Mark Edington

Biographical Information

The Rev. Mark D.W. Edington is an ordained Episcopal priest, higher-education executive, social entrepreneur, writer, and editor. Appointed in 2014 as the founding director of the Amherst College Press, he has spearheaded the creation of a 54-college consortium supporting Lever Press, an open access, peer reviewed scholarly press. Prior to his appointment at Amherst he served as the senior executive officer of interdisciplinary research centers at Harvard, including the Center for the Study of World Religions and the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory. His work in academic publishing has encompassed directing the publications program of an independent think tank focused on issues of international security and foreign policy, and as a consulting editor at Dædalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 


Ordained in 2001, Mark served as the first Epps Fellow and Chaplain to Harvard College in The Memorial Church of Harvard University, living in residence as visiting scholar in Adams House. Subsequently appointed Associate Minister for Administration, he served as the chief operating officer of one of the largest and most influential university churches in the nation. In addition to undergraduate ministry, his responsibilities included serving as the point of contact between Memorial Church and the body of more than thirty chaplains from all denominations and faith traditions accredited to serve communities in the university, and oversight of the field work program for training seminarians. More recently, as rector of Saint John’s in Newtonville, Massachusetts, he has authored Bivocational: Returning to the Roots of Ministry (Church Publishing, 2018; www.bivocational.church), an exploration of alternatives to the received economic model of congregational life based on the expectation of a full-time, benefited professional as the ordained leader of a community. 


Mark serves as an officer or director of a number of non-profit organizations. Since 2014 he has been a trustee of Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan, where he sits on the Academic Affairs and Strategic Planning committees. From 2013-2016 he served as well as a director of the Harvard University Employees Credit Union, where his work encompassed service on the institution’s audit committee. As a member of the founding board of three NGOs, he has a deep commitment to civic engagement with foreign policy and interfaith engagement in both dialogue and service. A founding director of the 2Seeds Network, he was part of a team focused on creating a new path linking the need for strengthening ethically grounded leadership in the developed world with the need for improving self-sufficiency in the world's poorest countries. 

Mark writes frequently on issues at the intersection of public policy and religion. His essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and other national publications. He has blogged on The Huffington Post and on WBUR’s Cognoscenti, and is a frequent commentator on New England Public Radio. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, where he is active in the Religion and Foreign Policy program. 


Mark is a graduate of Albion College, where he received the A.B. in philosophy and political science summa cum laude, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa; the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; and Harvard Divinity School. He has studied in programs focused on European integration at the Université libre de Bruxelles, and on post-Cold War European security at Christian-Albrechts-Universität. He is married to Judith, a graduate of Albion College, Boston College, and Harvard Law School, who is Counsel in the Tax Department of Sullivan and Worcester, Boston. She is admitted to the bar in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of Illinois. 

Essay Questions

    

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? 


Our Anglican heritage equips us with the rich gift of an incarnational understanding of the gospel we proclaim—the conviction that God’s choice to come among us in the personhood of Jesus of Nazareth, within the frame not only of history but of culture, makes all of human history and culture God’s chosen setting for the ongoing work of reconciliation and sanctification. The gospel message revealed to us through our tradition is one that seeks to enter into each new time and place where human community is found on the terms it finds there, seeking to communicate the universality of God’s offer of salvation and grace by accepting and honoring the significance of the particularities of a given community—its culture, language, people, and narratives. 

My experiences in a wide range of faith communities have formed me in a variety of different congregational types and contexts, and in congregations within and outside the Episcopal church. As a cradle Episcopalian, I have found my spiritual growth nurtured and challenged in small suburban parishes and large urban parishes, in the contemplative setting of intentional communities, and in worship gatherings of the homeless on the streets of Boston. Even though raised and ordained in the Episcopal church, my work in ordained ministry began in a large and non-denominational university church, one in which my experience of worship in community was exposed to, and formed by, traditions of many denominations and nations—and, indeed, of faith traditions beyond the Christian church. And from a very early moment in my academic formation for ministry I have studied the dynamic interplay that has always come about when Anglicanism’s incarnational understanding of God’s gracious acts towards us encounters other faith traditions. 

My preparatory experiences for this role include as well significant time living abroad as an undergraduate (in Brussels) and as a graduate student (in Kiel), as well as proficiency in French as part of both graduate programs I’ve completed. Fletcher’s language requirements are particularly stringent, requiring general working proficiency in reading and limited working proficiency in speaking a foreign language, as defined by the U.S. government’s Interagency Language Roundtable. It has now been just over ten years since I completed my degree requirements at Fletcher, and I am quite sure that it will be a little while before my language skills return to their earlier state. That said, I feel I have the foundation in place on which to restore that proficiency relatively quickly. 

  

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? 


