Organizational Identity with Bishop Melissa Skelton | Podcast Season 03, Episode 05

by Feb 14, 2023Transforming Engagement: the Podcast

This week we’re talking to Bishop Melissa Skelton, who currently serves as Bishop Provisional for the Diocese of Olympia. In our conversation, we look at understanding the identity of your church, not only at the level of your local congregation but within your denomination or your greater faith tradition. Bishop Skelton highlights the importance of understanding the heritage and origin story of your congregation and your denomination, and how to sift through stories from the past to discern which are useful to telling our stories now. 

Each week, we ask our guests to highlight an organization that is doing good in the world, and Melissa recommends the Chief Seattle Club, a Native-led housing and human services agency. They believe that a world without homelessness is possible by leading with Native values, and provide sacred space to nurture, affirm, and strengthen the spirit of urban Native people. You can learn more and support their work at  

About our guest:

Bishop Melissa Skelton currently serves as Bishop Provisional for the Diocese of Olympia. She also serves as a coach and in a design role with Transforming Faith Communities, a program of the Center for Transforming Engagement. In the Episcopal Church beginning in 2004, she served as Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, and as Canon for Congregational Development and Leadership in the Diocese of Olympia. During this time, Bishop Skelton developed and launched the College for Congregational Development, which continues to this day and is currently hosted by eight dioceses in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Skelton was elected 9th Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster in 2013, and in 2018, she was elected Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of British Columbia and Yukon, making her the first woman in the Anglican Church of Canada to hold the position.

About this season’s co-hosts:

Dr. J. Derek McNeil is the president of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Dr. McNeil has a PhD in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern University and an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary. Prior to his tenure at The Seattle School, Dr. McNeil served as faculty in the PsyD program at Wheaton College Graduate School for over 15 years.

Dr. McNeil has worked as a clinician in private practice, a diversity advisor, an organizational consultant, and an administrator. His research, writing, and speaking have focused on issues of ethnic and racial socialization, the role of forgiveness in peacemaking, the identity development of African-American males, leadership in living systems, and resilience.

Kate Rae Davis is the Director of the Center for Transforming Engagement. She brings a collaborative approach to her current role working with Christian leaders to restore their inner resilience and live into their purpose. She and the Center for Transforming Engagement team gather with experts from a variety of fields and shape discussions around challenges facing leaders in a complex cultural moment and discern how each might uniquely join in God’s work in the world.

Passionate about the church in its many forms, Kate is the recipient of the 2018 Bishop’s Preaching Award and can often be found behind the pulpit of her home church, St. Luke’s Episcopal in Ballard.

Supporting resources:

  • Learn more about Transforming Faith Communities, a free, one-year program that guides your congregational team to implement changes that address and fit your unique situation and context. By participating, your faith community becomes eligible to receive grant funds to support your growth. Together, you can transform your faith community, your neighborhood, and the future. Click here to find out more.
  • Don’t miss an episode: Subscribe to Transforming Engagement, The Podcast on AppleSpotify, or Amazon Music (Audible)

Episode transcript:

Kate: Welcome to Transforming Engagement in the podcast where we have conversations about changes that serve the common good and a higher good. Today we welcome Bishop Melissa M Skelton, who serves as Bishop Provisional of the Diocese of Olympia, which includes us here in Seattle, and she’s also a member of the Center’s instructional team. Welcome, Melissa. Good to see you.

Melissa:  Wonderful to be with you.

Kate: So our topic this season is organizational identity and you have lots of experience with lots of organizations at different levels from congregation to denomination. But want to start with just more basic question. How do you understand organizational identity? What is an identity of a group of people?

Melissa: Yeah, I wanted to say initially it’s like the soul of the organization, but I would be stealing that from Tom Chapel <laugh>, who I used to work with at Toms of Maine. No, I think of it as kind a compilation or coming together of the heritage. Notice, I’m not just saying history, but the heritage of an organization, which I think is really important. I’m not one who likes to obliterate the past. The heritage of the organization and the currency of the stories, both of the heritage that come from there. And then the ongoing stories by which an organization or in the case of congregations, that they know themselves by, the stories that carry the values, the foibles, the personality, the giftedness, the woundedness of an organization that really make up it’s, who it is, it’s how I think of it.

Derek: In some ways it’s both similar and different to an individual in terms of identity, of both the sense of history, the stories I know or think of myself, and then the moment that I’m in and how it’s shaping me. And so organizations in a similar sort of way, the they’re managing their history and their currency, their present, present space.

Melissa: I think that’s right. And then, you know, the wild card of course is what is identity evoked as the current moment engages the next moment. So it’s never static. And I think some people, when they think of, if they just focus on heritage or if they just focus on the last couple of months or the last few years, in the case of congregations, there’s always this new story being written or being told that’s about how this thing that is identity responds to that very next thing that is coming down towards us.

