The Very Rev. Dr. Benjamin Shambaugh is Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Portland, Maine.
Dean Shambaugh's ministry has included living in and around New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, Paris, Barbados, and the National Parks, doing development work in Africa, Haiti, and an Indian Reservation in the American West, and leading study tours to the Holy Land. Ordained in 1988, he has served four congregations and has had a wide variety of mission experiences including time as a chaplain at the National Cathedral in Washington, as Canon Pastor to the American Cathedral in Paris, and his current position as Dean of St. Luke's Cathedral in Portland, Maine.
In the Diocese of Maine, Dean Shambaugh has served as President of the Standing Committee, the Chair of the General Convention Deputation, and numerous other positions. In Portland, he has served on the boards of Preble Street, the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, and St. Elizabeth's Jubilee, been adjunct faculty at Bangor Theological Seminary, and actively worked on a wide variety of issues facing the wider community. For this work he received Preble Street’s Board Member of the Year, Integrity Maine’s Founders Award, and a commendation from the Mayor and City Council of Portland. For 10 years before coming to Maine, he served the rector of St. John's Church, in Olney, Maryland a position which included oversight of a K-8 Episcopal School and African Palms, an organization which raised roughly $100,000 a year for human need in Africa. The four years he lived in Paris were a time of transition for the Convocation which included two deans, four bishops, and the beginnings of the dream which led to the missions and the full-time elected bishop the convocation has today.
He has a BA (with honors) in psychology from Northwestern University, an M.Div. from the General Theological Seminary, and a D.Min. from Seabury Western Seminary. He and his wife Shari have two grown children. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, kayaking, and playing his tuba with the Maine Pops and other local bands.
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?
In addition to four years at the cathedral in Paris, mission and ministry have brought me to a rural congregation in Barbados, the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, as well as a small village in Haiti, as well as the cities and suburbs of Chicago and Washington. During my ten years in the Diocese of Washington, my parish was the home of African Palms, USA, a grant making organization that worked closely with dioceses and development projects in East Africa. My cathedral in Maine hosts St. Elizabeth's Jubilee Center, which fills our parish hall with immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Also in Maine, I am very active in ecumenical and interfaith work, seen in the area of social justice and also interfaith worship and celebrations. For me, the diversity of the Convocation is an incredibly gift and witness to the church that embodies our welcome and extends our mission to all people. Having lived abroad twice I understand the importance of having a community that worships and offers support and care in one's native language, the feelings of isolation an individual – and a parish – can have away from home, and recognize the great value the congregations in the convocation can have for the expatriates living and traveling overseas. I also recognize the incredible way the Episcopal Church can reach people of other cultures, other faiths, and of no faith, who are seeking a relationship with God. With our respect for reason, our combination of ancient worship and modern thought, our love of liturgy and music, and our radical sense of welcome and inclusion, we can transcend culture and welcome all.
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?
As a servant leader, I strive to practice what I preach, never asking someone to do something I would not do myself, always willing to lend a hand. Like the Convocation, St. Luke's Cathedral has a small staff and I find myself helping others do what needs to be done. As a democratic leader, I listen prayerfully to the input of others and as a coach do what I can to empower and encourage people in their various roles. As a transformational leader, I offer vision and support, often leading people to accomplish more than they thought possible. Examples of this can be found at St. John's Church in Maryland, where I grew the congregation, helped oversee the maturation of the ministry of African Palms, and oversaw the doubling of the student body and a $4.5 million physical expansion of St. John's School. This worked because each of those groups had highly functioning board, competent staff and volunteers, with my role primarily in offering encouragement, vision, and a personal connection. The same is true at St. Luke's Cathedral, in which my ministry is balanced between the congregation, work in the community, and service in the diocese. Each of these areas have thrived in a context of strong relationships, trust, and communication. The geographic and cultural distance between the congregations of the Convocation means that these things will be a challenge. As shown in the change of the diocesan convention from two to four days, interpersonal connections are important. Using the same model, imagine longer bishop's visitations, an emphasis on community building in committees, and other opportunities that can make this happen. Where face-to-face meetings might not be possible, video conferencing such as that used by the search committee is a tool that is getting better and better.
Like the Convocation, the diocese of Maine is a large geographic area, with relatively few, mostly small, congregations that have limited resources. Some of our congregations are more than six hours away. More and more, we are using technology to keep people connected. Though it is the largest congregation in the diocese, St. Luke's Cathedral often finds itself seeking creative solutions so that it can continue to support the diocese and allow its ministries to thrive. For example, rather than relying on full-time professional staff, we seek to use the gifts of lay people in the congregation and partnerships with other congregations to keep programs alive. In the area of youth, for example, we have joined with other churches to create a Portland-wide youth group and host and participate in diocesan-wide youth overnights. Here we are used to letting the Spirit move and discovering how to make mission happen in creative ways. Servant leadership, coaching leadership, democratic leadership, and transformational leadership have helped this work.
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.
