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7 Questions with Daniel DeForest London
7 Questions with Daniel DeForest London
Name: Daniel DeForest London
Current title: Rector (Episcopal Priest)
Current organisation: Christ Episcopal Church Eureka CA
I grew up in Los Altos CA, where I had a fun and mischievous childhood while attending evangelical churches with my family. When I was 12, we moved to Ithaca NY, where the long, cold winters gave this California kid a rude awakening. In upstate NY, I attended a school that was part of a charismatic church called Covenant Love Community; and I was soon baptized in the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination. During this time, I began taking my schoolwork and my spirituality more seriously, thanks to excellent teachers (including my father); and I started falling in love with literature, thanks to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. During my sophomore year of high school, we moved back to California, where I graduated from The King’s Academy in Sunnyvale. I was accepted to and considered attending Billy Graham’s alma mater Wheaton College, but decided to remain in sunny California instead and attend “The Wheaton of the West Coast”: Westmont College in Santa Barbara. At Westmont, I double majored in English and Religious Studies, served as the Co-Director of an Urban Ministry Team, and worked as a radio DJ and then General Manager of the college radio station. I also participated in three off-campus programs: in San Francisco, southern Oregon, and the UK, all of which helped pop me out of my evangelical bubble and put me on “the Canterbury trail” which led to the Episcopal Church.
After being awarded the “Most Outstanding Religious Studies Student Award” and being told by the chaplain supervisor at SF General Hospital that I was called to be a minister, I decided to attend Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. During seminary, I worked as a café barista, bookseller and then manager at Borders bookstore while attending All Saints Episcopal Church, where I was confirmed by the Right Rev. Chester Talton on May 12, 2007. While finishing my Master’s degree, I served as the Director of Youth Ministries at Church of Our Saviour in San Gabriel, which eventually sponsored me for ordination.
I then pursued a PhD in Christian Spirituality at the Graduate Theological Union while interning at St. Clement’s in Berkeley and St. Alban’s in Albany CA (not NY). I met my wife, Ashley Bacchi, in 2011 at a Religious Studies conference in SF and we subsequently helped each other trudge through and eventually complete our doctorates. During that time, I launched and led a collaborative youth ministry in Marin county; taught courses in Ethics, World Religions, Bible and Spirituality; earned a Certificate of Anglican Studies from CDSP; and published a couple academic articles on prayer. I was ordained to the transitional diaconate by the Right Rev. J. Jon Bruno on June 8, 2013 and then to the priesthood by the Right Rev. Mary Glasspool on January 11, 2014 at St. John’s Cathedral in Los Angeles.
A couple years later, Ashley and I tied the knot at Grace Cathedral in SF, on the indoor prayer labyrinth, on May 20, 2016. I served as curate at Christ Episcopal Church in Sausalito CA and then as the Priest-in-Charge at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in San Rafael, where the average Sunday attendance tripled.
I love serving as the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Eureka CA, where I have been now for over three years; and, in the summer of 2020, I published my first book titled "Theodicy and Spirituality in the Fourth Gospel."
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
Being a priest requires a broad range of skills: administrative, pastoral, communicative, intellectual, social, etc. One moment I'm writing a sermon, the next moment I'm talking and praying with someone who has just lost a spouse, and then the next moment I'm unplugging a toilet right before leading a worship committee meeting.
I find it most challenging to balance and prioritize my responsibilities while effectively delegating to a small group of committed staff members and volunteers.
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
The ordination process in the Episcopal Church is an intentionally long and difficult one that usually takes at least three years. After earning a Masters degree in Theology and a Certificate of Anglican Studies at seminary, I underwent several rounds of interviews and exams by psychologists, physicians, bishops, diocesan leaders, general ordination exam chaplains, and other clergy. After about four years of training and exams, I was ordained to the transitional diaconate and then, six months later, to the priesthood. I became the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Eureka (leader of an SME) after having worked part-time as a Youth Minister for a collaborative Youth Ministry in Marin CA and as the priest-in-charge of a congregation in San Rafael CA. Christ Church Eureka was seeking a new rector when I stumbled upon their parish profile on the diocesan website. I prayerfully discern a call and, after several interviews (online and in-person), I was called by the vestry to serve as their new rector.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I try to begin and end my day with prayer, which usually includes about 20 minutes of silent meditation.