Derek:  I hope this is not repeated another, I can’t recall if I’ve said this another podcast, but I always tell this story about a church in Oakland and the story–we were looking for this church and we couldn’t find this church years ago. And we saw a woman on the street and she looked like she was either wasn’t well healed, she either was homeless or somebody who would need assistance. And so we stopped and just asked her, have you ever heard of this church? And she said, is that the church that helps people? And she didn’t know the name of the church, but she knew the story of the church and she knew the story of that church in that context and that currency, if you will. And so that bears itself out that sometimes I think we may think of ourselves internally as knowing our story, but our story is more than just simply us telling each other what we are. And maybe it’s who tells us from outside who they’ve experienced us to be. And so that’s an interesting way to think about organizations as well.

Melissa: Absolutely. It really is. And in another realm or framework we would almost call those folks vicarious, vicariously affiliated because in some respects they don’t go there and they’re not a part of that organization, that congregation, but they somehow have become been drawn into its orbit in a way that’s almost affiliated. I like that a lot, Derek. 

Derek: Yeah. It’s a story that impacted me because I was years later and I still remember. It stunned me and I said, I wish all of us churches were known that way. That was our core identity, the church that helps people. And that it struck me then and I realized that’s not how I knew my church or knew that church then, it didn’t have that story to it. Yeah.

Kate:  It’s maybe a good transition into a question of how – how does a congregation know what its identity is? How do they know if they’re the church that helps people? How do –What’s the – begin to find language for ourselves that’s actually true about ourselves?

Melissa: It sad to say and I’m going to talk about congregations because I think some organizations are really better at refining this and they have all kinds of motivations for doing that, come of it being branding, marketing, and the rest of that. Congregations, except for a precious few in my experience, are not very good at this. And they tend to believe that it’s the more generic story of who they are in a bit with platitudes. That is the real story or it will be the draw. And I could not disagree more with that. I think congregations, either there’s a leader who knows how to tease out, has the three to four core stories that leader tells everybody about who the congregation is. Sometimes a very gifted leader will see that as a part of what they do. Or there’s a kind of more intentional process of trying to bring those stories together and actually assist a congregation to both hearing it from each other and focusing in on what are the really usable parts of that story that can be freely told and can help too with that kind of internal integration that I love to see in congregations

And I love what Derek’s talking about too because it would just be so good in the process in which a congregation engages and hears from its neighborhood that it could hear if it’s noticed at all. [Kate:Mm-hmm.] What the perception and experiences –  that would be very helpful.

Kate: Yes.

Derek: It feels like a church that has vitality or an organization, I think it’s not even just churches, but an organization with a degree of vitality is both taking in and it’s expressing there’s a flow across its boundary, not just simply inside, but we’re part of the community we’re engaged in and have a relationship with our parishioners and others. It feels like a very vibrant community.

Melissa: Yeah.

Kate: You started with talking about the particularity of a congregation understanding itself as specific to themselves to their context where they are, which makes me think about to tie that with your heritage piece earlier in the stories that we maybe crutch on as a church. The farther back those stories go, the more generic it starts to feel like – the Jesus story. Yes, of course. Every Christian denomination is the Jesus story is part of our story. But then what was the founding of your denomination? What was the founding of your congregation? [M:Yes.] Because those are distinctives. Why did your denomination need another parish here? What was the story of happening in this neighborhood? Because you were formed to serve certain purpose here. [M:That’s right]. That is not served not only by the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Melissa:  Yes.

Kate: The origins feel like they feel like they get really important to me.

Melissa: Yeah, they are. And the reason I keep using that word usable is not all origin stories are equally usable. I mean, they’re all interesting, but some congregations are formed. They’re formed out the chaos of another congregation. Those are great stories. You know, the –We don’t want to be that. We want to be this – very helpful even if it made a diocese, gave a diocese headaches, doesn’t matter. Other origin stories are just, they just are part of the assumption that every neighborhood needed this or that. But it, it’s, and Kate, you and I’ve talked about the name of a congregation, it is can be gold in the right hands. It can be bland in another person’s hands. So using, really taking the time. I met recently with a new person at a congregation. I said, because this is available. I said, go down to the archives in our diocese and read the substantial story. You become the expert on the story. Cause you’ll find good stuff there. You’ll find great stuff there. Not all of it usable. So it kind of takes a bit of a discerning person who both is interested in the current reality and then where it might be, where there might be a little string, a thread that goes back to something that has that weight and can be something that’s ballast in some of the congregational identity.

Kate: I feel like I’m picking up what you’re saying about what’s usable in that I, I’m filling in some of my own assumptions there, but could you just speak to that a little more explicitly? What makes something usable?

