THE REV. CANON DR. SALLY FRENCH
Canon for Regional Ministry and Collaborative Innovation, Diocese of North Carolina
THE REV. CANON DR. SALLY FRENCH
Greetings, friends. I am honored to be in discernment with you in your search for the thirteenth Bishop of New Jersey.
I currently serve as Canon for Regional Ministry and Collaborative Innovation in the Diocese of North Carolina. My work provides congregational support to churches in our Raleigh, Durham, and Rocky Mount convocations, about half of the 110+ congregations in the Diocese of North Carolina. I work with clergy and lay leaders to strengthen vitality and foster collaboration. I see myself as a bridge-builder, connecting congregations to their communities and the diocese. I’m passionate about this work and about helping churches and people to grow as followers of Jesus working towards beloved community.
Prior to joining diocesan staff, I spent twenty years in parish ministry. I served congregations of all sizes and types, in a variety of roles and capacities. Most recently, I designed and oversaw the process to revise the Journey to Adulthood youth ministry curriculum, a program of Christian education for teens that has been used by thousands of Episcopal congregations since 1995.
In North Carolina, I have served as President of the Standing Committee (2019). There, I initiated work to address systemic racism and bias. In my first year on the Standing Committee, there was no racial diversity. This year, more than half of the members are People of Color. I remain committed to work to end racism and white supremacy and continue to serve as a chaplain for our diocesan anti-racism training programs.
I grew up in Toronto, Canada in a secular home. I was baptized, confirmed and sponsored for ordination through campus ministries at the University of Toronto. I would not be a priest today without the support of that loving and faithful community that welcomed and formed me, nurtured my gifts and named my calling.
My undergraduate degree is from Trinity College, University of Toronto (Economics, History). I completed a Master of Divinity degree through the Toronto School of Theology before being ordained deacon (2000) and priest (2001) in the Diocese of Edmonton, Anglican Church of Canada. My Doctor of Ministry degree is from Virginia Theological Seminary.
I am married to Clarke, who is the rector of Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and we are parents to Jack (16) and Libby (12). We began our time in the U.S. in Staten Island, where we first discovered our appreciation for the Garden State. My personal interests include reading and writing, pilgrimage, walking, jogging (slowly!) and hiking.
As a priest, I approach challenges as a pastor. I value relationships and I want to know and be known by the people I serve. I bring my heart for connection into this discernment, and I have gifts and experience in leadership and administration, building vital, just and inclusive congregations, formation and discipleship. I see in you a diocese with tremendous resources of people, faith, and possibilities, with much holy and God-given potential. I look forward to walking with you in this discernment.
CANDIDATE RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS
Question 1. Describe your relationship with Christ and how it shapes your ministry.
I grew up in a secular home. One of my earliest memories about faith was my father explaining that “religion is the opium of the masses” (a quote from Karl Marx), and that our neighbors’ habit of church attendance was a sign that they could not succeed in this present world and needed to pin their hopes on an imaginary God instead. What my parents could not know, and I had no words to tell them, was that as a very young child, I had profound experiences of an Other, a powerful presence that came to me in times of distress or loneliness, as comforter and friend. My companion was infinite, all-knowing, compassionate, and wise, and I knew somehow that I was loved beyond measure.
I never forgot that loving presence. One day as a college student, I walked into a campus ministry service of Holy Eucharist and found my friend again. I felt like I had come home. I learned that my childhood companion had a name – Jesus, and that his love was made present not only in quiet moments of what I came to know was prayer, but also in God’s people, in sacraments, worship, reconciliation, and so much more. I remembered that I was beloved, and I learned to see that belovedness in others.
Today, my relationship with Jesus Christ, the fully divine and fully human Son of God, remains central to who I am and how I serve. The infinite love and compassion that I knew in my childhood is still an important part of how I experience God, but it is deeper and richer now, focused not on me but on others. I know Jesus as one who seeks justice, and he invites me into this work too. I know Jesus as Lord and Savior, I understand myself to be saved through his cross and resurrection, and this is good news that I faithfully proclaim. I also know firsthand the redeeming power of God’s love, and I delight in sharing this with others and supporting people as they grow as disciples and followers of Jesus.
My relationship with Christ is a firm foundation for ministry. Prayer and Holy Scripture are sources of inspiration, hope, and strength. After 23 years of ordained life, many of my practices are now second nature and Jesus is my constant companion. I have learned to listen for the signs of the Holy Spirit, to trust in Jesus Christ, and to lead in response to God’s call. If you were to call me as your bishop, I would offer hopeful, loving and Christ-centered leadership, grounded in and through my relationship with Jesus, who is my joy and my salvation.
Question 2. What is it about our profile that gets you excited, and how do you think your skills and experiences are well-suited to serve the Diocese of New Jersey as Bishop?
There is so much to be excited about in the Diocese of New Jersey! You seek a bishop with “a palpable sense of hope”, someone who “takes hopeful action” and will partner with you to lead and engage in fulfilment of God’s call. I don’t think you are seeking someone to bring hope, but rather someone who can see and name the holy possibilities that are already a part of who you are.