This is an immensely timely question for me, as I’ve just completed a book—to be published by Church Publishing in April (and available online at www.bivocational.church)—on the topic of bivocational ministry, with a primary focus on different modes of leadership in the life of the church. 

As a bivocational rector in a pastoral-size parish, I have engaged intentionally and prayerfully in the practice of “leading from the side.” In my present parish, I’ve led a carefully constructed process to adapt to this shared style of leadership. First, we brought to the surface the expectations held by all people in the church about the role and responsibilities of ordained ministry. We looked for the ways in which these expectations had been shaped—by custom, by tradition, by the evidence of scripture, by the practice of the early church. We did the same with the idea of the ministry of all baptized Christians—asking not just what responsibilities, but what authority comes to us by virtue of our baptism. With this work in place (and ongoing today), we began to look carefully at the respective roles of all ministers in the church, ordained and lay, with a view to reconfiguring our sharing of both authority and responsibility for the ministry into which we feel God is calling us now. The results of this work have been grace-filled and energizing. 

Leadership comes from both formal and informal sources of authority. Formal sources are offices, titles, and honorifics; informal sources are things like reputation, skills, and charism. Anglican tradition understands authority is a gift meant to help the whole people of God by giving order to the work of the church.1 That gift has traditionally been expressed through hierarchical structures—which new generations of faithful people find hard to understand or accept. One thing that deeply attracts me to the ministry of bishop among your churches is exactly that it is not the role of a diocesan bishop, but rather that of a suffragan—one whose chief task is pastoral, not (at least not only) administrative, and whose role is collegial. The remarkable thing to me about the Convocation is that it does what it does chiefly by sharing ministries and resources among its member churches horizontally, rather than the more typically vertical direction of communication between a diocese and its parishes. For my own part, I am clear that I would first need to spend an intentional period of listening among your parishes to understand how your communities discern the ministries into which God is calling them. This seems to me an essential step in earning the informal authority upon which leadership in an incarnational community is necessarily based. Following this, I would need to move a little, I think, from my usual (and more comfortable) place of leading from the side to knowing when it was needful and appropriate to lead from the front—to articulate a vision for our community of communities, to hold it up in a way that others can see and be inspired by it, and to help provide resources to enable us together to move toward it. 

See “The Gift of Authority,” http://www.anglicancommunion.org/media/105245/ARCIC_II_The_Gift_of_Authority.pdf 

  

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. 


I’ll speak to two examples briefly before turning to the second question. 

  • I was part of a leadership team that created a non-profit focused on improving food security in Tanzania. Our model created partnerships between recent college graduates from OECD countries and small villages of subsistence farmers. We provided resources for young social entrepreneurs to become conversant in Swahili, and to create meaningful community partnerships based on the principles of design thinking to empower these communities to develop and implement their own solutions for improved nutritional outcomes. We found in working with our partners a set of cultural expectations created by previous large-scale NGOs that had a different approach to engaging these communities, one characterized by monetary incentives. As our approach was intentionally grounded on the goal of increasing capacity in these communities instead of simply providing funds, we found we needed to work within the social context of these communities—and specifically with community elders—to explain our goals and earn their trust in order to place our project directors within community homes, rather than in a compound separated from the village. We learned the paramount importance of learning and abiding by local cultural norms, and of hearing in the concerns of community members the potential elements of creative solutions.
     
  • As the parish I lead shifted from one model of leadership to another, conflicts arose around unstated expectations about the nature of clergy authority and the shared responsibility of ministry. Especially among elders, a silent expectation had been nurtured by the culture of the church that the ordained minister of the church would always be present in the church office to represent the community in its dealings with vendors, contractors, and tenants. I learned the importance of asking gentle questions intended to help people articulate these expectations; ways of carefully tracing how these expectations had been formed; and tools for describing and proposing new ways of sharing our mutual call to the ministry of the parish in ways that respected our past while encouraging a sense of possibility by engaging the gifts of a broader spectrum of members of the parish.
    The church is a human organization, with all of the challenges, blessings, and possibilities that go with human organizations. But distinct from all other organizations, it holds at its heart a set of commitments about human dignity and the possibility of the sacred in every aspect of human life and work. Because we are a community that has at its center a conversation about questions of ultimate meaning and ultimate reality, we will of course fall into disagreement. To honor our commitments fully, we must hold ourselves accountable in all that we do to the first Christian virtue—humility. In any moment of disagreement or conflict, we must always remember our human frailties and limitations. Whenever Jesus encounters someone in the gospels who is absolutely certain of the truth they see, that person always leaves the encounter challenged—and changed. As disciples of Jesus, we must always be open to that possibility.
     

4. How do you take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally and physically? 


My spiritual life is grounded in reading the daily office and regular engagement with a spiritual director—in my case, a nun of the Society of Saint Margaret, of which I am an associate. I also read widely works that I find spiritually challenging, from the writings of the early church to recent authors like Marilynne Robinson (a particular favorite), Atul Gawande, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Eboo Patel. And I write, every day, and often for publication—both in professional settings and for more general audiences. 

