At this critical juncture in the life of the church, what does the Lord require in and of its leadership? I think we all know the answer, so who best fills the role? My answer resides in the very task I am undertaking at this moment, that of writing an endorsement for Reverend Cara Stultz Costello as a United Methodist Bishop.
I have been led to believe in recent discussions with seminary administration leadership, working pastors, and local regional churches without full-time pastors that this is an inflection time for the church. The church must consider new ways of being. Churches in America as alternative cultures are suffering from ill health. Some have died. Seminary enrollment is at an all-time low; a few denominational ones have shut down during these difficult times. Finances are dwindling. The capacity to bring imagination and an understanding of applied creativity are essential attributes for new leaders called to shape significantly fresh directions and implement them in original ways.
Finding such a leader who also comes with a solid history of ecclesial engagement is a gift. This candidate, Reverend Cara Stultz Costello, meets these criteria. In concert with intellectual rigor, Cara has brought an authentic devotion to her twenty years of pastoral leadership. This goodness comes from a deep sense of the sacred. It propels her full embrace of others’ gifts as well as her stance in the front lines regarding issues of equity.
Cara realizes that clergy must be more than resident theological scholars, well trained in the language and structure of philosophical discourse, the dominant mode of seminary communication. This approach is no longer adequate in and of itself in preparing clergy caught up in the daunting challenges flaring up in the current demise of dwindling church life.
When Cara was a student I discovered early on that she does not live by assumptions that have grown comfortable but out-dated. She challenges them. She takes calculated risks necessary to usher in new meaning, the hallmark of a creative mentality that opens one’s own mind as well as others to new possibilities.
Cara tolerates complexities well. With an unafraid personality, she has a loving approach to navigating others through them. She is open to “what-ifs,” and is not agitated or disturbed by them because she knows how to steer through them with creative courage. Cara, grounded by an abiding faith, also has moral and social courage issuing forth in her capacity to empathize with the suffering of others and then act with conviction.
Cara’s leadership already has modeled the attributes stated above and accomplished much as noted in other letters of endorsement. Since challenges facing pastoral leadership today demand imaginative solutions, Cara’s presence in the helm of a different authoritative role will not only model creative thinking and doing, but also will give her constituencies participative experiences of creative processing for the sake of imaginative ministry. Attributes experienced such as challenging assumptions, taking risks, and seeing in new ways, are transferrable to ministerial tasks that cry out for imaginatively rigorous solutions and action.