that the employee has deep understanding and awareness of the problem, and provide training where needed. Many of those I supervised grew and gained competency. Others had to be let go.
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 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 has to play a leading role in the House of Bishops and is called upon to lead in New York, throughout the Province and within the Anglican Communion. We are part of a global community and we live in a world where war, AIDS and poverty are rampant. We need to remember the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” I believe this is our mandate and the Bishop of New York has to lead in these areas.
In 1964, Arthur Lichtenberger, Presiding Bishop, gave a convention speech called “Mutually Encourage in Joy and Hope.” He said, “We must do our utmost to look at the church with no outbursts of oratory to cover our failures. We can see ourselves as we really are only by the power of the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit would not fill our hearts with fear and make us downcast. For the fruit of the spirit is love, joy and peace.” I believe, as Arthur Lichtenberger believed, that we can rejoice in who we are and celebrate each other. As Bishop Lichtenberger reminded us, “We do not need to continue in the constant criticism of each other.”
The Bishop of New York will have to consider human rights of all people as made in God’s image, and issues such as immigration, education and incarceration as part of our commitment to social justice. When I was ordained in 1981, New York State had 19 prisons. When I began working at Sing Sing in 2004, there were 71 prisons. 50% of the prisoners in New York come from seven zip codes, three of which are within the Diocese of New York. Of the one million students in New York City public schools, almost half drop out. The Bishop of New York needs to lead in shining the light on the needs of the marginalized establishing a vision in answer to the Gospel mandate to care for “the least of these.” During my tenure as head of the immigration and prison networks of the Diocese, I have nurtured and trained leaders from 20 churches to work with people coming out of prison and immigrants who are subject to deportation. Working with Trinity, Wall Street, from 2005 – 2008 I led a three-year process that resulted in a manual for training church leaders in prison ministry.
Our Diocese is home to the United Nations. When I was Vicar of St James I was appointed to work with the United Nations creating a partnership with the Cathedral, which is the international cathedral, to establish a closer ongoing relationship with diplomats from many countries who did not have a spiritual home in New York. As Bishop of New York I would seize opportunities to engage the UN in issues such as climate change, refugees, poverty, health and education.
The Diocese of New York has been the leader in many, many things, both in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. We can remember our past, celebrate our present and embrace the future – not with fear and timidity, but with humility and passion, courage and love. When love fails, then we become ‘Balkanized” into separate little groupings of race, orientation, economic class. But when we come to the altar to receive, there is no altar rail for different groups. We all are part of the same Body of Christ. When we gather as the Body of Christ, as Stephen F. Bayne reminded us in his book, Enter with Joy: Reflections on Worship and the Word, “We need to see our differences as gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Each of us comes with something to give. It will be the task of the Bishop of the Diocese of New York to continue the tradition of action, while at the same time, admit those places where we have failed, including growing our congregations.
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 life’s work has been about forgiveness and reconciliation. My current work has expanded my vision that we are all called to be ambassadors of reconciliation and to grow the kingdom of God. I have done this at the parish level, diocesan level and national level. My current work allows me to exercise this vision and responsibility in the international arena. Since May of 2010, I have made over half a dozen journeys on behalf of the Presiding Bishop building bridges and paving the way to reconciliation within the Anglican Communion.
I recently had the chance to share my views and experiences as a leader of the Episcopal Church in a PBS documentary Forgiveness: A Time to Love; A Time to Hate which explored forgiveness and reconciliation at the personal, community, national and global levels. Many of the leaders featured in that documentary, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, express the conviction that forgiveness is the only option for healing the wounds within our families, parishes and communities. This vision is both challenging and invigorating.
I know and love this Diocese. I studied here as a high school student, college student, and seminarian. I met my wife here and we have raised our family here. I understand the complexity and the challenges of this Diocese having had the privilege to serve for the last thirty years in a wide gamut of parishes: from small, struggling but vibrant congregations to large endowed churches. I have had the privilege of working with lay and clergy who are committed to unleashing the spiritual energy for mission, outreach and living the gospel locally and abroad. I see the enormous potential of the spiritual reservoir yet to be harnessed and unleashed towards a renewed vision of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation.
As Dean of the Cathedral in Newark I convened the 5 Newark churches with 5 suburban churches in mutual ministry of solidarity and hospitality as the Body of Christ. We worked with the Diocese to bring high quality clergy leadership to build bridges and create a common vision. Throughout my ministry I have brought together small and large churches in mutual ministry and there are more opportunities to lead others in these challenging times
After reviewing the material I am convinced that as Bishop of New York I would have the courage and vision to bring disparate congregations together harnessing the potential, passion and energy of small struggling parishes, large congregations and everything in between.