The following is a statement and a paraphrase of a prayer by St. Benedict that I prepared for my turn to “share my thoughts” at the Synod Office staff’s Farewell to Archbishop Melissa luncheon via Zoom on Wednesday, February 24. A couple of days later I thought that I would like to share it more broadly. I asked Her Grace and she was enthusiastic about the idea. Here it is:
All of creation is hierarchical and there is always the top of the hierarchy, a leader. In human terms, people that seek leadership or are compelled to lead are a very interesting subset and what they do once they become leaders is a broad subject, open to interpretation, criticism etc. A bishop is a specific kind of leader, a servant-leader, chosen by the faithful who come to their choices through prayer and the invocation of the Holy Spirit. And for the last 7 years we’ve been blessed with Melissa Skelton.
Archbishop Skelton was the right person at the right time. There was little doubt that the 9th Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster would be a woman, the time for greater gender equality in church leadership was way past due. Personally, I remain amazed at the fact that the majority of religious people on the planet embrace faiths and denominations that practice gender apartheid.
Like Bishop John Stephens this past fall, Archbishop Melissa received a very healthy mandate November 30, 2013. Winning the election by a large majority on the third ballot and… don’t forget she was up against some very popular local candidates. The three other top candidates are now two bishops (the Right Reverends McNaughton and Stephens) and the Dean of a major British University (the Reverend Dr. Ellen Clark-King). And Bishop John your time would (and did) come, because the 9th bishop was always going to be a woman.
Archbishop Skelton healed us from our wounds from years of turmoil and schism, but she didn’t do it by kissing it and making it feel better; she did what she does best, she kept us busy, really busy! She championed and spearheaded the reimagining and redesigning of diocesan and parish protocols, processes and systems changing the environment from conflict to learning.
What makes her a brilliant teacher and a brilliant consultant is her ability to bring people out and get them to track through what they need to work on, guiding them to their strengths and building their confidence. The markers and newsprint flipcharts, often seen as the visible symbols of her teaching and leadership style are the physical manifestations of those things. Our diocese was depressed, it was suffering low self-esteem, PTSD. It wasn’t just faith in God, it was faith in ourselves that she built up.
And leadership can be lonely, it’s lonely at the top and it’s even more lonely, when you are lonely. And for these past 7 years Archbishop Melissa has much of the time been separated from her husband, her son, her grandchildren, her siblings, extended family, the Episcopal Church which she loves, her friends and her country. Her gift of service to us has been huge and not without a price.
I can only imagine what Melissa’s career here has meant for women in the church. It’s beyond my ability to truly understand. I don’t think I’m betraying a confidence here, but last week Archbishop Melissa told me about a meeting she had on the Synod Office lawn with the leaders of the diocesan Anglican Church Women (ACW). She was surprised and so moved that the ACW of the diocese had expressed such deep gratitude for her ministry and would miss her presence amongst them. They had truly seen her as one of their own. And why not, if the ACW was a high school cafeteria, anywhere that Archbishop Melissa sat would be the cool table.
Time is our most precious commodity. Our lives go by so fast. If Archbishop Melissa had not been elected Bishop in 2013, she would still have achieved great things in the past 7 years, but she was elected, and, we are so grateful that you shared such a big piece of your time with us. THANK YOU
I know that Archbishop Melissa has a special place in her heart for St. Benedict, therefore I would like to close with the following prayer:
Creator God, in Your goodness
grant us the intellect to comprehend You,
the perception to discern You,
and the reason to appreciate You.
In Your kindness
endow us with the diligence to look for You,
the wisdom, to discover You,
and the spirit to apprehend You.
In Your graciousness
bestow on us hearts to contemplate You,
ears to hear You,
eyes to see You,
and a tongue to speak of You.
In Your mercy to confer on us
a conversation pleasing to You,
the patience to wait for You,
and the perseverance to long for You.
Grant to us all a perfect end, Your holy presence.
We ask this in the name of Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Photo by Bayne Stanley (When covering a diocesan liturgy always bring your own Hymn Book)