For People with bishop Rob Wright

A Look Back on 10 Years with Bishop Wright

For People
A Look Back on 10 Years with Bishop Wright

About the episode

A few weeks ago, we celebrated 10 years of Bishop Wright as the Bishop of The Diocese of Atlanta. In this episode, Melissa and Bishop Wright have a conversation about the learnings, the experiments, and what’s to come. Listen in for the full conversation.


See, I think nowadays more than anything with all the bad news, that encircles us, the corrective, the medicine for that, for the potential to despair, is the buoyancy that comes with gratitude. And so, what lifts us, what lifts the chin off of the chest, is to consider how good God is and how good God has been to us individually.

Easton: This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.

Melissa: Well, hey everybody. This is a For People with Bishop Rob Wright. And I’m Melissa Rau, your host, and today we are celebrating Bishop Rob’s 10 years with the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta as diocesan and bishop. Whoa, congrats, Bishop.

Rob: Thank you. Thank you. Thank God.

Melissa: Yeah, man. Thank God. After reflecting upon your ministry as bishop over the last 10 years, I’m just wondering, what are some things you’re particularly grateful for?

Rob: Oh, my God. The list is so long. No, I’m particularly grateful for the ways in which I have seen God all around the Diocese of Atlanta and that I have seen God at work in people’s lives. It’s been an immense privilege to be invited into people’s lives, their fears, dysfunction, challenges, seasons of faith in people’s lives, and to walk alongside of people, you know, congregations, as well as individuals. It’s just been phenomenal. And to have my own faith deepened, for people to help me see the stories in new and exciting ways, in ways that would have never occurred to me. I mean, I think that’s what we get in Christian community, right? Is that there is a sense of things and then we put our sense of things beside somebody else’s. And there’s a dialogue that happens. And so, you know, in terms of being bishop, to this really complex system, 8th largest diocese out of 109 dioceses, with all the faith and hard work involved and yet to meet people on their own journeys with God, and service, and meaning, and forgiveness, and generosity. It’s extraordinary.

Melissa: Well, I’m curious, you talked about how you see God. Is there any particular way you see God differently now than when you first became bishop?

Rob: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, I guess what you end up with, at least in this, my experience has been over these last 10 years, it’s not anything new necessarily. But it’s an emphasis on things that you knew but now you know in a deeper way. You might say that you know that you know now, right?

I think one of the lessons that I think I have learned at a new depth, I think parenting has helped me with this, being married has helped me with this, but certainly administrating a diocese, a big organization is that God’s way is gentle in correction. Gentle in correction. And I think I understand that in a new depth. We say that we are not the people of condemnation, shame, or guilt. And if we’re not, and the truth of the matter is many of us have learned how to parent that way, how to be spouses that way, how to be administrators that way, how to be bosses that way. God’s way is that we ben gentle in correction. And, you know, I’ve been on that journey with God to learn that at new depth. And I see the genius of that. Now again, at home and at work and certainly in our life together. We all stumble. I stumble. We all stumble. God’s geniuses to be gentle in correction so as not to sort of provoke us to, you know, a cul-de-sac of anger and resentment and all that sort of stuff, which takes a lot to get us out of that.

So, gentle and correction is one. I think the other thing I think I’ve learned is that as a denomination, we need to learn how to say thank you God, more. And we need to put that in our regular prayers. I mean, we do a good job of praying for all the woes of the world, we should do that, we should pray. It’s called petition and intercession. We should ask God to intervene in tragic situations like Ukraine and, you know, homelessness in Atlanta and so on. We ought to pray for those catastrophes that are happening locally and abroad.

But maybe before then, maybe before we make our petitions and intercessions, we need to stop a minute as individuals and as a group, and say, but what a good God we have. And not just as a general matter, and not to be cute, but how has God been good to me, to you, to us? See, I think nowadays, more than anything with all the bad news that encircles us, you know, the corrective, the medicine for that for the potential to despair is the buoyancy that comes with gratitude. And so, what lifts us, what lifts the chin off of the chest is to consider how good God is, and how good God has been to us individually and as a general matter. And so, you know, I think we ought to do more of that. I think that’s where the buoyancy that we need to persevere comes from. I think what we’ve learned in COVID, dramatically, and over my 10 years, COVID was a big part of that, is that we can’t make it on our own strength. Some of us are stronger than others, some of us have more faith than others, and all that’s great. But this race is not over and so we have to find a fuel that is inexhaustible. And one of the inexhaustible fuels is a genuine gratitude to God. When that happens, it’s amazing how energizing that is. So, when I see that happen across the church, I see that happen in people’s lives, it’s an extraordinary gift to behold. I’ve seen that in congregations in the north and south, all of the points, east and west, you know, in little places that one would argue, they don’t seem to have a whole lot. In a funny way, I have met the most grateful people, who only have a very little, and sometimes I have met the folks that struggle with gratitude who have an embarrassment of riches of things and opportunities. So, it’s a funny kind of thing.

I’m grateful for the people whose life is all about giving God thanks. And I thank God that that their gratitude has inspired my gratitude. And I want more of that for the diocese of Atlanta, because I think that’s what’s going to push us forward.

Melissa: Well, if you had to go back and do things differently, would you given the chance?