When I arrived in Portland, St. Luke's ran the weekend programs at a local soup kitchen. The weekday programs were overseen by Wayside Soup Kitchen and the facility itself was part of Preble Street, a large social service agency. Competition and conflicts between the groups that shared the space continued to grow, with accusations of stolen food and arguments and animosity between volunteers, even as the number of clients, meals served, and pressures on the system increased. At the same time, the government granting agency changed its system only to accept applications from large organizations and asked that we merge. As the leader of the “religious group”, I was asked to help mediate and brought the groups together for a series of conversations and listening sessions, in which people shared their feelings, dreams and goals. In the end, St. Luke's merged its soup kitchen into Preble Street's operation, which included a large staff, including a development and volunteer coordinators. St. Luke's volunteers (who did not like applying for grants or scheduling teams) were able to focus on cooking the food and feeding the clients. Wayside decided to leave and reform itself into a different sort of feeding program that rotated meals at different sites, focusing on hungry families rather than the chronic homeless of the soup kitchen, a move that enabled that agency to thrive in a new way. The lesson here was about helping people express their desires and by focusing on their strengths, and to not feel stuck just because “we have always done it that way.” A second example can be found in a person in one of my congregations who struggled to find her place and felt like her gifts weren't being used. Together we brainstormed about ways she could use her gifts. Now she chairs our Eucharistic Visitors and has led that ministry with great success. We now have a cordial, respectful relationship that continues to be strong. Perhaps more than the first, this example shows how dealing with conflict in churches can deal with far more than surface issues, that church conflicts can be loaded with projection, transference, or family or personal history, and carry far more weight, and require far more sensitivity than one might expect. This example also shows that in the church, relationships are often the most important thing. As I taught my teachers at St. John’s School, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I cannot promise to be perfect. I can promise to listen to you, love you, and be with you every step of the way.
4. How do you take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally and physically?
My prayer life is grounded in the sacraments and prayers of the church, through music, and time spent in quiet meditation and prayer. While I look forward to Sunday worship and love preaching, singing and participating in the liturgy, my spirit is refreshed by time alone, often outside. I have often sought counsel from spiritual directors, colleague groups, or mentors, have been much supported by the fellowship of other clergy and faith leaders, and have worked to build community with my staff and volunteers. (When in Paris, I was active with the Association Oecumenic Champs Elysee Etoile and was very close with the pastor of the American Church and the Anglican clergy at St. George's and St. Michael’s. It is not by accident that the godparents of my son are the former organist and bookkeeper of the American Cathedral.)
Outside of church, I am an avid hiker and kayaker and on my days off can be found on the waters or in the woods of Maine. I love travel and meeting new people and exploring new places. Having grown up in Chicago and lived in New York, Washington, and Paris, I enjoy cities and am passionate about the arts and the energy of local politics and social justice that urban centers bring. Music has long been a way to feed my soul. In this area, I play tuba with the Maine Pops Concert Band, which does concerts playing in parks, nursing homes, and other venues. When in Paris, my wife and I both sang with the Paris Choral Society.
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 was baptized as an infant and raised in the church, and, having sung in a choir since I was six years old, acolyted, and participated in youth group through high school, participating in a campus ministry during college, and going to seminary right after that, never left. I will never forget a moment during a retreat when I was in Junior High when we were singing a song with the refrain “I love you” and I realized that God was saying that to me. When I told my twin brother (who had been sitting next to me) that moment changed my life, he replied that “it was one of the most boring days of his life.” That's when I understood that that the Holy Spirit was at work. As a student focusing on science and planning on becoming a doctor, I found myself profoundly attracted to an Episcopal tradition that respected reason, had a combination of ancient mystical practices and modern progressive perspectives. That community offered such a home that instead of going to medical school, I went to seminary and when my son was born, I named him after that college chaplain. My thirty years of ministry have been an incredible adventure, a journey, in which I have seen to power that happens when faith is put to work.
In my congregation and community, I have been very involved in the campaign for marriage equality. In my state, this issue came up for vote twice, failing the first time “because of religion.” I joined the board of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination and worked to provide a pro-marriage equality Christian voice, speaking at the statehouse, in the public square, and on stage in our own “A Rabbi, Priest and a Minister walk into Gay Marriage.” The second time it came up for a vote, marriage equality passed. During the same time period, I worked for marriage equality at two General Conventions. One of my proudest moments was signing the vote for the deputation from diocese and stage of Maine, which led to the passing of that legislation. Everywhere I spoke, I told people that I did not do what I did in order to take a political stand. I did what I did because of my love and desire to care for members of my congregation. I did what I did because I believe it is what Jesus would do. I also did what I did because it fulfilled my baptismal vows “to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.” For me, the baptismal vows are the de-facto mission statement of the Episcopal Church. In them, we say what we believe and then promise to live that believe out in real and concrete ways. I am an Episcopalian because our church is a place that can happen: a place where people can experience glimmers of the Kingdom of God.