The Revd Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler is a US Episcopal priest, author, interfaith advocate and art curator. Having grown up in Senegal, West Africa, he has lived and worked extensively in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe in leadership roles with The Episcopal/Anglican Church, Christian publishing and ecumenical relief and development agencies.
Previously serving as the rector of two international churches, from 2003-2013 he was the Rector of St. John’s Church/Maadi in Cairo, Egypt, an historic international English-speaking Episcopal church with a congregation of over 35 nationalities from numerous faith traditions, primarily from the diplomatic, academic, NGO and business communities. From 1993-1995 he served in Tunis, Tunisia, North Africa as the Rector of the St. George’s Episcopal Church, the only English-speaking church in this Muslim-majority country, with a congregation of over 30 nationalities.
Currently based out of the greater Chicago area, as an Appointed Mission Partner with The Episcopal Church he serves as the President of CARAVAN, an international peacebuilding non-profit affiliated with The Episcopal Church that uses the arts to build bridges between the creeds and cultures of the Middle East and West.
Paul-Gordon is a Canon at All Saints’ Cathedral, Cairo, Egypt and has authored four books in the fields of Christian-Muslim relations, Global Christianity and the Middle East.
Prior ministry roles have included serving in the arena of Christian publishing, such as SPCK in London, England where he was the Director of SPCK Worldwide, an historic international publishing ministry of the Church of England, involved in the U.K. and throughout the Global South. He was also U.S. Chief Executive Officer (CEO)/ Int’l Executive Vice President of IBS Publishing, an ecumenical Christian publishing, distribution and translation non-profit that has published the Bible in more than 500 languages worldwide.
Paul-Gordon has also served in the field of relief and development. From 1999-2003 he served as the President/CEO of Partners International, an international ecumenical Christian non-profit that exists to assist and empower indigenous faith-based development organizations in over 70 countries.
He studied Theological/Biblical Studies at Wheaton College, IL, USA and at Chichester Theological College in West Sussex, England, and French at the Alliance Française in Paris, France. He is married to Lynne Chandler and together they have two grown children.
More information on Paul-Gordon is available on the author website: www.paulgordonchandler.com.
1.The Episcopal Church in Europe is present in six countries and worships in five languages. Congregants may be native to their country, immigrants or expatriates, and come from a variety of denominations. How might you apply your experience to our situation?
International churches have always been part of my life, from growing up in one to having served as the rector in two such churches, in Cairo, Egypt and Tunis, Tunisia. In Cairo, sent out by The Episcopal Church’s mission department (DFMS), I served for ten years as the Rector of St. John’s Church, the international English-speaking Episcopal church which served diplomatic, aid, academic and business communities. Its congregation included over 35 nationalities and welcomed people from many church traditions. It also served six other “language communities” and became a strategic center for Christian-Muslim relations, the arts and compassionate outreach. Previously I served as the Rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church, which was the only English-speaking church in Tunisia, serving both the international and local community, with over 30 nationalities and 25 denominations represented in its congregation. I am passionate about the distinct ministry role and potential of such churches, and am well acquainted with the unique issues their congregations face. Being a “third culture” person myself, as is my wife, and having raised two “third culture” children, my own experience resonates naturally with those in international church settings.
Having lived in Europe previously and worked throughout both Western and Eastern Europe, I am familiar with the region and its ministry context. I am French-speaking, having grown up in Senegal, and have lived in Paris before, and would enjoy being based there again. I have worshiped at the cathedral numerous times and I had the opportunity to preach there once while serving in Cairo.
In terms of representing the Episcopal Church in Europe, the contemporary issues Europe is facing, such as relating to Islam and the Arab world, would steward my background and ministry focus of Christian-Muslim relations and peacebuilding between the Abrahamic faiths - rising out of my experience growing up in the Muslim- majority context of Senegal and years serving in the Middle East. In addition, cultivating ecumenical relations has been an integral part of my former ministry roles, whether as rector of international Episcopal churches that were entirely ecumenical in their make-up, to leading international ecumenical ministries across the broad spectrum of the Christian Church. Formerly I had the opportunity of leading a Christian relief and development ministry focused on refugee assistance throughout Africa and the Middle East, which enabled me to experience the challenges that refugees and migrants face and how international churches can serve them. Our church in Cairo also assisted thousands of dislocated Sudanese and Syrian refugees. In all three of these areas (interfaith, ecumenical relations and refugee/migrant challenges) I believe the international Episcopal churches in Europe can serve as strategic catalysts toward effectively ministering to and addressing these respective needs.
Lastly, each ministry role in which I have served has entailed leading, facilitating and encouraging multicultural ecumenical networks of churches and ministries that were quite autonomous in nature, toward seeing their own ministries grow, and working together on a shared vision. Often, this was accomplished through a virtual-type structure and a very small team.