Rob: Oh, yeah, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned an awful lot over the years. You know, we’ve talked about running experiments, faithful data driven experiments. And so, we’ve learned a lot. So, I don’t really talk in terms of failure. I’m not scared of that word. But I really do believe that there are learnings. And so, we’ve learned an awful lot. And so, yeah, I think I would make some tweaks here and there, for sure. But as a general matter, you know, what I have used as a real time corrective, is including lots of people, you know, in our decision making. And so, you know, I’m grateful for that. I think that’s helped me to stay out of the ruts that I might have otherwise gotten into. I do believe that the Holy Spirit works through the community. And so, that’s why I continue to seek the wisdom of all of us.

I think that of course, there’ll be disagreements about lots of things and that’s just part of the work. But I think, to get clear about our purpose, our why, in middle of North Georgia to try to make impact for Christ’s sake is the right thing, to try to say who we are over social media, and all the other imaginative ways. We’re trying to say who we are and who Jesus is. I think that’s exactly right. People can kibbutz around the edges of that. But I think the thrust of that is the right thing. To spend money on race and reconciliation and healing, like we have done at the Absalom Jones Center to reach out to our Hispanic community in our midst. And to raise up leaders there like we have done, that is the right thing to do. To go into the jails, to confirm, to bless, to extend the Eucharist to people behind bars to say that we shouldn’t kill people in Georgia. I think that’s the right thing to speak out. When we cheat our older citizens and our sick citizens of the Medicaid benefits that they could have is the right thing to do. To say that we might be Democrat or we might be Republican, but our first citizenship is in heaven, and that we ought to vote accordingly. And we ought not have contempt for each other. That’s the right thing to do.

And so, yeah, there will be a lot of people after 10 years will say, you know, geez, I’ve had quite enough of this guy. And that’s fine. You know, I respect that, you know. I really do respect that. I really, really do. But I think the thrust has been the right thrust. There is lots to critique. And I think the trust of the work has been the right work. I’m grateful for all the partners who have joined us in this work.

Melissa: That’s great. So, Bishop, do you have a sense of what might be next?

Rob: Oh, yeah. What’s next, how do we feel deeper in trusting God? I mean, we’re recording this now in advance of what’s called our Annual Council for those who don’t know, and that’s our sort of big gathering, you know, 5, 600 people together delegates from every congregation and diocese to approve budgets and to hear reports and so on. It’s a good time. It’s a fellowship time. We do a service project as well. And we do a group worship time.

But one of the things that I like about it is sort of talk about where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we want to go. And where we want to go is we want to go deeper, right? And so, the biblical text that we’re going to use for the gospel that day, is Luke 12. And Luke 12-22, is all about anxiety. And in Jesus’s wonderful way, He tells us to stop worrying so much because you can’t even make yourself grow by 18-inches for worrying and not one qubit is the language.

So, I want to have a conversation with us about anxiety in an anxious world. And how we as as Kingdom people, according to Jesus ought to be a wheel in a wheel. In other words, we are a community set in a community. We are 11 in a large loaf. And so, if we know God, and we know that God is the constant, and that the end of all things, and the center of all things is love, and we don’t model a non-anxious way to be, then I think the world is right to critique us. But if we really know God, and if God is really resonating in us and through us, then I think we’ve got something to say to the world. So, I want to figure out how to do that.

Now what that looks like practically, is we’re going to double down on outreach to the Hispanic community because they’re growing in our midst. What that looks like practically, is we’re going to have conversations with some congregations whose ministry it seems has run its course. And we’re going to figure out how to repurpose those resources, so that we can meet new people and welcome them into the body of Christ. It looks like we’re going to look at our finances, through new lenses, and figure out what sustainability looks like over the next five to 10 years. You can only play Whack a Mole so long, right? And so, we need to figure out an overarching strategy. We’ve got great financial stewards in this diocese. And so, we want to get all our sort of money people in a room and just figure out our way. Because we know that if we can take some of this financial burden off, then we can have some more resources for ministry. And after all, that’s what it’s about.

So, more of the same, trying to figure out how to continue to do and to fund the great commission, which is to draw the circle wider. It is where we started 10 years ago. Wider still. With God at the center of the circle. That’s my song and I’m sticking to it.

Melissa: All right. Well, I’m dancing with you. Bishop, thank you.

I’d love to close in a prayer. And I was just thinking, yeah, we need to pray to God more. I didn’t write anything. I’m just inspired and moved to do it, so here goes nothing.

Rob: All right.

Melissa: Let’s pray.

Rob: Let’s pray.

Melissa: Gracious God. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Lord, for this incredible gift of technology, that a number of people can come to know you and grow in you through the wise words and Ministry of Bishop Rob. I’m grateful for the 10 years that he has been serving and the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. We’re grateful for the many fruitful ministries that are blossoming, they’re doing important work, and making your kingdom known to not just Atlanta, but the entire world. We’re grateful for all the ways that you show up in our lives, both in the ordinary and the extraordinary. And so, God I’m especially grateful for the work that we get to do together and how Bishop Rob has blessed not just me, but all of For People listeners and For Faith readers God. So, I ask that you continue to work in and through him and the entire Diocese of Atlanta to continue building and growing your kingdom here on earth. In Jesus name we pray,

Rob: Amen. Grateful for that.

Melissa: Amen.

Rob: Grateful for that.

Melissa: Thank you. And I’m grateful for you. And we together are grateful for our listeners. So, we thank you for tuning in to For People. You can keep up with us on Instagram and Facebook. So, please subscribe, leave a review, and you can share this episode with others. And we will be back with you next week.