Melissa: All stories are not usable. It’s like the stories about ourselves, <laugh> or some of them are usable to me in the silence of my heart. And they’re usable to me in the choices I make. But not all are usable and easily told. And to me, the whole purpose of a story in congregational identity is that it can be shared by a group. That it can be something that is magnetic in its own funky way. <laugh> shared by it’s the property of a group can help guide internal integration and engagement outside itself. And so we have to be able to tell. And that doesn’t mean stories can’t be painful. And sometimes those painful stories are, they’re gold because they talk about our ability to empathize with others or they talk about a treasured value that we have experienced has been trespassed upon. So those are usable, and it’s, again, you’re constantly sifting is what I feel like –I’m constantly sifting, look looking for the things that motivate and inspire and attract the particular people for whom that faith community is going to be their avenue to grow deeper in their life in Christ.

Derek: This, particularly for me as you talk about that, I think of that as a leading role or leader role. I don’t want to say leadership, but leading role where there is a responsibility for the leader of an organization or leaders to tell the story. And it’s a meaning-making adventure, not a factual adventure. And it is in some ways when you say, Hey, some’s not usable. Some’s not maybe even some is even painful that needs to be part of the use. And some joys it probably need to be ignored because they take you away from the sense of coherence you have. But I love this notion that we, it’s our story, not just a story, but one we collectively own as a group, as a team, as an organization to say, this is who we are. And that’s when it has resonance in that way. Then again, it feels like home. There’s a homeness to that story. It’s like, oh, that’s a story that’s a similar one to mine. Both personally sometimes and maybe corporately. Sp, yeah. But that feels like a leader, as we think about you because you’re impressed with you as a leader, and the sort of shaping and telling of stories is a huge amount of what you do and share who are we now and not as who we were, but who are we now? And those pieces come together. Yeah. [M: Yeah]

Kate: I was thinking as you were talking about the usefulness of a story is, a lot of it is where you begin and where you end. So a painful moment, not necessarily don’t want to end a story. Thinking about my own congregation which had a big congregational split and 90 some percent of people left and 20 stayed behind for a feeding ministry. And you could tell a story of the split, that’s just a painful story. But the story that we tell is on the day that the congregation that was leaving was stripping everything they could from the sanctuary, the 20 who stayed hand-planted a garden, they would still have vegetables for their feeding program because they knew they wouldn’t have the funds to purchase fresh vegetables. That’s a story that tells something about identity and not – both the pain and the identity. It becomes usable when you add, you expand the scope just a little bit to that garden. I think about when you became Bishop, the Diocese of New Westminster some years ago, I followed you pretty closely those first few months. One of the first things you did was apologize on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada about the treatment of Indigenous people there. Which was also knowing the narrative, knowing the pain points of that narrative and then starting to craft a different path forward. And there’s such a bigger story there that you’re, to Derek’s point, you’ve been a great leader that actively writing a new story through your participation in it.

Melissa: Well, I got the privilege of doing that. No, I tell you any time I can apologize, I’ll jump on it to tell you the truth. And of course the other really courageous Canadian bishops had done that way before I got there. And a lot of the apologizing, I had to do this to the Japanese Canadian community over some things that occurred. But the way you rewrite the story is you apologize and then you do everything afterwards, [K:yes] Which is meeting after meeting, meeting, trying to find out really what assisted to make that apology [K:Mm-hmm.] real. And just that steady, steadfast sticking with where the pain was and helping that happen. But the other thing I did, and this, I really loved this part, was we had a, because I was an outside, I mean I was an American citizen, they thought they wanted to elect an American citizen and they wouldn’t get there. It’s more complicated cause I’m not Canadian. And I went down to the archives. I took my own medicine, and I read back through the history of bishops and found the bishop David Somerville, who the VST, Vancouver School of Theology, building is named after David. And looked at some of the stances he took around the relationship between church and society and parish churches and their communities and just said, I want to build on this. I want to build on this that’s really still a fairly alive and positive part of your heritage. And that really helped me settle down and not try to do too much apologizing about who I was.

Derek: I love that weaving of the old and the new. And again, we still having this conversation about heritage and currency or who we are. And it is, I think particularly challenging, particularly if you’re a outsider because you talked about being a kind of a US citizen and they wanted someone Canadian until they realize, okay, you’re not like us in whatever ways. And I think wise of you to really in some ways weave yourself into their narrative so that you, an outsider who became an insider in a certain type of way to become a part of the story and add to their story, if you will, and expand the capacity for them. In essence, when they invited you, they said, we want to expand who we are. And I even hear your apologies as expanding who we are to take in who we’ve hurt. And so that sort of working of a story. And I think sometimes we as leaders forget that we’re not just telling a story, we’re working a story, we are crafting the story

Melissa: That’s exactly right there.

