THE REV. JANINE SCHENONE
Rector, Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, San Diego, California
THE REV. JANINE SCHENONE
I grew up in a large Italian Catholic family in Silicon Valley, and during my childhood, I frequently asked if I could be a priest. Unfortunately, the answer was no; this saddened me because I frequently played priest as a child and gave my neighbors and cousins Communion.
I earned my BA at Northwestern University, where I met my husband; we got married as undergraduates. I then earned an MA in English and Creative Writing. After that, I worked as a technical writer and was quickly promoted to manager and director roles at companies such as Intuit and Netflix.
After our daughter was born, my husband experienced a psychological breakdown and filed for divorce. I raised Georgia alone, and when she was 10, I began my second career as a community college English professor, thinking that was my true vocation.
But then I walked into an Episcopal church and saw a woman celebrating the Eucharist, and I had a series of flashbacks to times in childhood when I had asked if I could be a priest. That is when I sensed God calling me to be an Episcopal priest. I also experienced a call to be celibate, and I have lived out a vow of celibacy since 2004. Jesus is my constant companion, the first and last person I talk to each day. Another aspect of my spirituality is my formation as a Third Order Franciscan.
When my daughter went to college, I earned my M.Div. at Yale Divinity School. I was encouraged to pursue a doctorate in systematic theology, so I began a Ph.D. program at Fordham University. However, I quickly realized that my heart was in parish work, so I left after only one year. While in New York, I served at Christ Church Bronxville as theologian in residence, where we practiced Anglo-Catholic worship.
I was then called as a Senior Associate at All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA, which worships in broad church style. I oversaw all the affinity groups, the new member process, stewardship, and more. I also was one of the Spanish-speaking priests in their Spanish services. Since February of 2016, I have served as the Rector of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in San Diego, which has a contemporary, evangelical style of worship. In addition, I have served in numerous leadership roles in the Diocese of San Diego, as well as in local and statewide advocacy and outreach groups.
For fun, I love to cycle, hike, cook, go to films and the theater, socialize with friends, and play classical piano.
I’m thrilled at the possibility of returning to the East Coast, where I have many friends and cousins, and to join in the work of your diocese. The Diocese of New Jersey is a gem due to the depth and breadth of diversity in your communities, your intentional efforts at discipleship across cultures and generations, your service to your neighbors, and more. I look forward to meeting you soon so we can dream together.
CANDIDATE RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS
Question 1. Describe your relationship with Christ and how it shapes your ministry.
My relationship with Jesus began at an early age, as I prayed to him frequently while looking at the cross nailed over my bed. In early adulthood, however, I was troubled by the Cross. Why did Jesus have to suffer, and why is the central symbol of Christianity an instrument of suffering and torture? It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I realized that suffering is a constant in life, and that the suffering of Jesus on the cross expressed a fundamental truth about suffering in human existence and God’s understanding of that and sympathy for our condition.
At the same time, that is not how I primarily relate to Jesus. He is my companion, one who keeps me company in my celibate life (in addition to my network of friends and family). He gives me joy and even makes me laugh at times. He is my teacher and guide, someone whose example I seek to follow by reading Gospel stories of him and by asking him for help. And he is a merciful Savior, a liberator who rescues us from the oppression of darkness and sin, whether we are the wrongdoers or the ones harmed by sin.
In my ministry, I seek Christ in all people and in all settings. It’s not hard to find Jesus in people I love and admire. The spiritual work is in seeking and finding Christ in people who are harder to understand, harder to help, or perhaps harder to forgive. When I do find Christ in those people, I recognize that my world is expanding, that walls have tumbled down between us. Jesus gives me the courage to strive for social justice, while reminding me to listen deeply to all sides of the issues. I find him so inspiring that I like to tell people who don’t know Christ about him.
In addition, Jesus provides me with a perfect model for leadership in the church. He models collaboration, compassion, confidence, care for the marginalized, truth-telling, and humility. He recruits leaders and empowers people to be their best. He also models self-care and a deep prayer life, which I consider essential fuel for my life and ministry.
I don’t leave home without him.
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?
Several aspects of your diocesan profile excite me. First, you embody many types of diversity that enrich your churches and your lives in New Jersey, and I seek out and thrive in diverse environments. The Diocese’s large number of historically Black churches and Latino ministry churches is exciting—an obvious sign of your commitment to building a Church that reflects your diocese’s diverse population. Linguistically, you want a bishop who speaks at least English and Spanish, and I can lead and preach in both languages; I also am able to lead worship in French.
You have diverse liturgical and theological leanings, and I have served in a variety of liturgical styles and appreciated them all. I have read deeply in theology from a variety of cultures and perspectives, and I respect theological differences. I have also worshipped and served in churches of all sizes, including ones that are struggling. I appreciate your creative openness to new ways of being church when demographics and finances change.
