As I watch the Presidential debates I am distracted by thoughts of leadership. (Ok, I admit, I am finding the debate between McCain and Obama to be a bit dry)…..

Anyway…What is good leadership? What kind of leadership do we, will we, trust? I think the answers to these questions varies from era to era, from politics to society to religious institutions.

Before I entered the process for ordination I spent many years in the arts community working in theater and dance production and then in Interior Design. I saw myself as an artist, not the typical artist using paint or ink, pottery, glass, or metals. Rather I saw myself as an artist portraying and bringing forth human emotion, human experience, human hope, in the lights I used to illuminate dance theater or later, as I naively thought, in the furnishing of homes for the wealthy. (yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking there – except perhaps that being an interior designer was a means to an end for me – a way for me to get “rich”). I also had a fair amount of leadership experience, not just from theater and interior design, but also from having started a ministry in a local hospital that lasted for 8 years.

So, after another career as a Massage Therapist, working with hospice and hospital and a small private practice…I attended seminary and was finally ordained. In my first “call” I was drawn to a parish that claimed to have a fabulous priest/rector who knew how to raise up great priests. I was excited to be offered a job with that church and eagerly took it…

Despite the fact that a previous interview at that church had left me hyperventilating, yeah, really an interview at this same church a year earlier had felt so up-tight that I left there gasping for air.

This time, this round of interviews, I had friend on the “inside” who assured me that the rector was a great mentor – leaving me to doubt my own experience.

Anyway, I accepted the position and was excited to begin ordained ministry. I anticipated a time of formation that would include deep prayer, building of spirituality, teaching of the practice of sacramental rites.

What I got instead was a corporate church engaged in a corporate model of top down hierarchy. Of competition amongst the staff. Of disengaged, unemotional, corporate model of leadership that spent more time teaching me how to give the dismissal from liturgy than it did teaching me to care for my spiritual life.

It drove me nuts.

I had to work hard to not buy into and think that all my intuitive sensibilities of leadership were not “flights of fancy,” but pointed me toward real, good, alternatives for leadership. Real and good in terms of content, of how women lead, and how that kind of collaborative leadership was being overlooked by my male colleagues…This was 10 years ago.

Now I think more and more young people are influenced by female leadership and grow up with new images of what leadership can look like… Young men and women who have had the opportunity of experiencing a woman pastor….Soon, I suspect, this will not be an issue.

All this is to say that I went into the position, my first call, with one sense of what this time would be like (rich in spiritual formation of priesthood and faith development) and what I got instead was a corporate model of leadership and loads of skills in leading that way.

True, that kind of formation has held me in good stead. I “get” organizations and processes and ministry. I understand “Corporate” models of leadership and while there is value in them, they are not my preferred way of leading. At least not in the ways they reinforce hierarchy, top down, authoritarian leading. I prefer collaborative and mutual leading…the sharing of authority.

But, as Susan Beaumont so wisely said, One has to have authority first before it can be shared…” Ergo, sometimes one has to function in that corporate model in order to gain the authority and then teach people how to lead as team, how to share leadership.

Therefore the longer I live into my vocation as a priest, the more certain I am, that women’s leadership has changed the entire landscape of our society, our churches, our world. That said, I don’t think we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater – I think there is a way to blend the corporate models of the past with the leadership of relationship that women bring to the process.

That’s what I am working on now…

I’ll let you know how it goes…

Oh, and in terms of the debate and our Presidential election – we need a new model of leadership there too….I really hope that Obama is elected AND that he can live into the change he offers….I know how hard it is to do, even when one has all the best of intentions. (and, a lot less at stake)….


About Terri C Pilarski

I am an Episcopal priest serving a delightfully progressive, interesting, creative congregation. I have been married more than half my life to the same man. We have two grown children, plus two dogs and two cats, although the number of four legged household members changes from time to time. I love to garden, knit, read, and play on Facebook or with my blog. I have been a practitioner of daily meditation since I was nineteen. I practice yoga five days a week and walk every where I am able too.
This entry was posted in corporate, leadership, womens leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Leadership…

  1. Rev SS says:

    I agree 100% … and pray that Obama gets elected and then has more support from his leadership team than many pastors have

  2. well neighbor i like your thoughts on leadership… but i certainly won’t be voting with you on the election. i think he’s full of rhetoric… i mean all the candidates are full of rhetoric… but i think his leadership will not bring good changes at. all. i’d be much more hopeful if Biden/Palin was the ticket…

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