2. How do you currently exercise leadership? Give examples. What will leadership mean as Bishop in Charge of the Convocation and what will you need to change in your mode of operation?
While visionary in orientation and a “can-do” person, I am relationally focused and people-centered. I have long believed in the words of Luciano de Crescenzo: “We are all angels with one wing; we can only fly by embracing one another.” I would describe my previous leadership roles as “missional, collaborative, leading in partnership, guiding and equipping others.” In serving as a visionary team leader, I would describe my exercise in leadership as one of “leading from the middle.”
Often, churches or ministries in which I have served were positioned for growth, which enabled the development of a renewed vision that enhanced what was working well, developed new initiatives, and at times realigned programs or infrastructure. This entailed facilitating a team-based process comprised of representatives from all entities involved (councils, boards, individuals, etc.), toward seeing a renewed ministry vision (based on the church’s or ministry’s strengths, capacity, and honoring its history) that more effectively addressed contemporary challenges and felt ministry needs. Working together on a jointly developed vision required leading with diplomacy, patience, a listening posture and facilitating participation for all wherever possible.
In these contexts, leadership teams were often very diverse, with a variety of skill sets, strengths, cultural backgrounds, experiences and worldviews. My focus was to facilitate a complementary approach, toward accomplishing our overall joint vision and strategic plan. In the context of such teams, I find security having people more experienced than myself in strategic areas and benefit from other viewpoints, which helps in analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of decisions to be taken together. I also enjoy seeing others thrive in their respective ministries, facilitating their roles, and empowering leadership.
I would like my leadership style to be described as: relational, participatory, empowering, team player, people-centered, generous, a learner, a listener, enthusiastic, optimistic, visionary, pastoral, supportive and gracious. In regard to serving in this role, I would want to reflect these traits, while focusing on the depth and breadth of the convocation’s ministry. In depth: to spiritually align ourselves in ever deeper and beautiful ways in our relationship to God, and with God’s agenda for us as individuals, church communities and as a convocation (clergy, congregations, councils, commissions, committees, boards, institutes, etc.). In breadth: toward missional and organizational growth.
While most of my former roles parallel leadership needed to serve in this role of Bishop in Charge, one variation from my current work with CARAVAN is related to the “ministry of presence.” Right now, while I travel extensively, the nature of the ministry is more “virtual” in nature. I don’t have as many opportunities for consistent direct interaction with the team and our partners as I did in other roles. In the ministry of being a bishop, my desire would to be to be “present” as much as is desired and needed, coming alongside in supportive ways . . . clergy, congregations, commissions, ministries, etc. I have always deeply valued the ancient understanding of the role of the bishop as one of being a “pastor to the pastors.”
3. Give one or two examples of conflict management situations you have dealt with and explain the lessons you have learned. Describe the difference in dealing with conflict in the church and elsewhere.
A conflict management opportunity immediately arose upon my arrival in Egypt to serve as the Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church. On its historic property, 10 other church congregations worshiped, due to the lack of governmental permission to build their own buildings. All were non-English language congregations, except the largest, an American evangelical community church that had met on the property since the late 1940s. About 25 years earlier, at a time during which the Episcopal congregation was waning, this church privately arranged a deal with the Episcopal bishop to manage the property themselves. Over the years, bitter conflict arose and the ministry of the Episcopal congregation was undermined, at times even denied access to its own property. I arrived when the community church was legally threatening to kick out the Episcopal congregation, using an obscure Egyptian law that gave rights to “squatters.” Of course, this negative atmosphere was a terrible witness to the local community, which were majority Muslim. As the new rector, I was charged by the diocese to resolve the issue, with the end goal of having the “practical ownership” of the property restored to St. John’s Church.
My first goal was quite simply to nurture a “culture of dialogue” out of the deep-seated “culture of conflict” that existed. It took two years of intentional relationship building with their church leadership, genuinely listening to their fears, as well as their dreams for their future ministry. Eventually we were able to focus on ways we could complement each other’s ministries, and an agreement was reached restoring management to the Episcopal church in a manner in which all could thrive as complementary expressions of the Christian faith.
My experience over the years in resolving times of conflict has led me to see the following as fundamental in healing tensions:
1-Diplomacy in approach is essential. It is critical that great effort is made toward understanding the other’s perspective – appreciating both sides of an issue. All should be done to keep conflict from becoming “personal.”
2-Practical and workable solutions should be sought that both parties feel are fair. Focus on the end goal while working to address and resolve the issue. A “Give and Take” on the sides of both parties is often required.
3-It is critical to address clearly what is necessary to change in order to keep both parties and the ministry vision on track. Specific and tangible steps should be agreed upon together to prevent further conflict. Work to see both parties willing to change and learn from the process.
