Bishops Marianne Budde of the Episcopal Chuch, and Leila Ortiz of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, join Bishop LaTrelle Easterling as the first women to serve as episcopal leaders in their judicatories. In this lively conversation, the three share the joys, challenges and lessons of leadership they’ve been experiencing and how each of their distinct identities shape the way they’re living out their call.
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde serves as spiritual leader for 86 Episcopal congregations and ten Episcopal schools in the District of Columbia and four Maryland counties. She also serves as the chair of the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation, which oversees the ministries of the Washington National Cathedral and Cathedral schools. Prior to her election as a bishop, she served for 18 years as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis. She is an advocate and organizer in support of justice concerns, including racial equity, gun violence prevention, immigration reform, the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons, and the care of creation.
Bishop Leila Michelle Ortiz is a pastor and theologian in The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and serves as the Bishop of The Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod since September of 2019. She works alongside pastors, councils, and church members as they discern their call in the church for the sake of the world. She joined the synod staff in 2016 as Assistant to the Bishop. Ortiz is an alumna of the 2015 Lewis Fellowship, at Wesley Theological Seminary and describes herself as as a Luthercostal. Among her many interests is the impact of Latina hermeneutics on Lutheran ecclesiology.
Questions for Reflection and Extending the Conversation
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling: Beloved of God, welcome to Thursdays at the Table, where we engage in conversations centered in justice, liberation, and God's unconditional love. Today, I have the privilege to welcome to this table two gifted and extraordinary colleagues who I'm just so honored to be in relationship and ministry with. Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde is the diocesan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., a diocese that includes the District of Columbia and portions of Maryland in contiguous relationship thereto.
She was consecrated the ninth bishop of Washington, D.C., in 2011. She and I share the distinction of being the first females to lead the areas where we are now serving. She's the author of several books, the latest of which is How We Learn to Be Brave: Decisive Moments in Life and Faith. If you've not read this, I commend it to your reading. It's a wonderful book. Bishop Budde is married and has two children. Sons, I believe. Again, something else she and I share.
Then, I’m so grateful to be able to welcome to the table, Bishop Leila Ortiz. She is the bishop of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which includes conferences in the District of Columbia, portions of Virginia and Maryland. She was elected in 2019. She is an alumna of the Lewis Center of Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary and the author of numerous articles. She's co-authored a chapter entitled Pentecostal Latinas: Engendering Selves in Storefront Congregations, which is found in Faith on the Avenue: Religion on a City Street.
Bishop Ortiz recently got married, congratulations, and is the mother of two daughters. She refers to herself as Luthercostal because of her upbringing in the Pentecostal Church, and now her ministry again within the Lutheran faith. My beautiful, bold, brave, brilliant, beloved sisters, here we are. Here we finally are. I could not be more excited. I've wanted us to come together in conversation since 2019 when Bishop Ortiz was installed. We have been together. As the young people say, we've been out in those streets together. We have marched together. We have prayed together.
We've stood as witnesses against injustice together and so, again, thrilled to be able to be in conversation with you. The thought that we three women, two of whom are women of color, would be in leadership in the center of power of these United States of America is both amazing and inspiring. Now, I want us to get to the deepest things that we know. Bishops, coffee or tea?
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde: Coffee for me. Thanks.
Bishop Leila Ortiz: Tea for me.
Bishop Easterling: All right, all right. I have to confess. I'm often a coffee person, but I'm just getting over a respiratory infection. Today, I have tea in this mug. Caffeinated or decaf?
Bishop Budde: This time of day, for me, it's decaf.
Bishop Easterling: Okay.
Bishop Ortiz: For me, usually always caffeinated.
Bishop Easterling: I'm telling you, Bishop Ortiz, I'm with you. I need leaded every day, all day, all times. The mug that I select often has a meaning that corresponds to the podcast that we're taping that day. Today's simply says "blessed" because I'm blessed. I'm blessed to know you. I'm blessed to serve with you. I'm blessed to watch the powerful ways that you are leading in these times.
Bishop Budde, I want to start with something that comes to us from your book. Again, how we learn to be brave. You quote Howard Thurman concerning the spiritual strength required to accept an unchosen fate as one's destiny. We've come to leadership at a time that nobody could have predicted, we could not escape, and for which there is no script other than the Word of God. What have you learned or are you learning as we've had to lead through these complex times?
Bishop Budde: Well, first of all, Bishop LaTrelle, thank you for allowing me to be part of this amazing trinity of women. It's a great joy to see you both on my screen and to be part of this reflective and important conversation. The operative description is "are learning." I don't think we're out of anything yet. I would say that I am learning daily that the foundational practices and disciplines of faith are deeply challenged in times like this and are, therefore, all the more necessary. For me, personally, I have waxed and waned in my practices and in my confidence and in my understanding of everything.
