The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows

Director of Networking

   Diocese of Chicago

 

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Tell us the story of your spiritual journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and why you are a part of the Episcopal Church.  

After a childhood of seeking and longing for church community I chose the Episcopal Church as an adult and was baptized the year after graduating from college in 1989.  This church has taught me to live fearlessly, embraced by God’s love in Christ.

On September 11, 2001 I, and a couple of dozen others from across the country, were gathered at Trinity Church in NYC with soon-to-be Archbishop Rowan Williams for a videotaping event.  After the World Trade Center was hit a couple of blocks away, we spent hours in a stairwell of the parish house building expecting to die. Yet I found myself, by God’s grace, at peace.  In that stairway was the man who baptized me and dear friends from around the church. I prayed with an overwhelming sense of Jesus’ closeness to me and all of us—and sang the hymns that had nurtured me in the sanctuary across the street.  And knowing that Jesus was palpably present, I somehow felt no fear.  We were surrounded by the communion of saints and we knew it.

It was a horrifically tragic day.  I made it back to my parish in New Jersey to bury those we lost and comfort the mourning.  

The Episcopal Church is where I found my relationship with Jesus some 30 years ago.  It teaches me that the world is filled with incredible beauty and unspeakable pain and that God is deeply in the midst of it all loving us fiercely. So each day, nourished by the sacraments and stories of our faith, the beauty of our liturgical tradition, the wide embrace of this Christian community, I learn over and over again how to live without fear.

What is your vision for the Diocese of Indianapolis? Why this diocese? Why you? Why now?     

I believe deep listening to God and one another in conversation and prayer are needed to craft a vision that we might embrace together. As I’ve begun to listen and know some of you in this search process a vision has begun to take shape. I see the Diocese of Indianapolis as a beacon of Jesus Christ--an intentionally visible and inclusive community of hope bearing the light of Christ to central and southern Indiana and the world.  

Sitting at the crossroads of America, this diocese has a special call to bring healing, hope and love to a world that is too often fearful, hurting and polarized.  Much of my life and ministry has been at the crossroads—connecting and building bridges across generations, race, and class.  I’ve also been privileged to preside at tables of reconciliation between LGBT women and men and conservative Anglicans from the global south. I’ve built coalitions across political divides to find common ground on gun violence, and I’ve sought to bring the church to the world in creative ways.

In 19 years of ordained ministry, and especially in the past five helping to oversee and restructure the Diocese of Chicago, I’ve supported communities of transformation, communicated a vision of hope and gathered and networked God’s people across distance and difference.  

I believe these experiences have prepared me to lead and serve in the particular place that is the Diocese of Indianapolis. To quote Frederick Buechner, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  The more I come to know of your hopes, dreams and challenges, the more I believe that in service to God and for the sake of the gospel, we might be able to get up to something really special together.

Tell us about a time when you had to lead a process of complicated systemic change.     

The church—an entity arguably in the business of transformation—can be one of the most difficult organizations to transform. Over the past five years I have had significant responsibility with Bishop Lee for restructuring the Diocese of Chicago to make it more nimble, responsive, and appropriately resourced for mission.

Over time, structures had multiplied to manage the ministry of the diocese and its resources resulting in a labyrinthine system of committees, commissions, councils and independent organizations. As so easily happens in complex systems, silos formed around ministries, governing bodies, and the bishop’s staff in the name of efficiency. System-wide stagnation meant the diocese was less able to identify and carry out adaptive changes.

A major staff restructuring in 2011 and reunification with the diocese of Quincy in 2013 provided an opportunity to reset the system.  We desired a culture of collaboration that could communicate clarity of mission and provide congregational leadership with the tools and support needed to thrive.  As senior staff, I was tasked with connecting leaders to leverage best practices and build community. It was also my job to communicate—even over communicate—our mission and nurture a cohesive identity as a diocese. We did this by telling the full stories of who we are and of the faith that commends our action in the world.  

I’ve found that complicated systemic change requires faithfulness and focus. I do this by showing up, keeping my promises, gathering often and listening deeply, and being clear about our faith commitments. This reflects my relational leadership style.  I am collaborative, consultative, and creative and always open to the Holy Spirit moving—even in systems.  I believe the work of organizational health and leadership is holy and that God is very much in it, desiring wholeness for our institutions and their people.

How have you led the people of God in speaking out about and taking action on social justice issues?   

Matthew 25:31-46 has long been a guiding gospel parable for me: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  Affirming, amplifying and encouraging the people of God to speak out and make a difference on social justice issues such as racial and class reconciliation, marriage equality, and gun safety have been part of my life and work for decades.  In recent years, however, it has been the tragic epidemic of gun violence that affects both urban and rural communities, that has been an area of focus and transformation for the people with whom I serve.

Gun violence—and the intersecting issues of poverty, segregation, domestic violence, and joblessness that nurture it—is an area that touches all of our lives.  In supporting the diocesan anti-gun violence initiative, we have prayed, processed, and lamented the thousands affected each year by gun injuries and deaths in our diocese alone. Four years ago I created Crosswalk to Work, a program for at-risk youth that has been transformative for both teenagers and adult mentors alike.  We often say, “nothing stops a bullet like a job” and have found that sustained mentoring and teaching the soft-skills of the work environment is making a difference. Importantly, doing this work changes us! As lay and clergy leaders step into mentoring roles with young people their faith grows as they participate in the building of hope and resurrection where it is too often in short supply.  

Crosswalk to Work brings us together with people of differing faith traditions and none and of differing political views on gun rights to collaborate and offer life-saving alternatives for youth.  It is Matthew 25:40, indeed love itself, in action.

Tell us what you do for fun!

The kitchen and the running trail are places of rest, sanctuary and fun.  Baking breads and cakes, cooking my way through cookbooks and serving up the results for others to enjoy is fun and relaxing.  I also enjoy yoga, long-distance running, tennis and triathlon training. Reading, knitting, and cheering our son Timothy on the t-ball field are among my greatest joys.  And watching “American Ninja Warrior” competitions on television is our family guilty pleasure.

The Rev. Dr. Grace Burton-Edwards

The Rev. Cn. Bruce W. Gray

The Rev. Cn. Lance Ousley

The Rev. Dina van Klaveren