Derek: We’re shaping kind of what our future will be by how we engage the past and how we bring it forward. M: Yeah.

Melissa:  No, and as long as for me, as long as you do it respectfully and you’re not trying to manipulate the outcome, you’re trying to give birth to what was there all the time. But few wanted to kind of work, this is a whole for me, this whole thing of storytelling and identity and integration. And it’s is unfortunately we don’t cultivate this ability as much as we should in leaders in the church. Cause it’s essential.

Kate:  Yeah, yeah, yeah. The story sensibility is,

Melissa: Yeah, especially now. Yeah, especially now.

Kate: Yeah. Can you expand the “especially now”?

Melissa:  Well I think Covid, our friend Covid

Kate: Always. Topic of every conversation.

Melissa:  For one thing, people wrote some new stories because boom we had to do things we didn’t thought we’d ever have to do or we didn’t think ourselves capable of and all that. So we wrote some new stories. And I think some of the duress that congregations have felt under makes it that much more important to articulate what is our reason for being, why us? [K:Mm-hmm.] Not just why a congregation, but why this particular one with this particular history and personality and giftedness. Why this one? And so I think we just have to be – many people just say, we all just need to join hands and all the churches need to just be one big church. Or we need to, everything needs to be pared down and everything. I don’t typically go in that direction. I go towards not –collaboration yes, but with a differentiated local community. [K:Yes.]I think that’s a really important thing. So to me it’s become more important, not less.

Kate:  We had thought about at one point doing this podcast season on how congregations are reforming their identity in light of Covid, what Covid has changed about congregations’ identities. And it almost felt too big. And also I think too sad, at least at the moment that we started planning the season because it’s still so present still in the midst congregations are still just really struggling with the transition to in-person or what winter means or [M:yes. }trying to get their numbers back of people who are volunteering. What’s some good examples? I mean like hopeful examples, if you have any, of how a congregation’s identity has been formed in response to Covid that might offer just a glimmer of light.

Melissa:  Yeah, no, I, I’m, and probably I’m more in touch with some of those, kind of, in the period of time I was in Canada. So some, one congregation, man, embraced the whole virtual thing, hook, line, and sinker, and has just created a virtual, really virtual congregation alongside an in-person congregation. And that came from a surprising place. It was in Richmond, BC a really surprising place that to my mind had a wonderful identity in terms of the diversity of people who attended there. More so than many parishes and I had pretty diverse parishes in Canada. But that one just really decided, made that decision, and as a part of their fundamental identity that they wanted to embrace. In Olympia, I’m not as familiar except maybe the parish in Gig Harbor who in the pandemic found a kind of resourcing at the virtual level, intimacy building at the virtual level. Not giving up on in-person anything, but finding, at least with the people who were there, that lots of creative ways that people connected with each other in terms of formation and community building really arose. And then the knitting together of people offering things. And they created a whole website about who wants to offer something and then who wants to get it. It was unbelievable. I just found out of the parishes at least that I worked with over the past year, that was one of the most creative discoveries of who they were at the same time they were renovating their worship space. So it isn’t just all one story or the other. And the way these things were woven together was really inspiring.

Kate:  Yes, I love the Richmond congregation, congregations?, that frame of one, a virtual alongside an in-person. I think we’ve gotten very trapped in this hybrid metaphor, of we’re trying to be two things at once and how challenging that is. [ M: Really hard.] [K: yeah] [M: Really hard.] just to shift that metaphor, shift the way you tell that story too. [M: Yes]. They’re alongside, they’re one congregation. Yes. That’s almost at different services, you know, you have the 7:00 AM and the 9:00 AM. Right. That’s lovely. That’s an excellent reframe. Thank you.

Derek: Yeah, it’s it this interestig. I didn’t say – I appreciate the stories, a lovely story. I realize too that, again, I’ll go back to leadership. There’s something, for instance for me as an African American person has already in my history a sense of suffering and persistence. And I realize that’s also part of our cultural story or our personal story does play into our leadership story. And so in those congregations, the sort of, not just simply the culture leader, but the culture of the people, how they engaged the suffering of the pandemic and how they used it as part of their story. It could be a despairing story or it could be a resilient story. And there seems to be, I think for people leading and crafting meaning – how we tell the story feels so important in this and where it is of course, if the environment is such that, hey, we don’t have the resources, et cetera, but that internal sense of what we – still we persist and learning that persistence still, we have hope, still we have faith feels an important internal story, but also a story to tell each other and in a kind of co-regulating sort of way. So I, it’d be lovely, maybe, that something we’d do at some point hear stories of coming through the pandemic and what you learned or how you grew or how you became resilient or how you became stronger, how you became a muscle, if you will, that was exercised, and you didn’t realize how much strength and resilience you had as a congregation or as an organization or how much creativity you had in you until the pandemic became a source of stimuli for that or catalyst for actually learning some things about your resilience,

Melissa: Amen, brother.

