By Raymond Syms
If you’re looking for a leader, just look in the mirror.
That was the message from Archbishop Jason Gordon and US feature speaker Chris Lowney at the August 1 Leadership Conference themed Everybody Leads: Revitalising the Catholic Church in Trinidad & Tobago.
The one-day event was held on Emancipation Day at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya, Tunapuna and was incorporated into the programme of the annual School of Liturgy (July 29–August 3). The main organiser was the Catholic Religious Education Development Institute (CREDI).
Liturgy school participants accounted for the majority of the 500 plus attendees; others came from parishes, departments, commissions and Church organisations. There was regional involvement as representatives from SIGNIS Caribbean—in Trinidad for their annual general meeting at the time—also attended. A number of archdiocesan departments, commissions and organisations mounted booths at the back of the hall which participants visited during the breaks.
Delivering the welcome address after Morning Prayer, Archbishop Gordon said Trinidad and Tobago had many challenges and the local Church was in a time of prayer, listening and discernment. “We have a crisis of leadership in the Church and society. This is a serious challenge that we face.”
Difference between ‘a leader’ and ‘leadership’
He said leadership was one of the six pillars identified in the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan. The others were Youth and Young Adult, Parish, Catholic Education, Family Life, and Priesthood and Vocation. “Leadership is the magic bullet that will move all these pillars towards a different outcome to what we’re experiencing now.”
The Archbishop said in T&T when one hears of leadership “what we really hear is ‘leader’ and think of somebody who will come fix the problem…I have news for you: if you want to find that somebody to come fix the problem, tomorrow morning when you open your eyes… and look in the mirror, you might find that person.”
He explained there was a difference between ‘a leader’, who is a person, and ‘leadership’, which is “a capacity to be built at every level of Church and society”. He told participants that “You are the leaders in this Church and wherever you are that’s where you can exercise leadership.”
Archbishop Gordon said society was accustomed to maximum leaders and in the Church, we’re accustomed to “‘Yes, Father…No, Father’…”. He continued that in the Church and society there is a culture where “we want one person to solve the problem for everybody”.
But that is not the model of Church we’re working with, he remarked. He said the model was best exemplified by Ephesians 4, with faithful living their vocation which was received at Baptism. “When you live your vocation, the Church will flourish in this land.”
He stated, “Everybody leads. You are the leaders of the Catholic Church in Trinidad and Tobago because you exercise leadership.”
Taking the Church to the next level
In his opening comments, feature speaker Chris Lowney said that looking at the turnout, the conference theme was not accurate as the local Church didn’t need revitalising, but needed to get to the next level.
The New York-born author spoke for the rest of the day on: ‘VUCA and Leadership’; ‘Becoming more entrepreneurial and more accountable’; and ‘Suffering, Courage, Holiness, Prayer, Gratitude’.
During his PowerPoint presentation, he painted a picture of the situation today in society and in the Church, offered US Church statistics, and relevant quotations from past and present leaders in the Church and society.
Time was allocated for group discussion and feedback. A participant at each table was invited to take notes of the discussions had, which would be submitted to, compiled and later disseminated by the Archdiocese’s Office of Pastoral Planning and Development.
Some of the key points of Lowney’s presentation were: the Church and world was living in a time of VUCA–Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity; the need “to get comfortable with the reality of being uncomfortable”; the decline of the number of clergy and religious; and “a new culture of leadership” needed to be created in every aspect of life.
Lowney, a former Jesuit seminarian, said no one knows where the Church will be in five years because of VUCA but it was a “leadership opportunity”, saying “We need more people to step up.”
He said Church leadership is a paradox as leaders have to be both apostle and missionary. “For the Christian, there must be followership and leadership going on at same time.”
He encouraged Church leaders to try new ideas and recruit, particularly young people. “Take risks and get over your attachment to fears.”
The day ended with a concelebrated Mass. In his homily, Archbishop Gordon urged participants to share what they had learnt during the day “so everyone has the opportunity to build Church”.
“We are leading the Church,” he said, urging all to use the 40 days of prayer “to listen to God and do whatever He tells you. You have been called.”