I have long found myself drawn to intentional communities, and have found great refreshment in retreats at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Cambridge, and at Saint Joseph’s Abbey (Cistercian) in Spencer (both in Massachusetts). I am sure that partly because of these experiences, when I reinstituted an early service at the parish I now serve I consciously patterned it after the more contemplative forms of liturgy I have come to know in these places; my experience is that this expression of worship is a welcome offer to a growing number of people, not least people not previously associated with the parish. 

In these past few years I have tended to my emotional health by investing intentionally and significantly in building community wherever it is my place to do so. That’s of course always true in the setting of a parish, but for Judy and me it has also increasingly been true in the community in which we live, and in the professions in which we work. I have come to feel that a great concern for all Christians in our present moment is the erosion of our social cohesion and our skill at building, and being in, community. We are members of a faith tradition that calls us to be in community with each other as the body of Christ; and as disciples it is our task to strengthen and sustain the communities of which we are a part, whatever form they may take. The simplest way we have found to do this—and the most rewarding as well—is by having people around our table frequently; our dining room table is a cornerstone of the ministry we have built together. 

Connected to this investment in community is an intentional focus on forming and maintaining intergenerational friendships. Having spent my first years in ministry as an undergraduate chaplain in a university church, I’m blessed to have a large number of friends twenty years younger with whom I’ve maintained strong contacts, spread around the globe. 

I am by no means an athlete, but I look after my physical health by using the help of a fitness tracker to make sure I get my 10,000 steps each day—even if it means taking a break away from work in the afternoon to go walk around the common. I also make a regular annual practice of tending a garden—which happily (and sometimes fruitfully) links together my spiritual, emotional, and physical health. I also take seriously the discipline of an annual physical. 

  

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? 


I cannot escape remembering, as I consider this, an answer given to this same question by my friend Br. David Vryhof, a monk of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. I cannot improve on it, so I will share it, and then add to it. 

Br. David’s answer was: “I am a Christian because I cannot otherwise account for how good and beautiful things are; and I am a Christian because I cannot otherwise bear how bad things sometimes are.” I recognize my own faith in these words. I am a theist, in that I believe there is a divine existence that is the source of all that is and all that we seek—virtue, justice, connection, dignity; what Tillich spoke of as the “ground of being.” I am a Christian because the Christian understanding and account of that divine is for me the truest and most compelling account of both who that God is and how that God chooses to be revealed as creator, redeemer, and sanctifier. What to me is most compelling about that account is a God who is revealed as one who, in Theodore Parker Ferris’s phrase, bends the arc of history toward justice—not by force, but by the transforming power of redeeming love. 

To Br. David’s eloquent summary, I add one small line of my own. I am a Christian because I cannot otherwise account for the sense of the sacred as a universal human experience. I believe it is deeply inscribed in human nature to sense that possibility in our own lives and in the lives of others around us—the acts of grace and mercy we see in others, the self-giving works of countless unknown and unheralded people, the power of compassion to draw us out of ourselves and into relationship with the needs and hopes of others. The world, the culture of consumerism, the rise of scientism, all seek to explain away or tempt us to deny that possibility; yet it remains there, calling to us. It is the possibility of the sacred in each human person that reflects the image of God in which we each and all are made—the fullest and most complete flourishing of which we know in the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. 

I am an Anglican Christian by considered intention. Although born into this tradition— as the grandchild of English immigrants to the United States—I have been blessed with deep and sustained exposure to other revelations, other faiths, and other accounts of the divine. Through this I have come to appreciate more deeply the rich gifts of other experiences of the divine, and more clearly to understand what it is I value and appreciate about the tradition of which I am a part—the willingness to live in the tension between scripture, tradition, and reason; the conviction (articulated in Hooker) that human nature is both spiritual and social, and that these aspects of human nature cannot be separated without in some way denying our full humanity; the willingness to live out the lessons of history in acknowledging the necessity of tolerance and acceptance in matters of ultimate meaning; the comfort of living with ambiguity in the face of divine mystery; the gift of the beauty of the community joined in liturgy to present itself gathered before God in worship. 

I am not sure how to characterize the difference this faith makes in my life, because I cannot meaningfully imagine my life without it. There is no part of my life separated from my faith. As for how I speak about it, I suppose the best answer is apologetically—in the theological sense of that term; I speak of it in ways intended to offer a compelling appeal for the claims of the faith suited to whatever context in which I find myself. This is, I think, how Christians with an incarnational understanding of the gospel navigate through the world; not doctrinally, but situationally—as Paul says, in ways that seek to be “all things to all people, so that by all means I might save some.”