You know, we’re learning and with the aid of the Holy Spirit we’re getting this done. Look, here’s the thing about Jesus, Jesus was normal. I think sometimes we were looking for some magic, Superman cape or something. Jesus was a normal dude, who had normal conversations, with normal people about an extraordinary God. And I think sometimes we just forget. The gift is normalcy. The gift is authenticity and genuineness. I think that’s where we want to go, increasingly so.
Easton: This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.
Melissa: Y’all, this is For People with Bishop Rob Wright. And I’m Melissa Rau. I’m thrilled, because most of the time, in fact all of the time that we’ve recorded previously, we’ve never been in person. And yet today, Bishop Wright is literally sitting across from me. I’m really grateful to be here. So, Bishop, we are celebrating our 150th episode. Man, it’s been a journey.
Rob: It’s amazing to think that we’ve got 150 episodes in the can, as it were. We’ve had 150 conversations with you and guests and others about leadership and faith.
Melissa: So, Easton, I know we’re going to pitch it to you. Easton has some pretty great stats about what our listenership is and the reach that For People has had.
Easton: Thank you, Melissa, in 150 episodes, For People has been downloaded 200,000 times across 5,000 cities, 100 countries, and all 50 states. Of all Buzzsprout podcasts, our hosting site, is in the top 10% of all podcast downloads.
Melissa: I’m just curious Bishop what you think the greatest takeaways, the learning journey, if you will, about For People? What so great about it?
Rob: We’ve learned a lot. We started off again, in response to COVID, while other people sort of were pulling back and while we were pulling back for safety sake, for neighbors sake, we wanted to figure out a way to reach forward, reach out, right? And really myself and Easton, just sort of brainstormed. It had been on our list in terms of our communication for the Diocese of Atlanta. And this just accelerated it. COVID accelerated a lot of things. It cut away a lot of the fat and we got down to the meat of it. So, this was the meat.
With a very nominal investment of about $1,500 in equipment, we’re up to 200,000 downloads. I think all in for the 150 episodes, I think we’ve spent about $3,000. And so, I think the chief learning is is that people want to talk about a good and gracious God. People are looking for some competition with a lot of the bad God that’s out there. That’s about exclusion and conflates some sort of narrow, ethnically based Christianity with the gracious good gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. People are looking for that. People are looking for people to just have a conversation and to ask questions. And to have some laughter and some levity, I think. We are learning a lot. And there is more that we want to do. We are into all 50 states and a couple of countries. We are figuring out ways to really get to the questions that people want. So, not just you and I talking, although I thoroughly enjoy that. You are a great conversation partner. But maybe figure out ways in which we can get other people’s questions in the middle of it so that you and I can work through them.
Melissa: Yeah, that’s awesome. But $3,000 over the course of two and a half years, that is not a lot. And sometimes I feel like churches will, at least this has been my experience. Sometimes I hear people saying, “Oh, we can’t do x because it just costs way too much money.” What would you say to that?
Rob: Yeah. I think, no. One of the best leadership lines that I’ve ever heard was, start where you can start and begin where people are. What we know, you and I can get by the grace of God and the magic of technology, you and I can get together online. And that’s within reach for all of us. It was a nominal investment, that initial $1,500 and only $1,500 more after that. But we never anticipated, we prayed and hoped for, but we never anticipated that our efforts would be multiplied.
So, I would say to anybody, any organization, any congregation, any individual Minister, I would say start where you are and you’d be surprised. You know, one of the things that we wanted to do was deliver on our purpose and our purpose was to have a conversation about Jesus Christ and to talk a little bit about in following Jesus Christ what would leadership look like? What shape does leadership take on? And so, I’m here in the Diocese of Atlanta, which is middle North Georgia. I have some fancy friends and some people that I know. I have invited them on. The governor of our state, Senator Warnock, the Presiding Bishop Barbara Brown Taylor, the list goes on and on. And that’s been really exciting.
But also, it’s been the lay people, people who are just sort of serving the Lord in their little corners of the vineyard. You know, the lawyer who realized in the back pew of his church that he wanted to be a lawyer for Jesus, and now serves boys and girls who have been sexually abused and wins amazing settlements for them. It has been the professor at Michigan who studies poverty, so they can help us think about how we can be more responsive to our neighbor in our midst. Those have been the ones that have stuck out to me. And so, there are people all around that I’ve invited, and I’ve been surprised that they said, yes to be honest with you. And they said, yes, just met online for 15 minutes or so. And they have. So, we are just thanking God for the blessing of all of this so far and figuring out how to better serve the Lord in this going forward.
