On the mind of the Rev. Dr. Nathaniel Jung-Chul Lee

Nov 18, 2022

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd… (Matthew 9.36)

It was a strange thing this past Wednesday to look up at them–the five of them. A year after it was first announced that there would be an election for the next Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, here we were–a few hundred clergy and lay people–scattering the pews of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harlem, hearing the candidates speak for the first time.

As I watched each of them address the various questions posed by the audience, I was struck by a strange thought–one of these people will soon be my pastor. As the chief pastor of the Diocese, bishops serve as priest to the clergy. As long as I’ve been a priest, I’ve never been a part of choosing my pastor before. And as I thought about the various bishops I’ve served under–and knowing just how much influence they have on all that serve under their care–a thought came to me with some urgency: I really hope we get this right.

Each of the candidates who are standing for bishop are exceptional priests, and each brings different gifts to the table. Some are caring pastors. Some are gifted teachers. Some are inspiring leaders. Some are prophetic activists. Some are creative innovators. Some are incisive administrators. And in their various forms, each of those gifts were on display Wednesday night. I encourage you to watch the recording.

The Diocese of New York is a large and complex system, so it’d be fair to ask which particular combination of gifts are best suited for this time and place. And I think all of us should be willing to acknowledge that none of us knows the answer with certainty.

But there are two things I can say with absolute confidence. First, as we commemorate this very Christ the King Sunday, Christ alone is Lord and king–he is “the king of kings, and the Lord of Lords.” (Rev. 17.14). All “thrones and powers and rulers and authorities…have been created through him and for him” (Col. 1.16). Which is why we say that he–and not any priest or bishop–is, in the last analysis, the “head of the body; the church” (Col. 1.18).

Perhaps it sounds a bit pious–perhaps even a bit mawkish–but I take great comfort in that truth. Whatever else may come, Christ still sits on the throne. And if we build our house–build this church–on that rock (Cf. Mt. 7.24-27), he will not let our foot be moved.

The second thing I know with absolute confidence is this: we should pray. Jesus rarely, apart from the Lord’s prayer, tells his disciples what to pray for. But in Matthew 9, after seeing some crowds who were “like sheep without a shepherd,” Jesus does just that. He turns to his disciples, names a problem and them tells them to “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

In just over two weeks’ time, one of these five people will be our “bishop-elect.” So over the next two weeks, I’m going to ask that we pray as Jesus instructed his disciples. Let us all pray together that the Lord of the harvest will send his laborer in to this harvest.