While many of the principles of conflict resolution are the same whether inside the church or elsewhere, I think the context of the church is unique in that there is a different “bottom line.” Instead of solely organizational goals, for the church, underlying all efforts to resolve conflict is the honoring of the image of God in the “other.” Inherently this means respecting and valuing all persons while peaceful resolutions are sought.
4. How do you take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally and physically?
As a number of the roles I have served in have been quite demanding, and at times have been in environments or work contexts that were potentially stressful (i.e. Middle East during times of unrest), it is a priority for me to intentionally care for my personal well-being - spiritually, physically and emotionally. This has been essential to maintaining good health, a sense of balance between work/ministry and family, and to staying renewed, both mentally and physically.
First and foremost, I find it critical to maintain the disciplines of prayer, reading the Scriptures and devotional/spirituality literature, meditation and quiet reflection to keep me spiritually nourished. Creating space for this “time away” to focus on my relationship with God keeps me spiritually fresh. In my experience, work (emails, committees, meetings, seminars, courses, sermons, etc.), since it produces immediate results, can inadvertently become the energy that motivates one day by day. But this is only a facade, for without a disciplined, consistent time set aside for our souls, we become spiritually parched. I have found the words of Isaiah 40:31 to be very true: "but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Taking care of my well-being has meant staying close to and enjoying the gift of my family as well as being part of our local church community, all of which provide encouragement, fellowship and natural accountability. I am also deeply grateful for supportive friends, near and far.
As most of my roles have required extensive travel, I have needed to be intentional about staying physically fit. When at home this includes using a stationary bike. When traveling, I enjoy taking long brisk walks. I am also committed to eating healthily and getting adequate sleep.
By nature, I am an autodidact. I am an avid reader, and stay intellectually stimulated and fresh by immersing myself in areas other than the one in which I serve – i.e. history, biography, world affairs, and some fiction.
I have also found recreation, play and entertainment essential to living life to the full and maintaining a healthy balance. I love going to the cinema or watching films/television series on Netflix. As a side project, I am currently an executive producer of a film in development in Europe, which is inspired by a novel of the Académie française member and Lebanese-French writer Amin Maalouf.
Lastly, I have found having a sense of humor and not taking oneself too seriously to be integral to a sense of joie de vivre.
5. Why are you a Christian, and why an Anglican (Episcopalian) Christian? What difference does your faith make in your life and how do you talk about it?
My spiritual journey began as a child, nurtured in a Christian family. My father served as the pastor of the international Protestant Church in Dakar, Senegal. At a young age, I recall deciding to become a follower of Christ. However, it was during my first year in university that I became aware of the living faith of a close friend whose spiritual life was dynamic and alive in a way that I had not yet experienced. It was the example of his Christian faith that resulted in my own commitment to Christ and devotion to following Christ’s way.
From that point on, Christ became my “North Star” and I began to sense that God was calling me into vocational ministry in an international context, as opposed to diplomatic service as I had originally intended. I changed my field of study to Theological/Biblical Studies and my journey continued to evolve. There was a significant movement of students on campus at the time who were joining the Episcopal Church and it was in that context that I was drawn to the rich liturgy of the Episcopal/Anglican tradition and experienced the worship of God in an ever-deeper dimension. The mystery and majesty of God, through the beauty and depth of the words in our prayer book came to life for me, facilitating reverence and awe in worship and in life.
I have a missional sense of calling to serve in and through the Episcopal Church. In addition to the depth of our worship tradition I believe its inclusive nature, equally embracing all as made in the image of God, profoundly reflects the spirit of Christ. The Anglican via media approach to seeing our world and its complexities, inherently cultivates a gentle, gracious and non-judgemental spirit toward all, so needed in our world today.
In this regard, I believe that The Episcopal Church is uniquely poised to lead the way on many key issues of the day – from interest in spirituality instead of institutional religion, interfaith bridge-building, the need for community, inclusivity, renewed interest in the interplay between the arts and faith, being a catalyst for social action and justice, care for the environment, etc. Amidst the challenges mainline denominations are facing, I believe the potential for growth in The Episcopal Church is great and that we are positioned to experience our church’s most fruitful days ahead.
My deepest personal interest and desire is to enable people to grow spiritually, toward seeing them experience God in fresh ways. In this light, I also desire them to experience afresh Jesus’ character and benefit from his teaching, albeit without all the trappings, imperfections, baggage and negative stereotypes that exist. I am passionate about discovering ever more relevant ways of communicating our faith, and inspiring people to journey deeper with their Creator. I come back again and again in my own life to the depth and truth of Psalm 84:5 – “Blessed are those . . . whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”