Melissa: Yeah. So, are people, do you think you’d like to see other podcasts popping up? Do you think maybe churches could give it a shot for their own parishioners? Or what are you hoping that people might take away, other than the great conversation and the food for thought that I think you provide? Are you hoping that it might energize or catalyze churches to do something new?
Rob: I’ll tell you what I’m hoping for, That’s a great question. I’m hoping for a lots of things. I’m hoping for that more brothers and sisters out there who are conversational with their faith, would figure out ways in which to sort of enlarge that conversation. I think this is what’s missing. Sometimes church can be really ominous for people, especially who don’t come from church backgrounds they come in and sometimes the liturgy doesn’t mean to or the way we do worship doesn’t mean to, but sometimes it can be off putting it far away. There’s a big God in a big room and a beautiful, magnificent organ. There’s no conversational piece, there’s no conversational place, the sermon is on a pulpit 20 feet off the ground or 10 feet off the ground. I mean, you know, I get all of that. I’m hoping that people will figure out that there is a need out there for people to be conversational about faith and to have great facility with the stories and to talk about David and Esther and Ruth and Jesus and Lazarus as people that you know, as friends, as people that have been part of your own personal faith journey. I think people want that.
I think number two is that I want people to realize that all we did was run an experiment. And one of my my lines, and we really put this into practice over COVID, I think that great faith demands great experiments. I think fidelity begs for experimentation. Fidelity is not just sort of holding on to what was until your knuckles turned white. I think because God is alive. God is saying, “Okay, now speak to my people.” And you got to go to where the people are, right? Phillip goes to where the Ethiopian is. Jesus goes to, you know, where the leper is and where all the other people are. And so, trying to figure that out, I think is is critical. Because we think that our job is three things. We think that our job is proclamation, formation, and administration. Proclamation is to tell out the good news of Jesus Christ. And of course, all these have overlaps. And of course, formation is trying to sort of be a brick in the building of a wall of faith in the sort of planting seeds. And then, the last piece for us administrating it is is that is to use the gifts that we’ve been given here at the Diocese of Atlanta, to invite people to give their life away as a lay person, Priest, Deacon, or even Bishop. And, you know, and to help the church to grow and to offer the Church of Jesus Christ to the next generation. So, all of that is part of the purpose of this.
Melissa: So, you dropped the big e word, experimentation. And I always think about, what does experimentation lead to? And learning is one of those great things. So, I’m wondering if you can share what you’ve appreciated learning the most throughout the process of doing For People. You’ve always done For Faith quite some time.
Rob: Yeah. So, For Faith has always been 100/150 words or so that I write that goes to all of our subscribers, their email boxes. I am in my 11th year. When I was a candidate for Bishop, a lady said, you know, if we elect you Bishop, I want to hear from you. And I had already as a pastor of a congregation, as a rector, I’d already been writing weekly. And I feel like that is the least we can do is to just connect with people. And so that has touched me because I’ve heard feedback that, you know, people have read my For Faith message. And one lady came up to me I was visiting a congregation and she said, you know, my husband died this week. But on Friday, I heard from my Bishop. Now she experienced that letter that went to thousands of people, as personal pastoral care, and that really touched my heart. And so, we’ve done that and decided that there is this irreplaceable thing that you and I are doing. Which is you and I, and our voices, our breath exchanging around these ideas about who is Jesus Christ? What does it mean to follow him? What is the church at all? What is the Episcopal Church in particular? That for me is very animating. I have learned that is a space that I’m very comfortable in. I’ve learned that a lot of us don’t feel comfortable in that conversational space. I’ve learned that. And that’s regrettable, because I think if we’re going to be proficient at getting alongside of people and offering, not browbeating or arm twisting, but offering the good news of Jesus Christ, we’re going to have to be more comfortable with ourselves, more comfortable with our faith, and more comfortable in giving that voice.
Easton: Hi, listeners, thank you for listening to For People, a space of digital evangelism. You can keep up with us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. And now, back to For People.
