Trinity Church Wall Street Rector Bill Lupfer and Trinity's senior clergy ---the Rev. Dr. Mark Bozzuti Jones, the Rev. Winnie Varghese, and the Rev. Canon Benjamin Musoke-Lubega --- convened archbishops in South Korea in May to share ideas on “Leadership in the Asian Context.” Trinity staff member Rainah Umlauf traveled with the Rector to South Korea and offers this reflection focused through the lens of the famous Gospel account of the feeding of the 5,000.
Jesus traveled to a solitary place. He was exhausted; walking from city to city, he had shared holy stories with thousands, translating his sacred wisdom of salvation, love, and righteousness into stories of seeds, nets, and grain. Despite his mysterious, wonderful acts of healing, he knew he was unsafe. Indeed, he had just learned that his cousin—his childhood playmate and his ministry partner, John—had been arrested, imprisoned, and beheaded.
Jesus, overworked and grieving, hoped for a place to rest. Instead, he found that thousands of people had followed him. Compassionately, Jesus stayed with them and healed their sick. Soon, the people were clamoring for food. The disciples looked to him.
This is the challenging work of leadership.
Trinity Rector Bill Lupfer speaks to the congregation of St. Michael and All Angels congregation in Seoguipo, South Korea.
During this May’s convening of archbishops and bishops on Jeju Island, South Korea, Trinity Church Wall Street’s Rector, the Rev. Dr. William Lupfer, described this leadership work. He guided the gathered clergy on leadership strategies, emphasizing the importance of mutuality and partnership in healthy and moral leadership.
A leader can wield his power in two ways, Dr. Lupfer explained: through domination or through authority. A dominating leader commands a flat verdict and pacified subordinates scramble to obey. In contrast, a leader with authority looks to people around him and mobilizes their expertise, relying on mutuality and partnership to collectively solve a problem. A good leader uses his authority to equip and empower these other voices to create their own solutions.
A leader’s power, he described, is like electrical power; it can scorch and burn, or it can illuminate, kindling flickering energy into lifegiving light. A leader’s task is to use authority to wield his power in a way that illuminates. This is possible through mutuality and partnerships.
“Often, answers come from far from the center,” Dr. Lupfer explained. “Transformational energies are found at the edges. The good leader tunes the ears of his heart to hear the small, contrary voices coming from the edges.”
While it may seem delicate on paper, in action the distinction between these leadership styles is wide and weighty. Imagine the palpable difference between the blundering, shouted commands of the autocrats and the quiet, questioning wisdom of history’s teachers, changemakers and saints. Which leadership style is more effective?
Jesus’s gathering of the fish and the loaves exemplifies this skilled leadership. As the sun set and the thousands clamored for food, the disciples looked to Jesus. Jesus spun the disciples’ ask around: “You give them something to eat.” In so doing, Jesus gave power back to his disciples and to the crowd. When invited into the solution-making moment, each individual could offer up their humble contributions. Rather than relying on a dominating verdict, the people found solutions among themselves.
Indeed, Dr. Lupfer emphasized, this strategy is the only effective way to create transformational change and to solve the kinds of problems that these leaders face. Unlike problems that have routine steps and clear solutions – you have a cold, you go to the doctor, and you receive the standard, known treatment – the leaders of the Anglican Church face adaptive problems. Because adaptive problems have no routine solutions or obvious outcomes, they can only be solved mutuality, through trusted partnerships and input from many voices. Mutuality, after all, is the core of the Episcopalian liturgy. When the clergy calls, “God be with you,” there is always a response from the people: “and also with you.”
The Rev. Winnie Varghese explains how Trinity Church Wall Street uses the idea of neighborhood as way of defining ministry.
“If we are going to be leaders in these areas, in our own neighborhoods and globally,” the Rev. Winnie Varghese said to the gathered bishops, “we will work with partners to serve our goals. We invite others to be in leadership with us—through grants, convenings, and by working with legislators and impacted people.”
The leader’s role in this work is to guide these partnerships, using his authority, to provide direction, protection and order. By listening to stakeholders, the leader identifies the urgent problems facing the parish. By engaging the people involved, he mobilizes everyone involved to imagine their own creative, organic solutions. By guiding the community’s attention and energy, he brings the parish closer to their missional goals. At Trinity, our strategic areas and core values – discerned through years of community engagement and direction - are the defined structures that support, describe, and hold the heart and humanity of our missional work.
As Jesus had instructed, the disciples brought together the people’s offerings and laid them before Jesus. Looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. The offering was passed back to the people and as it went from hand to hand, what had so recently seemed like a meager collection began to reach all the hungry gathered there. As dew fell, thousands ate and were satisfied. Nothing was wasted.
This is the ministry of transformative leadership. It is the ministry of gathering fish and loaves for the thousands gathered on a sun-setting hill and finding, from many offerings and voices, there is plenty. Indeed, there is more than enough.
Rainah Umlauf is part of Trinity’s Justice and Reconciliation Team, where she actively supports a variety of social justice initiatives. She has played a pivotal role in Justice work at Trinity, including the Stations of the Cross art series, the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice gallery exhibition and play, and the ongoing Close Rikers campaign. She is a prolific reader of fiction, theology, and poetry, a gifted artist, and a graduate of Vassar College where she studied Social Justice and Religion.