In this week’s “Bishop’s Corner,” we feature the candidates to be the 13th bishop of the Diocese of New Jersey. We asked each of them:
Describe your relationship with Christ and how it shapes your ministry.
Here are there written answers. To read more, visit the candidates’ pages on the NJ Bishop Search Web site.
THE REV. CANON DR. DENA CLEAVER-BARTHOLOMEW
Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Rhode Island
I treasure a photograph of me, my older brother Bruce, and the priest who baptized us when I was three. In the picture the priest has his hand on my shoulder and I am beaming. This image is a metaphor for me of how I experience the ongoing Presence of God, as if Jesus were beside me, and occasionally reaching out to remind me he is there, and I am in the company of people I love as we seek to follow God together.
My relationship with Christ is one that began before I can remember. I was the child who always wanted to go to church and who gave up Sunday School in second grade so that I could stay and listen to the sermon. When I was 11 and the priest asked in confirmation class what we wanted to be when we grew up, I said a priest. Growing up in a military family, I found home in my relationship with God, often encountered in Church, and with those who showed me the Presence of God wherever we were. Like Brother Lawrence, who developed his devotional practice while washing pots and pans, I engage in “The Practice of the Presence of God” by cultivating an openness to Jesus wherever I may be, knowing that he is always present. I learned, like St. Paul, that encounters with the Risen Christ are real and life changing, and that the appropriate response for me is to go where he calls and do as he asks. In both military and Church terms this translates into going where the mission is, which is sometimes surprising, challenging, or delightful, and always done in the hope of being faithful. I have served in a wide range of ministries as both a lay and ordained person, continually learning about Christ and his Church, and seeking ways to better partner with and equip the saints for the work of ministry.
The foundation of my relationship with Jesus includes practice of contemplative prayer, communal prayer, and an abiding love for the Presence of God as encountered in the Holy Eucharist. I also have received the gift of mystical experiences with the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit which have been transformative. These mystical encounters have led me to greater awe, wonder, humility, and respect for the experiences of others.
THE REV. CANON DR. SALLY FRENCH
Canon for Regional Ministry and Collaborative Innovation, Diocese of North Carolina
I grew up in a secular home. One of my earliest memories about faith was my father explaining that “religion is the opium of the masses” (a quote from Karl Marx), and that our neighbors’ habit of church attendance was a sign that they could not succeed in this present world and needed to pin their hopes on an imaginary God instead. What my parents could not know, and I had no words to tell them, was that as a very young child, I had profound experiences of an Other, a powerful presence that came to me in times of distress or loneliness, as comforter and friend. My companion was infinite, all-knowing, compassionate, and wise, and I knew somehow that I was loved beyond measure.
I never forgot that loving presence. One day as a college student, I walked into a campus ministry service of Holy Eucharist and found my friend again. I felt like I had come home. I learned that my childhood companion had a name – Jesus, and that his love was made present not only in quiet moments of what I came to know was prayer, but also in God’s people, in sacraments, worship, reconciliation, and so much more. I remembered that I was beloved, and I learned to see that belovedness in others.
Today, my relationship with Jesus Christ, the fully divine and fully human Son of God, remains central to who I am and how I serve. The infinite love and compassion that I knew in my childhood is still an important part of how I experience God, but it is deeper and richer now, focused not on me but on others. I know Jesus as one who seeks justice, and he invites me into this work too. I know Jesus as Lord and Savior, I understand myself to be saved through his cross and resurrection, and this is good news that I faithfully proclaim. I also know firsthand the redeeming power of God’s love, and I delight in sharing this with others and supporting people as they grow as disciples and followers of Jesus.
My relationship with Christ is a firm foundation for ministry. Prayer and Holy Scripture are sources of inspiration, hope, and strength. After 23 years of ordained life, many of my practices are now second nature and Jesus is my constant companion. I have learned to listen for the signs of the Holy Spirit, to trust in Jesus Christ, and to lead in response to God’s call. If you were to call me as your bishop, I would offer hopeful, loving and Christ-centered leadership, grounded in and through my relationship with Jesus, who is my joy and my salvation.
THE VERY REV. TROY MENDEZ
Dean, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona
My relationship with Christ is not only vital, but it also shapes everything about me.
Jesus is my ultimate joy and my ultimate hope for all of humanity. We live in an age of constant change and endless choices. Even if we would like to live in a simpler world, the fact is that new levels of complexity appear daily. Jesus’ presence in my life is an active guide to offer comfort, strength, and an abundant presence of love and wisdom for whatever is to come.