I then review emails and consult my seemingly endless list of tasks. A friend encouraged me to call my "To Do" List a "Ta Da" List so that I can exclaim, "TA DA!" after accomplishing a task. I try to make sure I am spending at least some time each day engaging with my parishioners (the Body of Christ) and also engaging with my own body through walking, stretching, jogging, and/or playing the guitar. Also, I try to spend an hour walking mindfully through the redwoods, at least a couple times a week.
I remain open to the inevitable interruptions throughout the day (unexpected phone calls, office visits, etc.), knowing that often the true work of ministry is discovered in the disruptions.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Although sometimes I may feel a sense of guilt for delegating certain tasks and responsibilities to others (especially volunteers who receive no remuneration while I myself am compensated), I have been learning that others derive a deep sense of joy and pleasure in accomplishing certain tasks for the church (just as I do). So when I refuse to delegate a task to someone (for whatever reason - be it guilt or some other reason), I am actually withholding from a sense of joy and pleasure from that person.
That might be the most recent significant leadership lesson I've learned: that the act of delegating to others can actually be seen as a way of generously sharing joy with others.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
A couple years ago, a Candidate for Holy Orders (a deacon in training) whose formation I was overseeing, gave me a book titled "Hearts on Fire: The Evolution of an Urban Church" about an Episcopal parish we had both previously attended: All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. The book focuses primarily on the leadership of their rector the Rev. George F. Regas, who served there from 1967 - 1995. In a chapter titled "Regimen for Renewal," the author writes, "The principal discipline has to do with time alone each weekday morning, and all day on Thursday. George's study is a very sacred place...The preservation of this time and place is the greatest gift George can offer to his staff and parishioners" (44). During this time, George would pray in the Daily Office, contemplate Scripture, pray for parishioners and prayerfully digest the morning newspaper, and then he would review the calendar of meetings and appointments, clarifying the goals of each encounter and asking for God's guidance and blessing (45).
Regas's regimen for renewal is one that I strive to emulate (especially the discipline of praying for guidance in each encounter) because, as a priest, I cannot imagine leading effectively without also praying regularly.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
I believe that one of the deepest and most long-lasting sources of joy available to us comes from serving as a leader in the church.
I keep reminding people of a quote attributed to the great leader of nonviolent resistance Mahatma Gandhi: "20% of the work of combating injustice involves protest, but 80% of the work involves building up the new community of love and justice." So the most effective way to combat injustice in the country and in the world is to serve as a leader in a church that is committed to justice and love.
And as Gandhi's student Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." The best way to combat darkness and hatred in the world is to invest in communities of love and light.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
During this long season of COVID, we are being called to let go of so much that we had previously held dear, including those things that may have become "idols" in our lives.
Part of being an effective leader involves knowing when to let go and then also helping others to let go of that which needs to be released.
A couple years ago, we needed to dissolve our relationship with our parochial mission church because of some dangerous (and potentially violent) toxicity in the leadership. Although we tried for years to extend encouragement, assistance, and grace, we eventually realized it was time to let go. In many ways, I would have preferred holding on, but it became clear to us that it was not the best use of our resources. The decision to let go was ultimately mine, but I made sure that my leadership team (the vestry) was in full agreement with the decision before it was made. If it were my decision alone, I would easily become the sole target of people's anger and frustration (and potential violence). Although certain people still preferred to blame me as the source of all their problems, I was able to honestly communicate that the decision to let go was a communal one made by the elected leaders of the congregation.
Speaking of letting go, I have had to let go of many special events we had planned for the church especially during this sesquicentennial year and my parishioners have had to let go of the opportunity to gather together in our beautiful sanctuary to worship. Effective leadership involves letting go when it is time to let go and thus emulating this behavior for the rest of the congregation.
Also, pastoral leadership involves walking alongside others with care and compassion during such seasons of loss. People often say that church folk resist change, but I don't think that's really true. What people resist is not change per se, but loss. And effective pastoral leaders provide healthy outlets for parishioners to cope with such loss (i.e. lament, hope for a new future, etc.).