Former National Jubilee Officers watched diverse ministries grow into cohesive network

October 19, 2012

Four people have served as National Jubilee Officer since Jubilee Ministry was born as a result of a resolution approved by the Episcopal General Convention in 1982. And while the ministry has changed dramatically over the intervening 30 years, some things have remained the same as ever.

Top of the list: The National Jubilee Officer’s immense pride at the range and depth of outreach efforts undertaken by the Episcopal Church, and joy at the privilege of being able to see, first-hand, just what these ministries are accomplishing. That, along with a gnawing unease that what’s being done just isn’t enough.

In honor of Jubilee’s 30th anniversary, Jubilate tracked down some past National Jubilee Officers to ask them to recall their best and worst times in the job, and to chart the evolution of Jubilee Ministry. Here are their stories:

The Rev. Peter Golden, 1985-1987

Peter Golden was the very first National Jubilee Officer, though he wasn’t hired until nearly three years after the enabling resolution was passed.

“It was a very different environment then than it is now,” said Golden, a retired priest in the Diocese of Long Island. “General Convention had passed it as a concept, but nothing was really put into action until the next convention. So I had to come in, get things organized, acclimate, and move from the Diocese of Chicago. It was quite a different understanding of what Jubilee Ministry was, and we were trying to figure out where we were going, and how fast we could get there.”

Golden recalls the early years of Jubilee Ministry as a period that lacked cohesion. A handful of ministries had been designated as Jubilee sites, but there was no sense of a national network.

At the time, Jubilee Ministry was largely controlled by other agencies within the church. A magazine was published in the name of Jubilee, but no one from Jubilee Ministry was on the editorial committee, and Golden was never advised about or consulted on articles. “That was something I fought to change,” he said.

On the plus side, Jubilee Ministry had deeper pockets in those days, and Golden developed the ongoing practice of diocesan development grants. In 2011, Jubilee Ministry provided $1,000 grants to promote the work of Jubilee Ministry to every diocese that applied. During Golden’s years, the grants were $25,000 to every diocese that applied.

“That was exciting, to hear the bishops talk about how that money was able to help so many organizations get off the ground, or save them from non-existence,” he said. “And visiting Jubilee Centers, talking with the people running those centers, that was a good and great feeling.”

During Golden’s years, Jubilee evolved from a sluggish start-up operation into a functional network that began to resemble the Jubilee Ministry it would eventually become.

The Rev. Carmen Guerrero, 1999-2006

Carmen Guerrero was the director of a Jubilee Ministry in Texas when she went to a Jubilee training conference in 1998 and learned the job of National Jubilee Officer was open.

“I started thinking maybe I could do that,” recalled Guerrera, now a semi-retired priest in the Diocese of Arizona who still coordinates multi-cultural ministries for the diocese. “I decided well, I’ll give it a shot.”

When she began in January of 1999, she was told that her job mostly was to keep track of a data base. “But I remembered having learned from Ntsiki (the previous National Jubilee Officer) that Jubilee was about advocacy, empowerment and outreach,” Guerrero said. “But it appeared to me we were just doing outreach. What happened to the other two?”

Guerrero made it her mission not only to focus on all three areas of ministry, but to expand Jubilee to a global network. “I called the archives and had them send me anything and everything that had to do with Jubilee Ministry since 1983,” she said. “I read the resolution that said we would work with poor and oppressed wherever they may be found. I had been a missionary in Latin America, so I knew where there were a whole bunch: in Province IX.”

Under Guerrero’s leadership, the Jubilee network grew rapidly, from a couple of hundred centers to over 700, in both the U.S. as well as Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. Guerrero called on every single one of them, either by phone or in person. Some of the ones she called didn’t even know they were Jubilee Ministries.

“Sometimes, I called and introduced myself, and they had no idea what I was talking about,” she said. “The person who had started the ministry knew they were a part of the church, but then they grew, and they forgot they were part of the church. It was like the best-kept secret.”

Guerrero began doing national Jubilee Ministry gatherings, and she started a training program for site visitors, so there would be a trained cadre of Jubilee representatives who knew what to look for in a potential new Jubilee Ministry.

She also launched a training program for Diocesan Jubilee Officers. “If we were going to be able to empower people in the field, we needed to be empowered ourselves,” she said. “And we have been.”

Guerrero’s favorite memories are of the nearly non-stop travel, and the scores of places she got to visit, the people she got to meet, and the ministries she got to see in action.

“I made it my business to visit every possible center I could, and I did,” Guerrero said. “I did a lot of traveling. And basically, I told people, ‘Don’t waste my time telling me what you’re doing. When I come, show me what you’re doing. Don’t wait until I get there and say ‘What would you like to do?’”

The Rev. Christopher Johnson, 2008-2012

Not only did Jubilee Ministry evolve during Chris Johnson’s tenure, so did the position of Jubilee Officer. When Johnson - a priest, the Jubilee Officer for the Diocese of Colorado and the director of a Jubilee Ministry - first applied for the position following Carmen Guerrero’s retirement, he was applying for the job of “National Jubilee Officer.” By the time her position was filled, it had expanded to include oversight for all of the church’s domestic poverty alleviation efforts, and his title became Officer for Social and Economic Justice.

Unfortunately, Johnson took office during a time when the church center staff was downsizing dramatically. He lost much of the support staff that his predecessors had enjoyed. “I never had the advantage of an internal administrator who could actually stay focused on the internal movement of paper,” he said. As a result, he assumed far more administrative tasks – and fewer visionary leadership opportunities - than he would have liked.

But out of that forced restructuring came something good. “It reinforced for me that absolute importance of the development of grassroots leadership of Jubilee Ministry out in the field,” said Johnson. “It emphasized for me that it’s critically important that Jubilee be organized and developed externally through the network rather than internally through the office.”

Johnson readily ticks off some of his proudest accomplishments: The primary responsibility for designating ministries as Jubilee centers was shifted back to the diocesan bishops, as was always intended; Diocesan Jubilee Officers were provided with sample written agreements and job descriptions that they could endorse with their bishops, if they chose; formal rites for commissioning of new Jubilee Ministries and Jubilee Officers were developed; and an emphasis on connecting the network of ministries with each other was begun, including the launch of a quarterly newsletter, Jubilate.

“All of that is to say, really, that the emphasis has been on the grassroots nature of Jubilee Ministry, and trying to orient it to its grassroots for its health, vitality and sustainability,” he said. “That allows the work of the institutional church to remain one of affirming that which is happening and being inspired at the local level, and awarding grants as available.”

His favorite memories are of the gatherings of Jubilee Officers in Cedar Rapids in 2009 and Lexington in 2011. “Especially those work days that we did in Cedar Rapids and in Kentucky, bringing the Jubilee officers to places a little off the beaten path and giving them the opportunity to labor alongside each other while learning from each other,” he said. “And, of course, the moment Abe Lincoln stepped into our gathering in Cedar Rapids, in full attire.”

Johnson leaves the national church staff to return to parish work in Colorado, as well as the four new grandchildren born during his time in New York. But he hopes his involvement with Jubilee Ministry will not end.

“I’m just changing the nature of my relationship to it,” he said. “I leave believing that whatever is good for the network in the end will be good for the church, and will be good for me. I want to be about the building of that healthy thing.”

He parts with some words of wisdom: “Anything Jubilee Ministry becomes in the future will be based on what we do with it right now. This is a pivotal moment in the life of the Jubilee Ministry network.”