Derek: Well I had a question and maybe it’s a success failure question a little bit. Churches, organizations sometimes fail. And what I mean by fail is they don’t typically fail right away unless it’s financial. But they begin to erode or dry up or lose vitality, lose life. And what, from your experience, when you can see and look at a congregation or an organization failing, or and again it’s interesting, they don’t go away right away, but they kind shrivel up and become something off their

Melissa: It’s hard to kill ‘em, really hard to kill them.

Derek:  But when you see an organization, what are usually the characteristics or at least the things that seem to show up in those contexts.

Melissa:  So I’m thinking about one in particular. I think I see congregations failing when leaders try to take back all the functions in themselves. When leaders are actually stingy with the fun stuff, the difficult stuff, the developmental stuff. When the leader tries to hold it all because at least the organizations and churches I’m thinking about in today’s environment, it just can’t work anymore. The finances aren’t there, people don’t feel connected. There is an ownership of the broader organizational story or its purpose or its challenges. So the whole thing of going from that, being owned by a broader group of people to that being taken back in almost as a justification of, you know, I’m the one paid for the job is deadly. I think it’s deadly. So I haven’t really been a part of, or I’ve watched and seen congregations that have failed. I haven’t been a part of an organization that has failed, to tell you the truth, not while I was there, not while I was there. But I do have some now that, a seminary in particular in my past is failing. And that particular place lost touch, embraced a more ossified story I would say. It’s where history became the heritage and where the couldn’t embrace the kind of current challenges. That would be another reason where the story becomes extremely confining and where the whole organizational integrity rather than the adapt, which organizational integrity and adaptation, those are little oscillation dances, right, where the adaptation thing either completely disappeared out of the story or an organization became so intent on adaptation, it forgot its identity in the process. Then it might as well not, it’s a different organization, it’s a different thing. 

Kate: to start up, yeah.

Melissa: So those are some of things that is for me would be a reason an organization failed. The other reason, a final reason would be, and this would be churches or other organizations, is that little iceberg thing where that which is observable in the organization, the congregation, is above the water line. And then there’s all this stuff about dynamics between people, trust issues, culture, assumptions about the way life is that’s down under when that stuff is so split away from what’s above. And there’s no attempt to kind of bring what really charts the future of an organization, which is often, it can’t be stuff above the line. No, nobody has a… description. That’s a bad thing. But when all those other kind of things that are typically on a more unconscious or under the kind of wave of consciousness, isn’t handled very expertly tenderly regularly, that can get you. That can really get you. So that constant wondering what might be either assisting or holding us back that we don’t want to look at, that’s another entire area.

Derek:  And all those things mean risking conflict. I mean because [M:mm-hmm.] almost like when you asked it to come alive, you risked conflicts. It’s like why are you bothering us with that? Or we’ve got to go this way. Whether the mania of getting someplace or the kind of recalcitrant, we’re not moving, we know who we are. Both those things. And I think that the challenge for me personally has been not doing too much. 

Melissa:  Yeah. Oh I get it.

Derek: How do we trust other people? And then how do you deal with your disappointment or frustration when they can’t do it the way you’d hope they would. [M:Yes]. And you And learning not to try to take it back. [M:Yes.] And how do you let it go and trust. And I think those are moments when are most challenging for me in the role of saying, well we’ll see what it turns out to be. And it may not be exactly what I would have envisioned, but it is what it it’s going to be. It’s ours, it’s not mine. And that capacity to cultivate an ours is a goal, but sometimes a challenging one. Yeah.

Melissa:  [K: Oh yeah.] Yeah. I had a friend many years ago who said, it’s like think, cause he knew this was my thing too. It’s a big old bushel thing of corn. You’ve got to get it from here over to there. How you going to do it? Don’t do it that way. Please.

Kate: Don’t do it all at once.

Melissa: Ok I get it. Meeting over.

Kate: Smaller loads. I’ve never thought of the adaptation and integrity being intention. It’s – Where my brain’s going with that as an example, a case study maybe, is some of the conflicts between denominations, between congregations and denomination. Because we have some congregations saying this is who we are. I’m thinking about the United Methodist Church and their conflicts over L G B, LGBTQ acceptance and our affirmation. Some congregations are saying, no, we’re accepting, we’re affirming. We love our neighbors. This is who we are, this is our identity. And people who haven’t had those, congregations that haven’t had those identities, say like, no, you’re pushing us to adapt too fast. That’s not our identity. That’s an adaptation that will cause us to fail because it’s too much too quick. And it’s a different frame of their <laugh> I’m loving the frame of adaptation versus integrity because it’s, it frames where you position yourself and how you understand your identity versus your adaptation. Again, it’s so particular to where your congregation is located, who attends your congregation. There’s not, it removes it from the purely moral or justice realm into that storied place.