I am excited by the diversity of the Diocese of New Jersey. You have great potential in your congregations and communities, in the breadth and depth of the people, members, lay leaders, and clergy who make up the diocese. There are congregations of all sizes and levels of resources, in communities that are urban, suburban, and rural. In a state that has tremendous racial, religious, and economic diversity, your congregations provide a spiritual home to people of all backgrounds. There is diversity of history, liturgy, theology, language, and politics. This diversity is a tremendous resource and will help position congregations to welcome and serve all God’s people. Your diversity is a strength.
Your commitment to congregational vitality and discipleship, together with the work that has already been done to strengthen churches, is exciting. I am impressed with the ways the Diocese of New Jersey is exploring new forms of partnership and collaboration in congregational affiliations, community service and more. Your commitment to Gospel justice, outreach, action, and advocacy is compelling. There is an opportunity to build upon the work you have already done, and it is exciting to contemplate what could be.
I am also energized by your challenges. Your profile names your concern for struggling congregations and your financial vulnerabilities, as well as your questions about diocesan structures to equip and sustain ministry. These are all areas where I have skills, gifts, and experience, in particular skills for congregational support, leadership, and management of institutional change. I am eager to learn what I would need to support you and I wonder how we might work together to address the challenges and strengthen the churches and people of the Diocese of New Jersey.
Most of all, I see how God is at work in you and how very beloved you are. If I were to be called to serve you as your bishop, it would be an honor and a privilege to lift up that belovedness and to partner with you to form disciples of Jesus Christ, strengthen congregations, and make a difference in God’s world.
Question 3. What new and hopeful perspectives and ideas can you bring to the conversation about church decline that support and encourage long-term solutions?
As Canon for Regional Ministry and Collaborative Innovation in the Diocese of North Carolina, I have considerable experience working with congregations of all sizes as they respond to challenges and opportunities. I know that churches thrive when they get clear about their call, lean into their strengths, and claim their unique ministry. Congregations are vital when they are connected to the wider community, open to partnerships and collaboration, and offer opportunities for outreach, justice, and spiritual engagement.
The spiritual dimension of congregational vitality is important. One of my favorite quotes is from St Augustine’s Confessions: “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” As individuals, we were created to be in relationship with God, to pray and offer worship. The same is true for congregations. Vitality comes through connection with God and God’s people. Robust and engaged spiritual practices are hallmarks of healthy churches.
Congregational support begins with listening. I would start the conversation by inviting people to reflect with me about how things are going and what skills, empowerment, and resources are needed. Many of our congregations have good insights about their challenges, gifts, and opportunities, and there are effective tools and resources to assist in this work, from both the church and the secular world. While we are often familiar with resources provided within our denomination and dioceses, my experience in NC has demonstrated that many congregations are less aware of the potential benefits of including secular professional voices, and of the resources non-church sources may bring into dialogue.
Part of the conversation in the Diocese of New Jersey will be to listen and discern together what support is needed and to assess what is most effective for individual churches. This includes engagement with the bishop about diocesan staffing and program needs, visitations and connection, support for discipleship, formation, and evangelism, financial resources to assist vulnerable congregations, deeper engagement with campus ministries, support for clergy formation, recruitment and retention, and more.
There is an important pastoral dimension to this work. The past three years have been difficult and there is grief, loss, and trauma in our congregations and people. If pastoral care is offered as part of this work, it will deepen relationships and build trust, and heal, support, and strengthen our churches, leaders, and members.
This is an exciting conversation. I am deeply hopeful that through this dialogue, participants will learn new ways to be church together, to continue as faithful disciples, and to serve the world in Christ’s name.
Question 4. Social justice is near and dear to the heart of the Diocese of New Jersey. How has social justice been a part of your ministry and how would you see your role in moving social justice forward in the Diocese of NJ? Please give examples.
Your commitment to social justice is one of the reasons why I am drawn to offer myself as a candidate for your next bishop. This work is deeply important to me. Every congregation I have served has had a significant social justice ministry. I have joined in this work joyfully and through it, I have grown in faith, compassion, and leadership.
One of my most powerful experiences came when I, as president, challenged the Standing Committee in the Diocese of North Carolina to begin to address issues of racism and bias. We brought in consultants, asked difficult questions, and started conversations that continue to this day. This work helped to shape policy and governance at the highest level and contributed to a more inclusive and just culture. It was not easy, but it was deeply important. Learning about the ways that my beloved church had harmed people through the sin of racism, and about my own privilege and complicity, was painful and holy work. The standing committee had no racial diversity when I started (2017); it now has 56% of its 2022 membership identify as BIPOC.
There is a great need for social justice ministry in New Jersey and in our nation today. People of Color continue to experience racism and diminished opportunities. LGBTQ+ persons face the potential loss of rights and freedoms. Recently, New Jersey experienced credible threats against Jewish community members. Urban poverty and violence harm some of the state’s most vulnerable residents. Your record of advocacy and witness in response to these challenges is compelling. I am grateful for the clarity and strength of your response to issues of social justice.
It would be an honor and privilege to partner with you in this ongoing work. If I were to be called as your next bishop, I would prioritize social justice for congregations and communities. I would lift up the work of advocacy and witness across the diocese, support clergy and lay leaders, promote sound practices and support education to address racism and all forms of bias. I would proclaim the Gospel call to justice in my teaching and leadership. I am eager to learn from you, to listen and trust you in the work you have already done, and I wonder what, by the grace of God, we may be called to do together.