12 November

Trauma rarely brings forth the renewal of an institution’s vocation. Rather, it often hardens the executives and leadership into a stance characterized by formalism and fear. Not surprising. 

Institutional leadership is responsible for insuring that all those who work within its frame are able to do so with relative confidence. Scandal brings trauma rather quickly in its wake and a shudder rocks the whole of the institution from top to bottom and places the sector of society dependent on it on the ground of uneasiness as well. That is why those in leadership in all institutions from political parties, the judiciary, universities, and churches seek diligently to manage scandal through the quiet corridors and back rooms with which they are most familiar. As first responders to what they may think they know but hope is not so they use whatever ability they have to respond with great discretion. Usually such “work a rounds” are adequate to the task and no one is the wiser. In the church we do not like to reflect on this aspect of the responsibility (ability to respond) of leadership. It seems disingenuous, manipulative, and wrong. But that is our puritan mind at work a suitable stance perhaps for some in the church but one that is at the heart of the great schismatic traditions of Christianity and that cannot work within institutions larger than a few likeminded people. The Orthodox mind seems to me to be of quite another quality. But more of that later.

As we prepare to nominate a new Metropolitan it may be worth thinking about what scholars have claimed to be the two key qualities commonly found in the selection of bishops in the first three centuries of the church. First the community sought the person who had the gift of discernment: a person who listened not only to what was being said but who sought to hear the heart of the speaker, a person who was free enough of their own passions to be open to the whole of the community and to make judgments with a view to the salvation of all. And, finally, they sought a person who was not uncomfortable with the missing of the mark. Who among us has the gift of discerning the church’s needs as it seeks to serve the life of the world? Who among us has the gift of discerning the gifts of the faithful that may be ordered to minister to the needs both within the church and the world? But the gift of discernment was not enough. There was a second quality that was also deemed needful: the will to put the gifts together with the needs free of one’s own appetite for power or lack of courage and faithful to a vocation of service for the healing of the world.       

The formalism and fear born of trauma which quite normally will nest in our own church may have a short life with little reach if our new Metropolitan has the gift of discernment and a will rooted in what our spiritual ancestors saw as the vocation of the bishop. Let us bless him as we walk along the way, not only to recover from scandal, but to resist stepping onto the fields of institutional formalism and fear. It is not the ground for our ministry to the life of the world.

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Filed under AAC reflections from David J. Goa, Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC

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