Supporting young leaders

Gulick envisions directing the church’s gaze to its best ministry practices
April 30, 2006

A couple of summers ago, Bishop Edwin “Ted” Gulick Jr. had an “Aha!” moment at the diocesan camp. After a college student received Communion from a young priest at a service there, he told Gulick: “This is the first time I’ve ever received the Eucharist from someone in my decade.”

“I thought that was a very important statement,” says Gulick, who has worked to encourage younger priests in the Diocese of Kentucky, where he’s been bishop since 1994. “One of the things I’ve been working on pretty hard ... [is] to be sure we have a good number of younger people in their 20s and early 30s to be kind of icons of the fact that the church really does want vitally involved and passionate young people to be a part of its life,” he says. “For about 30 years, that really hasn’t been the case.”

Were he elected presiding bishop, Gulick says, he would want to direct the church’s gaze toward “best practices” in youth ministry and college and campus ministry as well as urban ministry, rural ministry, evangelism and “Jubilee Centers transforming lives and communities.”
“That’s what I think the church is about.”

“I think our church is designed so that our presiding bishop is not so much our authority but perhaps a person who helps inform the church’s vision,” he says. “I don’t think necessarily that he or she gives the church vision. I told the search committee, in some ways I don’t consider myself a visionary person. My ministry has been about the prayer: `Give us today the bread for today.’ If any vision comes, it’s through the sort of daily obedience of trying to be faithful in the moment.”

He quotes Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s statement that “the head’s job is to hold the eyes.” “You know, the presiding bishop travels a lot and would see a lot,” he says. “I think the main way you help the church build a vision is to describe to the church what you’re seeing, particularly if you’re seeing best practices in any of those areas. I think it’s maybe a helping the church refocus its gaze on the mission to the world.”

Communications would play a vital role -- and would be another critical area for younger people. “I kind of laugh and say I’m a parchment-and-quill kind of guy,” Gulick says. “If we’re going to get the message out, there are lots of different ways of doing it. As a 57-year-old, I’d have to depend a lot on the communications style and practices of those in their 20s and 30s. ... Part of what I have to do is just surround myself with that generation and let them teach me how to communicate.” Agewise and in every other way, he says, he would insist on a diverse staff.

Seen as open and genuine

Diocesan leaders describe Gullick as pastoral and accessible. “He makes himself available to people to know. He’s not hidden away, and that openness and genuineness and authenticity is remarkable to watch,” says the Rev. Libby Wade, who went through the ordination process with Gulick and is former vice president of the diocesan Trustees in Council.

Gulick has an open-door policy, says Mary Jones Carter, senior warden at St. George’s, a small Louisville parish. “If you really need to speak with him, you can.” And he knows the youngest members of his diocese as well as its adult leaders.

“He relates extremely well to teen-agers and young adults,” comments Wade. “Unless there’s a General Convention going on in the summer or some other reason that he has to be out of the diocese, then he’s present at every [diocesan] camp in the summer.”

Church camp and his boyhood parish in Catlett, Va., played a vital role in Gulick’s own Christian formation and call to ordination. A cradle Episcopalian, he grew up attending St. Stephen’s, where his father still worships. “When I attended worship in that small congregation, I was related to maybe one-quarter of the people in the congregation. When I became 11 years old, they needed an organist, and I started playing the organ for the church. My dad and I would learn three hymns a week.”

Gulick attended Virginia’s diocesan camp as a camper and then counselor and felt pretty clear about becoming a priest by about age 17. He discussed his call with the camp chaplain, the Rev. Churchill Gibson, an early mentor and still a close friend.

Gulick received a master of divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary and honorary doctor of divinity degrees from Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of the South in Tennessee. He has served on various committees concerning ecumenical and interfaith issues, including the Anglican Roman Catholic Dialogue that he’s co-chaired since 1997.

Under Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, he and two other bishops investigated alleged misconduct involving bishops. At General Convention 2000, he served on a committee dealing with questions relating to human sexuality. He also served on the advisory committee for the College of Bishops. Before becoming bishop, he served 11 years as rector of St. Stephen’s Church, Newport News, Va.

Today, Gulick serves one of the Episcopal Church’s smaller dioceses, with fewer than 11,000 members in 38 congregations. They represent various opinions -- for example, some more conservative concerning homosexuality, others pretty liberal -- he says.

Focused on ‘passionate ministry’

“I think the common thread that holds it all together is a vision for passionate ministry, both in preaching and teaching and liturgy as well as in a commitment to being Christ’s hands and heart in the community,” he says. “It’s not rocket science. It’s just gospel-based ministry.”

“Anglicanism,” he notes, “has had a genius for being a kind of container that could hold a plurality of opinion into one kind of gospel truth, that Jesus is lord and that he is lord of all. And Anglicans, I think, have historically been pretty good at holding the extremes together.”

In his diocese, he says, “there’s a great willingness, particularly on the part of our ordained leaders, to keep the church together and not to polarize. “I think that’s clearly where the laity are, the vast majority. So I hope we can hold the passionate center.”

Gulick voted to support Gene Robinson’s consecration as the church’s first openly gay bishop but notes he’s “more cautious” than many others about developing official liturgical rites to bless same-gender unions.

“To develop these rites before there is sufficient consensus not only in our church but in the wider Christian family that this is an appropriate thing to do could, at this point, cause more harm than good,” he says. “I think we’re in the season that we need to maintain the sort of unofficial wise pastoral response rather than to try to enshrine it perhaps prematurely in liturgical text.”

Diocesan leaders credit Gulick for his listening and leadership skills in moving Kentucky through the turmoil following the 2003 General Convention. “The focus in our last convention [in February] was almost totally on mission,” notes Wade.

Gulick’s and the Kentucky delegation’s support for Robinson “caused a lot of grief in our diocese,” says John Parker, senior warden at Christ Church, Bowling Green, the diocese’s third-largest congregation. “He went around to each church, or at least to the major churches and regions in the diocese, and held forums and listened ... responded to questions.”

The Rev. Suzanne Barrow, head of the standing committee, recalls Gulick’s visit to St. Andrew’s mission church, Glasgow, where she is vicar. He placed a chair in the midst of the congregation and said: “I will sit here and answer your questions until you have you have no questions left.”
If pastoral skills are a strength, administrative ones are less so. “I’ve always been more passionate about the person in front of me than the undone administrative task that was on the desk,” Gulick says. “He’s not a micromanager,” Parker says. “He leaves that to others, and he gets people who are good at that.”

Nationally and internationally, Gulick looks toward developing relationships with his peers if elected and stresses the importance of inter-denominational connections. In relations within the Anglican Communion, he says, “We have to keep our resources flowing, and we also have to keep the dialogue flowing. That involves very costly listening.”

But Gulick expresses concern “that the Episcopal Church not become so consumed with inter-Anglican issues that we don’t do the work of moral leadership in this nation at this time.” He says, “When you look at what’s happening in the environment ... the sort of justice issues that were open for all to see by the Katrina catastrophe and our just sort of pathetic response to it, you realize that there are profound issues for persons of faith in this country at this moment.”