Moderator: Yeah, and that voice part is scary. I realized I had this experience not too long ago, I was asked to record a video and answer the question, what is exciting to me about the church? And where the Holy Spirit is revealing herself? And I didn’t like it actually. I never do a Facebook Live, I never do any of that stuff. I had to watch myself on my iPhone as I’m recording this thing and speaking into it. It was so weird for me. But I realized, when you were just speaking, you don’t get comfortable unless you practice. So, if you want to get conversations, then darn it you have to have them.
Rob: You know, we’ve all got the gift of gab about the thing we are passionate about. All of us do. One of the things that we have to remember too, if we really want to follow this Jesus guy, you know, is that we have an aid, it’s called the Holy Spirit. And so, one of the one of the ways we turn intention, or even sort of a little bit of curiosity into something that God can really use is to offer it to God. And so, God, you know, I’m not really good at talking, I could say. Or God, I’ve got some real reticence about the whole thing, help me. Bless me to be able too. That’s the thing, this is not a self-help group. I mean, I keep reminding people church is not a sort of spiritualized self-help group. We are people where this church is born out of the gracious of God, it is sustained by the Holy Spirit of God, and will enlarge itself by Providence and the grace of God. And so, we can ask God to help me. If I’ve got a heart to connect to people, if I got a heart to be with people in sorrow, suffering, and sadness, whatever it is, then I offer that to God and say, God, use that, help me.
I remember, you know, just sort of wondering if I even sort of saw the field the way that God saw the field. I was like, Lord help me see, like you see. Help me. We are all terribly busy. We are all running around and taking care of ourselves. And you know, after that pray, I have started sort of finding myself paying a lot of attention to who was hanging out in the church on the sides, you know, not engaged in conversation with but sort of awkwardly standing around the sides, and I started to go to them. And, you know, people want to talk to me because I was the minister. But I spent the first 15 or so minutes trying to find those people on the margins. And then, I said to the group, the board, we call it the vestry, I said, look, let’s not talk to anybody we know for the first 15 minutes. Let’s just go out and engage people who we don’t know. Lots of folks in church, they’ve been everywhere, travelled everywhere, amazing educational experiences. Use all of that to sort of build a bridge. So, you know, we are learning with the aid of the Holy Spirit and we’re getting this done.
Here is the thing about Jesus, Jesus was normal. Sometimes I think we are looking for some Superman cape or something. Jesus was a normal dude who had normal conversations with normal people about an extraordinary God. And I think sometimes, we just forget. The gift is normalcy. The gift is authenticity and genuineness. I think that’s where we want to go, increasingly so.
Melissa: Say more about that, where do you think if For People could be anything, become anything, go anywhere, do anything, what would it be?
Rob: See, I think a lot about the heart that’s breaking somewhere. I think a lot about the person who’s divorcing, the person struggling with depression and anxiety, I think a lot about the person who is disoriented, who may even be lost, I think a lot about the person who just wants to give up. I think a lot about the person who is fighting off suicidal ideations, I think a lot about that person. What I want For Faith to continue to be is something they can go to on their phone, on their computer, whatever. You know, Howard Thurman said that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for people who have their back against the walls. I think a lot about that. And so, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be that kind of thing that goes out into the nooks and crannies. What I call the fingernail dirty places.
And I want people to find in our archives, and in our conversation, some little stepping stones. Psalm 40, said, you know, I was sinking in clay, sinking in the miry clay and God put a rock under my foot and a new song in my mouth. I hope that For Faith, has been for 150 episodes and will be for the next 150 episodes the rock that God uses to give someone the strength to stand and even a new song.
Melissa: Awesome. Well, Bishop, thank you, as always, for giving me the privilege of being a conversation partner. It’s always a joy.
Rob: You are a fantastic conversation partner, Melissa.
Melissa: Thank you, thank you. Well, and listeners, we are so grateful for you. I’m going to say it again, I’ve said maybe once or twice. A number of people will come up to us and say, gosh, I listened to For People and we love it. And a number of people say how can we help For People?
I think Easton is going to have some information soon about a new website that is launching. And so, we would welcome you to check out that website when it comes out. Easton is going to have lots of great information. But we would also encourage you to share these episodes and give us a great review. You know, if you go to Spotify or Apple, anything you listen to podcasts, we’ve got a lot of stars. But not actually a lot of reviews. So, leave us a review, will you? Share this with others and we look forward to being back with you week after week after week.