The Rev. Lisa W. Hunt
Diocese of Texas
Lisa Hunt is the rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, which she has led for the past 11 years. She serves as the president of the St. Stephen’s Episcopal School Board, a pre-K-8 Montessori day school. She is also the vice president of the Faith Leaders Coalition of Greater Houston, an interfaith association of progressive clergy and is a member of the Montrose Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone Board for the City of Houston. She formerly served as rector of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, Tennessee. During her 17 year tenure in Nashville she was elected to the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education. Prior to that, she worked as the interim assistant chaplain at University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.
Having been raised in the Church of God, General Conference, she chose to become an Episcopalian while attending Vanderbilt Divinity School where she graduated with a Master of Divinity. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Toledo in Ohio. She also attended the General Theological Seminary in New York.
Lisa has been married to Bruce Farrar for 29 years. They have raised three great children together: Annie, Max, and Rose. She delights in her newest role as bubbe to Maya, her granddaughter. Her hobbies include gardening, cooking, reading, and civic engagement.
Who is Jesus Christ to you and how is your life and ministry influenced and shaped by Christ?
Jesus Christ to me is the human face of God, the Word coming to dwell in and among us, revealing the power of God to heal, love, and redeem. As someone who was raised in an evangelical strand of Christian faith and who chose to leave it as a young adult because I found it intellectually wanting, I have struggled with Jesus. Living in the South where Jesus can be seen in very individualistic terms, a divine “bestie”, I often felt theologically uncomfortable; especially when in the name of Jesus, my brothers and sisters in Christ have been hateful to others, especially the LGBTQ community.
My personal faith journey has invited me to reclaim Jesus in my life. Choosing to become an Episcopalian was a decision to see my wholeness and salvation in communal terms, not individualistic ones. Paul reminds us that in Christ, God was reconciling the world to God’s self (2 Corinthians 5:19). We assert, as a Church, that in Baptism each of us is sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever.
If Baptism creates us, Eucharist sustains us. Eucharist became a way for me to enter the mystery of Christ; again, not as my private experience, but as a community’s claim of identity and love. Over years of practice, I came to see myself as part of the Body of Christ. It was personal; it was in me. But more significantly, it was us. Through years of engaging in the holy mysteries, I have come to see my life as a response to God’s presence in me and the world.
For many years I relished the fact that we Episcopalians would get out and do good hard work shaped by our thoughtful faith, without insisting that others recognize that we were Christians or attempt to convert others. I wanted no part of coercive faith.
What I have come to realize is that I, along with others of us, I suspect, was coasting in an ‘established church’ mentality. The culture was predominantly Christian so we didn’t have to talk about our faith; we were a nation grounded in biblical norms so we could assume that basic assumptions of justice would prevail. That is no longer true. I have to choose; I have to speak.
We are in an increasingly secular and pluralistic world, and God loves it. We can no longer assume that spiritual norms or Christian practices will be nurtured purely by osmosis. We have to make conscious personal choices of faith and practice; this is transformative life and work. I recall the words of T. S. Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. “I feel at this point in my life and ministry I return to my beginning. My sense is that the Church is too.
What criteria would you use for determining when and how a struggling congregation should be closed? And where might we find signs of resurrection (new life) there?
The Church is a vehicle for God’s mission in the world and it has taken a variety of forms over time; it will not die. I do not believe that the Church is its buildings, endowments, clergy, or liturgical vessels. Rather, I believe that the Church is the People of God.
How the Church is organized over time and in various places changes. We are in the throes of that kind of adaptation now. As Episcopalians, we view the Diocese as the primary unit of the Church, while we experience our life in Christ in deeply local ways. Criteria for evaluating vitality and hope have to be on both levels—Diocesan and local.
I know that the Diocese of Newark has already faced the difficult decision of closing congregations, selling some properties and unifying some congregations. I would want to review the previously used criteria so that we do not recreate the wheel. I would engage the Diocese in discernment of these criteria so that the criteria are community based, transparent, and fair.
Assessment would need to take place both Diocesan and local levels. Clearly economic viability is an important metric, but it is not the only one. I think the Diocese of Newark will need to have a strategic vision for growth and renewal. We will want to look toward the kind of diversity we want to cultivate---we will not want to close ministries in communities we will want to serve and we will not allow these losses to be borne by communities of color disproportionately. We will also want to be wise about leveraging the value of our real estate.
These are some of the principles I would employ:
- Maximize collaboration.
- Listen to the truths.
- Provide for the People of God always treat each other with respect.
- Do not prolong suffering.
- Be good stewards of time, money, and the gifts of God’s People.
- Keep the decisions at the lowest possible level with the recognition that we belong to each other.
If we together decide to close a congregation, I think that we need to celebrate the ministry and life of the people in the current generation and those of the past. An oral history component as well as some fine art process would be good to capture our stories. I think pastoral care of the congregants is critical so that there is a process designed to aid persons into their next faith community—either as individuals or as a whole. There are already teams in the Diocese doing some of this work.
As Americans, our culture denies death and spends an inordinate amount of our health care dollars in the last weeks of life, often in intensive care. This is in part because we are afraid to talk about death and acknowledge natural processes. As Christians, we believe in death and resurrection. The Church can model courage and skill in this regard by equipping our members to name death when we see it and to clear the way for new life in a collective way. This makes for the renewal of the Church over time.
Based on the information you have learned about the Diocese of Newark, what challenges and excites you about your vision for the role of a bishop in the 21st century in this Diocese?
My vision for the role of the Bishop of Newark in the 21st century is to lead the Diocese in becoming a more nimble and responsive vehicle for people to come to know and love God and to build God’s reign wherever we serve. This will include adapting structures, funding, and leadership, so that we can embrace the changing demographics, cultures, and economic situations we face. This will necessitate seeking collaborative partnerships with other parts of the Church so that our human and other resources are used effectively and with prudence to foster new forms of ministry.
The Diocese of Newark under Bishop Beckwith has begun the necessary work to build individual and collective capacities to listen to God’s Word and to discern God’s mission. What excites me most about the role of bishop at this time is that we cannot be focused on institutional maintenance or mere survival; Christ is leading us to become something new. The challenge now is to step out boldly in faith, grounded in reason. Where are we called to innovate? Where are we called to start new ministries and in what forms? How do we recruit and call the next generation of leaders?
The Bishop will need to lead the Diocese into this future, confident that God will provide for us in the midst of the changes, as we set a course together. We need now to start acting. This will mean being willing to experiment, fail, and learn. This will take money, leadership, and support. It also means focusing on the next generations.
Simultaneously, from my visit and conversations, I know that the Bishop will need to lead an effort to create a blueprint for realigning our fiscal, physical, and human resources for this new era. Fear of death is palpable. There is real love in the Diocese of Newark for the people and clergy of the Church; this needs to be matched by courage to risk. The challenge for the Bishop will be to inspire and assure the people of the Diocese to trust that love is stronger than death.