Melissa: And it’s helpful for me to be in a denomination where there are other factors that factor in here too. And effort to be a place where some can be Anglican, that everybody doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same place.

Kate: So you’ve gotten to shape congregations’ identities and a denomination’s identity. How do you think about the relationship between those two? Yeah,

Melissa: My belief, again, I can only speak out out of my denominational identity or as I prefer to say ecclesial tradition. [K:Yes]. Because denomination sounds so dismissive to me, to be quite honest. It sounds kind of like, I don’t know, it sounds like something that I wouldn’t want to be a part of. It sounds kind of, I don’t know I respect the heritage and particularly I respect both the heritage and the problem with the Anglican thing or the Episcopal thing. To me, and again, within the Episcopal church, when a congregation can not only hear its own stories, and I would add Biblical stories to this too. What does our congregation who we are and what story out of the people of God is it kind of pinging, expressing, revisiting, reinterpreting. That’s so cool. Well when you can take those ecclesial tradition stories and access those as well, for me, you just gain in power. And by power I mean the energy from within. I don’t mean the ability to influence and get your way yourself, it’s just you access this sort of community of saints, this sort of stream of energy that’s there in the heritage. So for me, it would be part of the heritage and a part of the ongoing story of, in the Episcopal church, the way of love, which Michael Curry is people sign their letters “in the way of love, my name”. I thought, wow, we’re really buying into this <laugh> Canada. It’s like way of love, what’s this? It’s very American. So yeah, that ecclesial identity can be, when you’ve got, again, it has to be usable. I did a whole thing in a diocese with Russ Crabtree, you know, the Holy Cow and the CAT church assessment with Presbyterians. And I said, so Presbyterians tell me what is your ecclesial identity? Silence.

Kate: Oof

Melissa: Silence. I thought work some work that needs to be done here. Cause I wanted to hear their story, but it was not at the congregational level. Could they have said, and they said something about structures Presbyterian to this, that the committees, but they weren’t able to say, what’s the life’s blood? Lutherans are able to say what the life’s blood is. I’ve noticed

Derek:  That feels somehow richer. It’s interesting. And I’m trying to get a sense of what’s the richness of, I won’t say soulish, in that sense of knowing a story. It feels much more effectively connected. Not just simply again, structurally, but how we belong to each other. It is our story, how we see ourselves in the world, what we see our purpose and calling are. And what you’re raising. I think it’s interesting, we’ve talked a lot about heritage and what you’re raising is the tension between heritage and the currency or the new thing that we are being asked to struggle with and adapt. Yes. And in some way it suggests too that we need all of our population in a church that which is new, bringing in new ideas in that which is here that says, and how do we hold that with what we already know or what we’ve learned or how does it impact what we’ve learned? And so this sort of church of tension, <laugh>, if you will, or at least the community that’s working with its parts. [M:Yes.] Which is new and says, Hey, we have to consider this now. And that which says, and we’ve known these things and how do we have that sort of dialogue in the church where we’re not fighting about change but some fighting because that’s necessary. But we recognize change has to occur and the history has taken place. And how do we hold those things together, both intention and comfort.

Melissa: And I like to do it in big public events. You know where we talk, it’s a big listening process, not decision making process. It’s a big listening process where people are actually discovering what this ecclesial tradition is. Or actually talking about what are the current challenges or what’s already here and how might these go together or not. Or how might one apologize to the other. I mean, I think with the colonial Anglican, it’s colonial. And so there’s lots to be apologized for there. And that whole tension in Anglicanism of the Elizabethan settlement of both this and this and that living in tension and always being there, that’s to me, a huge asset and a gift actually helps this very thing happen.

Kate:  Itself a great example of the way that you tell the story of the heritage. You could tell it as a split or a retaliation. We don’t want to be that. We don’t want to do that.

Melissa:  No, exactly. We split from wrong.

Kate:  But to tell it as a compromise between [M:Oh yeah.] Like that. Or a

Melissa: Compromise. Yeah.

Kate:  A third way. Yeah. That’s a very different, totally different value structure than, yeah.

Melissa:  So yeah, no, it, it’s again, what’s usable. [K:Yes. Yeah.] What’s usable

Kate: And the values that are usable to a current context might be different than the ones that were usable 20 years ago. [M: Exactly. Yeah.] So you mentioned right at the start this recording your work with Tom’s of Maine and you have a background, a rich background in more corporate world. And some of my, I should just say I was your intern for a while and a lot of what you taught me was from your marketing background. And it was very business language that as a seminary student, I didn’t get it anywhere else. I got it from you and I,

Melissa: Sorry.