You seek a bishop who will support your social justice initiatives, and your profile reflects a balance between meeting immediate needs through outreach and seeking lasting systemic change through advocacy. Your recent launching of ECS is the latest example of that. I have worked in several types of outreach and social justice advocacy, including anti-racism work. You hint at political diversity and its tensions, which touches my heart. I seek out people who have felt alienated by polarizing rhetoric and invite them into conversations about social issues that emphasize our common ground in the Gospel and what Jesus asks us to do. For example, while immigration is a divisive topic in San Diego, congregants with differing political backgrounds rallied to sort and deliver donations for immigrants who were dropped off at bus stations.
You seek a strong administrator, and I was a leader in high-tech companies and in education before entering the priesthood. As a manager and director in software companies, I hired and coached teams of employees, proposed business plans and product lines, and managed conflict. I was trained in collaborative management styles that have translated well to church life and diocesan committee work. In companies, community college, and churches, I have also managed large budgets and led projects in complex environments with conflicting priorities.
Finally, you seek a bishop who has a sense of humor and joy and a creedal faith. Part of my Franciscan foundation is its three pillars: humility, love and joy. I find joy in family, in nature, in music and the arts, and in working with people from all walks of life. For me, ministry needs to be as fun as well as fulfilling. My Franciscan spirituality is also grounded in a deep reverence for God, Son and Spirit and their active presence in us and in all of creation.
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?
The greatest hope we have in conversations about church decline is Jesus’ promise that he will send his Holy Spirit to help build the Church. I find this hopeful because the Holy Spirit will not abandon us, even as demographic changes, new weather patterns with rising oceans, and declining interest in religion present challenges to the ways we have been the Church before. The Church cannot die. Instead, we will adapt.
Several initiatives such as the College of Congregational Development and Embracing Evangelism have helped some churches reinvigorate their ministries. With the complications of COVID and its devastating effects upon some populations, we need to acknowledge that we are in even deeper uncharted waters than before.
As a result, churches need to engage in well-led discernment programs tailored to them to decide what God’s current mission for them is, and to consider where God is leading them next. What do the current populations in the neighborhood need? What are the particular spiritual and temporal gifts of each church, and how can they be shared in a way that speaks to the neighborhood? If people are not attending the churches we have, what type of church do they need? We know that there is no lack of loneliness or spiritual emptiness, and the Church is ideally suited to address both these ills.
The affiliations between churches in New Jersey is a creative solution, as is the completely online church of St. Augustine’s in Camden. Other possibilities include forming bi-vocational clergy, partnerships between high-resource and low-resource communities, and church plantings that meet a unique need (such as military ministry, Latino ministry, or seekers with no Christian background).
Regardless of the specific answers for each community, we can trust that God does not abandon the faithful, so we need not fear that. As chair of our diocese’s Evangelism, Discipleship, and Church Growth Committee, I have supported community engagement initiatives that encourage sharing the Good News with our neighbors. Love of God and of neighbor casts out the very real fears about survival that churches and clergy feel. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
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.
A desire for better conditions for those who are struggling has been a constant in my Christian life, as I respond to Jesus’ call to lift up the lowly and to share from my abundance. As a child, I watched Cesar Chavez on TV organizing workers for better wages, working conditions, and simple human dignity, and I convinced my parents to boycott table grapes.
In my ordained life, social justice has been a significant part of my work. At All Saints Church in Pasadena, our staff promoted social justice through preaching, advocacy, and public actions. I learned about community organizing and worked government agencies, houses of faith, nonprofits, and community leaders to bring about a more just society. Our staff also worked with VISIONS on anti-racism training on a quarterly basis.
As rector of Good Samaritan in San Diego, I gently, gradually led my congregation through preaching and teaching to see social justice work as holy work. I also became active in our local Faith in Action affiliate, San Diego Organizing Project (SDOP). We worked with interfaith community partners and immigration lawyers to support asylum seekers admitted into San Diego in 2017 and 2018. Two years ago, Good Samaritan church members decided to become an affiliate church of SDOP, joining in the work of dismantling systemic racism and addressing inequities such as lack of affordable housing. I am one of the co-leaders of SDOP’s racially and religiously diverse clergy caucus.
As chair of our diocese’s Advocacy Committee, I led a diocese-wide effort to start Sacred Ground groups in 2019. Previously wary church members embraced this small group course covering the historical underpinnings of systemic racism, and Good Samaritan served as a pilot project. After George Floyd’s death in 2020, other churches flocked to the program. Now, more than 50% of the churches have participated in the training, and people are asking for more tools to be Jesus’ hands in dismantling injustice. I have co-authored several diocesan resolutions based on General Convention resolutions related to social justice, resulting in the creation of a diocesan anti-racism task force.
As your bishop, I would continue and amplify the work already begun by the Anti-Racism Commission and the Anti-Racism Reparations Task Force. I would foster partnerships with community partners who share our goal of respecting the dignity of every human being, as we promise in our baptismal vows. I would use my voice to draw people who have been previously polarized and to find common ground in the words of the prophet Micah: to seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.