What I come back to like middle C on the piano are the things that I have been taught and learned and have counted on in days past, right? It's like just hang on to what God has promised, hang on to what hope looks like in challenging times, and also perhaps not to take too seriously my emotional state or even my opinions on any given day, to trust that the reality that I'm swimming in is bigger than all of that.
It's not that that's not important data, but they may not be the most important data points in terms of understanding how best to navigate. I guess it's a dead reckoning to sum it up that just taking everything that I've got, plus an openness to what I might learn from the people around me or the situations as I change and keep on taking the next faithful step.
Bishop Easterling: Amen.
Bishop Budde: That's what I'm doing. It's some of what I'm learning.
Bishop Easterling: That's a phrase that I have come to use often. Let us just continue to take the next faithful step. We don't have to see a mile down the road. We certainly can never see around the corner, right? If we take the next faithful step, we can know that God is with us and that we are leaning into that to which we have been called. Thank you.
Bishop Budde: Even when I don't feel it, right? Even when I don't feel it. I believe in God even when God is silent. I believe even when, and then when grace meets me, I can go a long way on that. I can go a long way. Just a little bit of faith.
Bishop Easterling: People in this conference know that I'm sitting here wanting to burst out in Mark Miller's song. "I Believe in the Sun”. “I believe in the sun even when it's not shining," right? Yes, we believe in God even when God is silent. Amen. Bishop Ortiz, share with us what you are learning as we continue in these, again, complex times.
Bishop Ortiz: Well, I also want to say thank you for the invitation. This is a very exciting conversation and one that I crave all the time just to be in space with like-minded leaders who are still inspired by God's grace and the move of the Holy Spirit. This is a huge gift. Thank you for inviting me into this conversation. I think I've been serving now for four years. I'm in year five and just had an anniversary.
Every year, I tend to write something to share with the synod where I'm at, what I'm thinking. I realized looking back that I had a whole lot of things that I thought I knew about myself, about the church, about the world. Then looking back, it's like, "Aw, that was cute. That's so nice that she thought those things." There's so much more, right? I think that while it's been quite difficult, it's also been quite holy.
The verse that is always consistent for me is in Romans, this, "Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." I think that's what I've been learning that I am in consistent renewal of my mind in what I thought I knew and into what God is actually inviting us into. I thought that I could lean on my skills and resources. I thought that I had every single idea that was incredible and amazing. I thought I, I, I, right? Really, it's never been about me, me, me, right? It's never really even been about us and our skills and our abilities.
It's all about God and how Jesus and the Holy Spirit are inviting us into newness of life. What does that mean? This renewal of my mind has been something that has been a grace point for me because I don't have to rely on saying, "Yes, I know this, I know this, I know that." I know enough. God knows it all, right? God uses what God does and invites us into some really interesting spaces in this journey. I think that's what I'm learning and leaning into -- that there is an invitation and a grace in the renewing of our minds.
Bishop Easterling: Absolutely, thank you. I'm going to follow up on something in just a moment because you've now named a Scripture that is grounding you and you keep coming back to that Romans passage. What I think I learned is that to trust the wisdom that those elders and mothers had poured into me and that is to keep the main thing, the main thing. What do I mean by that? Even as leaders, especially as leaders, we must always have our own deep faith practices. We must constantly be in prayer ourselves, in study, that we have to remember we're disciples on the road even as we lead.
I feel like, in some ways, those who began to feel the most lost during the pandemic and during some of what we've come through are those who were only engaging in those practices in preparation for something else, in preparation for preaching, in preparation for leading something, but not remembering that we too are spiritual beings who need to continue to have that connection, that we're branches connected, or we're on the vine connected, and also that we are always called to community.
One of the things that I lament so much about our Western spirituality is often it's reduced to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Now, of course, that's important, right? At some point, we all have to have that moment of conversion. In our Wesleyan polity, we talk about the heart strangely warmed. We all need to have that, but that's only the beginning. I think the pandemic has reminded us how much we need community.
If it's only a personal relationship or if it's only the local church being inwardly focused, that's not enough. The pandemic reminded us how much we need and must rely on one another. Just, for me, not to let go of that wisdom, that mother wit, that, again, those who I looked up to and have helped me along my journey into ministry instilled in me, but sometimes folks will sort of -- or time might beat it out of you, might try to say, "Ah, that's not that important." No, it is.
We have to keep the main thing, the main thing. When we don't at moments of crisis, at moments of struggle, at moments of deep challenge, it will evidence itself that we've lost that footing and that grounding. That's part of what I am learning as I come through and lead through this season. Now, Bishop Ortiz referenced the Romans passage. Bishop Budde, I'm going to share the Scripture that continues to ground me, and then I'm going to come to you and ask you, is there a particular Scripture that you look to?