Kate:  Oh no, it’s a gift. I think it frames this question is what do, what could congregations be learning from corporations about how to shape identity, communicate identity? What have corporations figured out that you were just like, ah, if congregations could just get this?

Melissa:  Yeah. Oh gosh. Well they need to because congregate– companies have marketers and [mm-hmm] spin doctors as the Borgen the series says, calls everybody the spin doctor, they have these people. Congregations have to be more intentional and kind of democratize, [K:yes] democratize this process. It takes time and it takes, to Derek’s point, it takes a leader interested in this who sees all through the lens of kind of spiritual life, programmatic life, communications, decision-making styles, that this would all be of one piece. That it’s fun to have a piece of cloth woven together well, you know, with the gold thread and the dark thread. And that’s fun to hold and it’s fun to let it grow out onto all these different pieces. So it takes, I think it takes training congregational leaders to do that. And looking at an example, I would probably steer away from big corporations, but from a small either nonprofit or a small company that does this really well into just notice things like social media, website, product choice, relationship with the people they serve. At Tom’s of Maine, We were going to do focus groups initially and I realized, wait a minute. No, no, we’re doing parties. We have to talk. These people, we’re like their family members. That’s how they think of us and how I’d like to think of them. We’re not going to look at ’em through a two-way, one-way mirror. That’s crazy. So we made that shift, and we learned a lot from them. So it’s like how do all those elements come together. And getting curious about a small company or a nonprofit that really does that beautifully. And I would say that has a set of values we could discern at the center of it so that we would at least be able to have the conversation about the way in which their values fuel this desire to have that internal, that integrity, that integrated conversation internally and learn how that shapes how we engage people who are outside our congregation or who might want to enter our congregation.

Kate:  Yes, the observable values are not observable because they were stenciled onto a wall in the foyer.

Melissa: It can’t just be about selling a product. And yeah, it can’t just be about that, but often that is diminished anyway by church people as if the people who are make up our pews are kind of heathens and are money grubbers, I mean, just stop talking about marketing in such a harsh way. But cause that that’s person over there we’re talking about, you have a little more appreciation for that. There might be more to it in their workplace than we’d give credit for in the church.

Kate:  Yes. Which also I think points to the ways that churches do marketing and communications poorly is it adopts that model, but the thing they’re selling is attend our worship service. And it takes on that same kind of feel of [M:yes], you’re trying to manipulate me to get me to come in Sunday morning.

Melissa:  Yeah, yeah. And of course that’s have, it’s got speak to, it’s got to comprehend, it’s got to support and hold together the lives of real people, not just the stuff we want to give them.

Kate: Yes.

Derek:  <laugh> beginning as you talk, that’s

Melissa: That’s a big job. Yeah. Yeah. Sorry, go ahead Derek.

Derek: As you’re talking, I’m beginning to appreciate the longevity of the potential, longevity of the relationships within the church. The space to work it out, the space to tussle and struggle with each other, as opposed to, I got to sell a product and if I get that, if don’t we don’t sell that product, we’re all going to be in trouble. We won’t be here if you will. This is more of a how do we weave lives together and not always easily, and how do we negotiate? And so I’m hearing all these sort of soft skills of goodness, grace is a lot of negotiation and a lot of maybe having to rehearse the story again so I don’t leave you all and go to some other story community or the how do I see myself in this place and my calling embedded with you all? And those are skills that aren’t talked about. But I mean we talk about in the sense of, well we lost members but not in the sense of what allows us to negotiate with each other to stay, and stay in a communion or community that is working out something with each other as well as working on a sense of mission outside of us. So I’m hearing a lot of those tools and skills that are necessary that I don’t think I thought about quite in the same way and very different than a corporate context. Much for hierarchical typically top down, maybe, maybe the creative ones are a little bit more different levels of sort of authorization. But the church is sort of multiple. There’s some top down and there’s some between and there’s some underneath upward. [M:Yeah, I know]. And all the sort of dynamics

Melissa:  Brand.

Derek:  Yeah. All those sort of dynamics of holding together feels much more familial as we’re talking than just simply the hierarchy of a corporation. So I’ll ask my, cause again, this is my failure in success at the bookend. We’ve been talking about things that seem to be more successful. That word doesn’t fit right now, but more belonging, more gathering, more holding of teams and organizations. And maybe I asked you to share a little bit of when you saw it working, what did you see? And maybe even what you felt. [M:Yeah.] Because it’s probably a feeling as much as something you see.

