Leading from a Place of Vulnerability
The church is grappling with a sea change. In addition to a significant restructuring—ushered in with the enactment of remits at GC43 earlier this week—it is identifying the need to address White privilege in the church by empowering racialized voices, and to build right relations with Indigenous peoples and with those in the LGBTQ2 community. A theme at the United Church’s 43rd General Council is that these groups have historically been marginalized and faced discrimination in the church, and that this must change.
“There is a lot of change in the church today, but there has been in the past and there will be in the future,” observes former Moderator the Very Rev. David Giuliano.
A cancer crisis forced Giuliano to rethink how he could lead the church. Giuliano, who lives in Marathon, ON, became the 39th Moderator in August 2006. Shortly afterward he felt a lump in his temple and spent the summer after his installation “making a daily pilgrimage” to Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto for treatment. This humbling experience forced him to rethink his position of influence and how he would steer the church forward.
In his 2008 book Postcards from the Valley, Giuliano writes that he dreamed of leading the church from a place of strength. Instead, he was brought to his knees and had to offer what society perceives as weakness. As spiritual head of the church, he drew on the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9: “[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.”
“I would not have chosen it, but I cannot deny that it [was] a gift to me and others,” says Giuliano.
He has recently released another book, It’s Good to Be Here, and he is sharing his story at General Council. “I had to lead from a place where I was weak, fearful, and vulnerable,” he says while reflecting on the challenges the church faces today. His advice for church leaders post-GC43 is to resume a position of humbleness and embrace change: “We need to ride the donkey with Jesus, not the stallion with Caesar.”
Although the church is making important structural changes, Giuliano does not see them as a drastic overhaul but rather as “a tune-up for the times.” He adds, “Ultimately what matters is what local communities of faith do, if they can imagine new ways of being and living faith rather than clinging to old ways.”
Giuliano’s books are available at the GC43 bookstore in the plenary and on UCRDstore.ca.