What We Pay Attention to Grows

Bishop Jeffrey Lee often says that “what we pay attention to grows.” Recently he spent a day paying attention to the growth and development of his staff, which he reorganized in 2011 and cut due to budget reductions in 2016.

On July 12, the entire staff—including sextons, receptionists, executive leaders, and office staff—spent a day reflecting on their work with Bishop Melissa Skelton of the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada, who developed the College for Congregational Development.

The day’s agenda was shaped by the results of a “pulse” survey staff members took in June. The tool gauges employees’ sense of their team’s health and effectiveness, and was first used with staff in 2012.

“This is what healthy teams do,” Lee says. “We come together to get out of the daily grind and consider the larger implications of our work. In the Diocese of Chicago, our overall goal is congregational vitality. Everyone’s job is congregations, and no matter what our jobs, our overall purpose is fostering healthy, vibrant congregations.”

Hector Cortés, a St. James Commons receptionist who joined the bishop’s staff five years ago, says his work is on the front line of the staff’s customer service focus. “We’re trying to grow the diocese and grow the churches,” he says. “We have more tools accessible. It feels good when congregations call and say, ‘Thank you. It worked, and things are getting better.’”

The staff day was sometimes “intense,” Cortés says, but “it was very nice to be with the whole clan to see where we as a diocese stand. … I think that by having the conversation that we did, it was a good open forum for people to express themselves and to be able to talk to the group freely and comfortably in a safe environment.”

Keith Kampert, who has served as the diocese’s treasurer for more than a decade, recognizes the risk of open staff discussion in a time of budget reductions. “I thought it took a lot of guts for Bishop Lee and his executive team to take that time and open up the discussion with Melissa,” says Kampert, whose position was reduced from 90% time to three-quarter time last year when the diocesan budget was cut by more than 10% for the second year in a row. “Financial resources at the diocesan level are shrinking and decisions are having to be made about how to come to grips with that to do the things the diocese needs to do. … I think we came to a better realization of that.”

Even in times of budget constraints, the bishop’s staff is committed to serving congregations and their members, says Louisa McKellaston, assistant for ministries since 2011. “The work we did was to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves so we can take care of them,” she says. “We do now have fewer staff and we have staff who are frequently out of the office working around the diocese, so we were able to check in and see what people are doing out in field. Knowing what other staff are doing makes me better able to connect people with staff who have the resources congregations need to be vibrant communities.”

When congregational leaders participate in the diocese’s new College for Congregational Development program, they can learn the kind of team-building skills that Skelton used to facilitate the bishop’s staff day, says the Rev. Andrea Mysen, director of ministries. “It was remarkable to hear from the entire bishop’s staff with equal voices. We’re trying to model the kind of healthy team building that we want for congregations,” she says. “Teams can be made up of clergy and lay leaders, and include both staff and volunteers, not just paid employees.”

The staff day isn’t a “one off,” says Mysen, a member of the bishop’s three-person executive team. “College for Congregational Development tools like the ones we used open doors for us to choose what to pay attention to, to ask the right questions and discern as we move forward.

The executive team plans to meet with the entire bishop’s staff again in August to review the findings from the staff day.

“We’re trying to sort out where God wants us to go, just like our congregations are,” says Kampert. “We’re all in this together with our congregations. We’re going to be the diocese our congregations want us to be.”