Melissa:  Yeah. So with the team, for me it’s elation and some of it, this is my personality preference. I love to bring things to fruition. I just love it. It just feels like that’s what I was made to do. And so when a team and often I’m happy to play almost any part as a bishop, there were times I was just the facilitator, which is kind unheard of in the church again. Usually you just sit there and you make final decisions or you engage it, but you make the final decisions and some other poor person is up there, maybe facilitating and writing things down and asking questions for clarification. So I was always on a couple of key teams, mostly  financial, thorny financial matters, I was happy to be the facilitator much to everybody. No, after a while they said You have to be the <laugh> that, and on this whole question of an ongoing question we had about monies and effort towards Indigenous people in the diocese of New Westminster? they said, you actually have to facilitate this so that I like productivity and that so much that I’m willing to play whatever role. I don’t have to be the chair. So I feel elated when that happens and I feel elated both for the outcome and for the way different people get to play the roles kind of made to play in a team. I really love seeing that.

Derek:  That is a lovely, that sweet spot. When people are, I’m in my spot and I’m with my team– that is lovely.

Melissa:  And like I can do my part. They can do their part. And also with a big all dollop of fun. So I would often bring my dog Teddy to sit in a conference chair during <laugh>,

Kate: Valuable contributor

Melissa: To bring my dog Teddy and everything. Cause I was renting in Vancouver to get thrown out from a barking dog. So my dog Teddy went everywhere. But then also kind of celebration. Humor. We are doing an important thing, but let’s hold it a bit lightly, you know. Let’s enjoy. For me, it’s not enough just to get the thing done. It’s about the satisfaction of doing it together. And the older I get, the more important that is. So in a team it, it’s so easy to say. And pretty much in an organization, and again I’m thinking about my parish in Seattle, it was the same way. It was assisting a congregation that had a hard time coming to decision making, not to just me going and making all the decisions, but to facilitate full scale processes, team processes, everything across the board to actually get to taking action, appreciating ourselves for it, making progress on what seemed like overwhelming odds against us. And just doing that over and over and over again. Same stuff. For people to just kind of want to be a part of it. They just wanted to be a part of it.

Kate:  Yeah. I think part of it – your goal of flexibility there and allowing people to try on roles, even encouraging people to try things that they maybe haven’t tried anywhere else before, hadn’t ever been encouraged in it. And it was so fulfilling to see people try something they were frightened of and then find out that they had a knack for it and the things that were scary. And then became just that flourishing. Being able to bring themselves and able to celebrate them doing that. And I think that role flexibility is a lot of,  contributed to why that congregation was known as a calling congregation. A lot of people came up in the discernment process to priesthood there because with a chance to try it on, what is it like to lead a prayer service or run a discernment group and

Melissa: To be the director, to be the rector of this cong- of this 10 o’clock service. You be the rector. I’ll support you.

Kate: Yes.

Melissa: But they were people as you helped describe what that is. You develop the community and you call ‘em together and then you realize it is your role to relinquish. [K:Yes.] And to step into it, to reframe one’s own role and then to be supporting and really helping and training a group of people who were getting to do some of the things you used to love to do.

Kate: Yeah. I was trying to come up with, what’s the opposite of control? It’s relinquish. Yeah. Lovely.

Melissa:  Yeah. Relinquish and train, relinquish and not cause it could – the license to abandon is always there and to have other things that one does outside the organization that are also very important. And I don’t believe all in that.

Kate: Well, I want to respect our time boundary and I see us coming up on it. So I will end with our question that we always end with, I call it engagement with a cause as a way of recognizing that your time is so valuable and we’re always so grateful for the time you choose to spend with us here at the center. We wanted to give you space to talk up an organization that you see doing good work, in addition to the ones you’ve already talked up. And we will make a donation to this organization and encourage our listeners to donate or get in touch with and volunteer whatever way it makes sense to them too as well.

Melissa: That’s easy. The Chief Seattle Club. The Chief Seattle Club is a Native-led housing and human services agency in the city of Seattle. And its focus is urban aboriginal people. And because I’ve known people who’ve been on the board and volunteered and done things who just have nothing but positive things to say about it, that’s what I would recommend. And I have a particular heart, and this was born out of some time, the time in Canada, for organizations that have – Native people is their focus. Urban is their focus and it’s native-led that that’s really critical. So that’s the organization I would recommend. I would love if you guys would make a donation to the Chief Seattle Club.

Kate: Yes, absolutely. Chief Seattle Club. We will send them a letter and a little check. Their website, listeners, is Lots of interesting pieces on there. Encourage you to go check them out. And again, Bishop Melissa, thank you so much for joining us.

Melissa: My pleasure. 

Derek:  It’s been our pleasure to have you. It’s been lovely.

Melissa: Oh gosh. Thank you. My pleasure.