I look to that Jeremiah passage [Jer. 12:5], "If you have raced with men on foot and they have wearied thee, how will you compete with horses? If you stumble in a safe place, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?" because I feel like we have to be able and adept at leading in chaos, in confusion, leading against those who are comfortable with the status quo who don't want to be risk-taking.
Our denomination is going through schism, so having to lead right now in the midst of schism. If I'm only able to lead in safe spaces or when things are calm, then I'm not able to really lean into the breadth and depth, the complexity of leadership. It will, quite frankly, be a failure of leadership in these conferences again that I have the privilege to serve. I come back to that Jeremiah passage. Bishop Budde, what Scripture grounds you?
Bishop Budde: Great passages, both mine and it has been for most of my ordained life, it has not changed, is the story of Jesus and the loaves and the fish, the miracle of the loaves and the fish. I experience it in many different facets. The main piece that I feel is my foundational relationship to Christ is the imperative to offer what I have and offer it and offer it in full knowledge that it's not going to be enough, that that's not a reason not to make the offering.
Sometimes I make the offering and the miracle is, as the Scripture says, that somehow enough is made or even an abundance is made or the miracle of communal sharing. Other times, it's not enough and I fail, or the effort is not fruitful, and yet I've learned even then that the offering and the obedience of offering is what I commit to. Sometimes I have my greatest learnings and my greatest growth as a leader when I fail or when there's no miracle to meet me in the middle.
Other times, it's always a reminder. I suppose it's not in my hands. I'm not driving this thing. I'm making my offering and inviting others to be brave and to do the same. I was thinking about this the other day because it just occurred to me two days ago as I was praying about this that I had forgotten that in all four versions, the disciples and Jesus are exhausted.
Bishop Budde: They were exhausted before the day started, right? "Go away to a quiet place and pray with me," He says, right? All the crowds come, right? Even when you're at the end of everything you got, sometimes, not always, but sometimes just give me what you have and we'll make something of it.
Bishop Easterling: That's beautiful. Now, you used an F-word in your response, an F-word that often, I think, leaders are afraid of and that's "failure."
Bishop Budde: Failure, oh yes.
Bishop Easterling: You used that F-word. I tell you, part of my ethos as a leader is that if we're never failing -- and I'm talking about from the pew again to the episcopacy. If we're not failing at some point, we're not trying hard enough. We're not doing enough. We're safe. We're not risk-taking. I certainly understand from her response, from Bishop Budde's response, that she's not afraid of failure. Bishop Ortiz --
Bishop Budde: Well, I wouldn't say I'm not afraid of failure.
Bishop Easterling: Okay, all right.
Bishop Budde: I would say that I have accepted that it comes with the terrain.
Bishop Easterling: Okay, all right. Not being so careful that you're always trying to avoid failure.
Bishop Budde: I'm not going to allow the fear of failure to stop me. That is true.
Bishop Easterling: There we go. Does that resonate with you, Bishop Ortiz?
Bishop Ortiz: Yes, I just try to fail fast and move to the next thing.
I learned that from a colleague that worked with me before and he was always like, "We're going to fail. This is going to happen." The hope is that you just fail fast and move on, right? Take what you've learned from that experience and lean into another risk, right? Lean into another possibility that can actually land well and come alive in ways that are helpful. Failure, my goodness, that's one of my greatest fears. In this point, it's just unavoidable. It's inevitable, right?
Bishop Easterling: Right.
Bishop Ortiz: How do we lead? Thankfully, I try not to fail very often, but when I do, man, is it bad? It's like, "Oh, everyone saw this one," or at least I feel as if that's the case.
Bishop Budde: My experience has been that when I fail or when I watch others work through what they would consider to be a colossal failure, and I've had several, that what matters most is how I respond after that. Actually, that response matters more in the long run than the event itself in terms of how people remember it. I try to think of that when I am on the other side of something that I have to really come to terms with that. I think people want to know how we respond.
Bishop Easterling: Yes. Absolutely.
Bishop Budde: Even just a deep disappointment, it doesn't necessarily have to be a failure per se or personal failure, but something that didn't work out or the things that you regret. It not only gives the others permission to do the same, but also I think their ability to trust us is increased when they know we can come around and acknowledge.
Bishop Easterling: That's right.
Bishop Budde: Make restitution. As they say in the 12 Steps, make restitution.
Bishop Easterling: Absolutely. For me, I think that I learned the most when something has failed. If everything always goes to plan, if everything always goes right, and someone were to ask me, "How did you do that?" I don't know that I can explain it as well as when something failed and then we had to make correction, then we had to figure out where we had been wrong in our assessment or in our planning, overcame that, and then we're able to achieve the goal.