I would not have always described my relationship with Christ in this way. As a young adult, my faith was steeped in the tradition of the church, but my relationship with Christ was weak, at best. It took me a while to discover that, though I might have known about Jesus my entire life, I didn’t actually know Him. It was only when I recognized the need for my heart’s continual conversion that I actually began to understand how Jesus calls me into something greater and more expansive than I had ever imagined before.
In the past, some Episcopalians have told me that I preach far too much about Jesus, but I cannot imagine being faithful to my calling if I were to do otherwise. There is always more to learn. There is always more to experience about Jesus, too.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus invites John’s disciples to tell “what you see and hear” about Jesus, instead of what they’ve seen and heard (Matthew 11:4). Jesus is active and present in the world, both then and now. Jesus continues to extend the invitation to me every day to tell what I see and hear about what God is up to in the world, especially about what God is up to in my life, my church, and in my community. Jesus Christ is an active force of love in our world, and our quest to share this love alongside Jesus will change absolutely everything for ourselves and for everyone. He is truly the savior of us all.
THE REV. JANINE SCHENONE
Rector, Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, San Diego, California
My relationship with Jesus began at an early age, as I prayed to him frequently while looking at the cross nailed over my bed. In early adulthood, however, I was troubled by the Cross. Why did Jesus have to suffer, and why is the central symbol of Christianity an instrument of suffering and torture? It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I realized that suffering is a constant in life, and that the suffering of Jesus on the cross expressed a fundamental truth about suffering in human existence and God’s understanding of that and sympathy for our condition.
At the same time, that is not how I primarily relate to Jesus. He is my companion, one who keeps me company in my celibate life (in addition to my network of friends and family). He gives me joy and even makes me laugh at times. He is my teacher and guide, someone whose example I seek to follow by reading Gospel stories of him and by asking him for help. And he is a merciful Savior, a liberator who rescues us from the oppression of darkness and sin, whether we are the wrongdoers or the ones harmed by sin.
In my ministry, I seek Christ in all people and in all settings. It’s not hard to find Jesus in people I love and admire. The spiritual work is in seeking and finding Christ in people who are harder to understand, harder to help, or perhaps harder to forgive. When I do find Christ in those people, I recognize that my world is expanding, that walls have tumbled down between us. Jesus gives me the courage to strive for social justice, while reminding me to listen deeply to all sides of the issues. I find him so inspiring that I like to tell people who don’t know Christ about him.
In addition, Jesus provides me with a perfect model for leadership in the church. He models collaboration, compassion, confidence, care for the marginalized, truth-telling, and humility. He recruits leaders and empowers people to be their best. He also models self-care and a deep prayer life, which I consider essential fuel for my life and ministry.
I don’t leave home without him.
THE REV. DR. MAURICIO JOSE WILSON
Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Oakland, California
My 88-year-old, lifelong Episcopalian mother likes to remind her children that we have been in relationship with Christ since before we were born, as she would sing church hymns and pray with us when we were in her womb. My earliest memories of life are all related to being a member of a God-fearing and Church committed family. Being in church and actively participating was encouraged and supported. I knew from Sunday School that Jesus loved me “for the Bible tells me so.”
Sometime around the age of 14 to 15, something changed drastically for me. I started to experience Jesus in a more personal way. Participating and leading youth retreats and events led to a lot of personal spiritual work and faith development. It was at one retreat that I first heard Pescador de Hombres by Cesareo Gabarain, and in the singing, I heard Christ call.
Señor, me has mirado a los ojos, sonriendo has dicho mi nombre.
(Lord, you have looked in my eyes, smiling, you have called my name.)
En la arena he dejado mi barca: junto a Ti buscaré otro mar.
(I have left my boat on the sand, with you I will seek another sea.)
I returned home and told my parents that I felt God’s calling to be a priest in the church.
I have spent 40 plus years enjoying an indescribable relationship with Jesus. I can say without hesitation that Jesus is my unmovable rock. I am in constant conversation and prayer with Christ. I share the greatest joys, deepest sorrows and even my anger with Jesus. When I’m unable to understand the whys of my life and the world around me, it is Christ I count on for clarity, or to knock some sense into me. It is Christ who brings me back to center when I go astray.
My life as a minister of the Good News of Jesus Christ continues to be focused on trying to invite and help as many people as I can to develop and live a deep, personal, and strong relationship with Christ.