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Year of Leadership: Whose voice gets heard in the church?

I love Annual Meeting Sunday!  When I was growing up at St. Matthew’s in National City (1990s/2000s), we’d be squirreled away into a nearby classroom to watch movies and play together during the annual meeting. But, me being me, I would sneak back into the nave–fascinated by the formality of the meeting and by how many adults were called up in celebration of their ministries. As adult after adult would stand and voice their wisdom, I’d whisper into my very patient mother’s ear, “What’s happening now? …Who’s that talking?” 

By the time I was a teenager, Annual Meeting Sunday became one of the biggest celebrations of community all year. Both the English-language and Spanish-language community would gather to discuss the business of our collective congregation. I began to notice the seasoned and emerging leaders courageously stepping forward for election into leadership roles. I would listen to members of our congregation take turns using their voices to affirm the good work of the past year, ask vulnerable questions, or voice unpopular opinions. It was a space where the diverse voices of St. Matthew’s multicultural community could be heard and honored. It was a space where the laity could engage in the governance of the church – co-creating this community to which we all feel belonging. And, for many of us, part of belonging to the community is taking responsibility and leadership in that community.

Leadership is crucial if the church wishes to effectively share the good news of God in Christ with our communities. Recognizing that the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego is a region filled with vibrant diversity and that we live in a world where differences often divide, EDSD is choosing a path that celebrates diversity–showcasing how the Episcopal Church can thrive by embracing and celebrating the varied backgrounds of its members. But we know that hasn’t always been the case.

Diocesan Convention is like a church annual meeting but a whole lot bigger. At my first Diocesan Convention, I noticed that my usually strong and confident voice felt muted. The larger space, the new faces, and the group’s familiarity with the rules of order made me feel outside of the circle. I was hesitant to do much more than blend into the pews. I had questions about our budget, and I had opinions about some of our resolutions, but who was I to step up to one of the microphones and possibly stumble through my statement? It didn’t help that a lot of the resolutions and business gravitas seemed to prioritize a big, elite-ish, parish-status congregational context. 

I wondered, “Does my voice even matter in this space?”

My insecurity got even louder as someone sitting behind me, who seemed to be a more seasoned delegate, scoffed at another delegate who stepped up to the microphone, “He clearly doesn’t understand this issue – he doesn’t even know how to address the Bishop.”

The experience was so foreign, so unfamiliar to the comfort of my home congregation, that I spent the rest of Convention voting quietly, resigning myself to the feeling of, “Let’s just get this over with.” I kept my voice and opinions to myself until I was with my people at St. Matthew’s the next day.

A year later, at my second Diocesan Convention, I greeted my new friends from other congregations that I’d met at the prior Convention. I remember telling them, “I feel like the only person who has no idea what I’m doing.”

My friend, a seasoned delegate and leader of her own congregation, leaned closer to me conspiratorily and said, “I guarantee you, you are not the only one. Other people are just better at pretending that they do.”

I was still content to blend into the pews. But, this time, I recognized the chance to sit with other delegates from other congregations–some even offered insight and clarifications on pieces of our governance that I didn’t even know that I didn’t know. These were my people too! 

While I might not have been ready at that moment to utilize my voice in spaces beyond my home congregation of St. Matthew’s, I felt enough of a sense of belonging that I understood that the business of the Church was mine to help co-create. While the room seemed to be dominated by other folks, I had a sense of comfort that was bolstered by these newly nurtured relationships who helped affirm my agency and help with my willingness to be vulnerable with my own feelings, questions, and needs.

The voices of minority populations (and minority leaders) have historically struggled for their rightful place at the table of dialogue and decision-making in the church. This was not always a result of deliberate exclusion but can stem (and sometimes still does) from longstanding institutional structures and cultural norms that inadvertently favor the majority. As a result, important insights, experiences, and contributions of individuals from minority backgrounds—be they racial, ethnic, LGBTQ+, or otherwise—often did not receive the recognition or consideration they deserve. This lack of minority-led representation and acknowledgment often leads to marginalization and invisibility among minority church communities–impacting their sense of belonging and engagement at church. Recognizing and addressing this gap is crucial for us to foster a truly inclusive and equitable church where every voice is heard and valued.

EDSD is working hard to help heal these long-held hurts. Education and dialogue play a crucial role in the EDSD’s journey to be better. Programs like Social Location Training and LARK (Localized Anti-Racism Knowledge) that focus on personal and systemic cultural awareness are new features to the diocesan calendar. These educational initiatives are designed not only to inform but also to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of all of the diocese. Through learning and conversation, we’re fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of diversity–reinforcing the message that every individual is a vital part of the community.

If utilized correctly, the Episcopal Church has a governance model that blends tradition with a commitment to inclusivity–creating spaces where the voices of its diverse membership can be heard. This framework is designed not just for decision-making but also for listening, with mechanisms in place to allow minority opinions and perspectives to be not only expressed but valued. Through its governance, the Episcopal Church actively works towards creating an environment where every voice has the opportunity to contribute to the collective wisdom and direction of the church, reinforcing its foundational belief in the dignity and value of every individual. It is a system that works best when diverse voices are bold enough to be heard and challenge the status quo. 

Our message is clear: diversity is not a challenge but a celebrated gift. And, in EDSD, your voice strengthens our Church and offers us a vision of hope and unity for the world beyond our doors.

So what does that mean for me, a churchgoer with ideas?

If you have felt underrepresented in the past, now is the time to step forward and make your voice heard. Groups who have often been systematically sidelined have an open opportunity to contribute their perspectives, ideas, and talents to shape the future of our church. Whether it’s through nominations for leadership positions, initiating conversations with clergy members, or exploring opportunities for lay leadership within the church, your voice matters. Your experiences and insights are invaluable assets that can help build a more inclusive and equitable church.

Still wondering where you fit into the bigger picture? 

Rachel Ambasing, Missioner for Community Vitality & Diversity, is happy to meet with you or your community about how your voice needs to be shared in the church. You can contact Rachel by emailing her at rambasing@edsd.org. 

By listening to and celebrating the various voices of our community, EDSD is holding a space where everyone can see themselves reflected and valued. This celebration of diversity is not just an ideal; it’s a living, breathing reality that enriches the spiritual and communal life of this diocese. Thank you for adding your voice. 

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Category: #Advocacy, #Convention

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