Now, I can say, "Oh, here's what happened." For me, failure becomes a valuable crucible out of which there's deep learning, deep understanding, and, again, a teachable moment. It becomes a teachable moment. Again, speaking of failure or disappointment. Every day, there seems to be another article about the decline or the demise of denominational affiliations and dwindling church attendance. Are either of you daunted by that perpetual publishing of where our denominations are or even where spirituality is here in the United States?
Bishop Ortiz: Daunted. I think I've had some time to observe from this perspective. Where are our congregations and where is the spirituality of the church and the people now? I, again, lean on our theology. We are people of death and resurrection. There is something to be said about what is causing this particular decline. Is it just the churches that are dying? What was dying before that?
What was happening in the space before that? What was happening in the heart and in the spirit and in the minds of the people where outreach wasn't necessarily a priority where evangelism -- well, what do you say? Evangelism. What are we going to say about Jesus? What are we going to say if maybe we've never really known Jesus? Maybe we've known about Jesus, but we haven't necessarily known Jesus. How do we speak about someone that we do not know?
Therefore, how do we grow in our faith and in our spirits and in number if we have not engaged or built a relationship with the one who calls us, right? Daunted, yes, it's a whole lot of work and it's painful and it's really difficult to reimagine and to be in the process of death for the sake and hope of resurrection that maybe life will come in a brand new way. Maybe church will happen in a completely new and life-giving way that can no longer look as it did, which I find beautiful and necessary and essential.
It's where we are and I think, in some cases, where we're headed. Because of what I've observed and what I see and how difficult it is for us to talk about Jesus, I'm not surprised. While daunted, I'm not necessarily surprised or shocked by the decline because there's a fear of preaching the Gospel and being associated with Christian nationalism, for instance. There's a fear of being misunderstood.
There's a fear of losing relationships because of what I say and what you might believe. There's this fear, this polarization that doesn't allow for us to be authentic in our faith. When we're not authentic and audacious in our faith, then we don't have evangelism. We don't have outreach and we don't have a living spirit that inspires contagion, right? It's really hard. It's really painful. It's very difficult, especially because Jesus is enough, more than enough.
Bishop Easterling: Amen.
Bishop Ortiz: Jesus is the lover of our souls, the one who sets us free. The fact that we are afraid to share that news saddens my spirit. It saddens my heart knowing that society and culture has made it so that, for lack of a better word, I think even as Americans, we have been seduced by culture and society to the point of forgetting that our identity is not by color, "color" meaning political color of partisanship, but our identity should be in Christ, right?
Bishop Easterling: Indeed, indeed. Long before we take on other markers of identity, Republican, Democrat, progressive, liberal, gay, straight, our identity should be in Christ. I'm going to follow up with you on something in a moment, but I want to offer Bishop Budde an opportunity, if she feels led to, to also weigh in on that, the bad news that's published all the time and if that daunts you at all in your leadership.
Bishop Budde: Thanks. I'm certainly sobered by it and I came into the episcopate. I've been at this now for 12 years. I came into it with a clear determination that that was what I wanted to focus on, which was how to help because I believe, as I do for both the Lutheran and the Methodist Church, that the Episcopal Church has a particular role to play on the spectrum of Christianity. I want us to occupy that space with as much strength and confidence and joy and compelling mission as we possibly can.
I'm sober that it's been as challenging as it has been deeply curious. Leila, all the things you said, I could really understand. I am curious how it's going to play out and what I can do from my place now. How I can lead in such a way that we can face the future, whatever it is, if it is a death-and-resurrection cycle? Is it a revitalization cycle? Is it a learning? I think there's a whole spectrum of ways we might find a way to share what has been entrusted to us in such a way that people find value in their lives and in their walk of God.
We can do that. That's what I try to focus on. You were talking earlier about the main thing. That's my main thing, right? There are probably reasons why some of our churches aren't growing. In fact, I could name them for you, but I'm not sure that's helpful. I'm trying to just say, "Okay, what can we do and where are the signs of life?" That's what I'm also focusing on right now. Where is the spirit moving and how can I do whatever I can to amplify and strengthen that in the years I have left? That's what I can do.
Bishop Easterling: Oh, we don't want to hear that in the years you have left. We don't even want to focus on that. All right. You can't leave till I leave. You can't leave until--
Bishop Budde: I'm not talking about leaving. I'm just talking about mortality.
Bishop Easterling: Amen. All right, all right. There we go. Bishop Ortiz, you said maybe we've never really known Jesus. When you said that, you took me back to my days as a district superintendent. In the Methodist Church, there's a bishop, but then there's the one who superintends that is called a district superintendent and has a cohort of churches that they bring leadership to. I remember my worst day as a district superintendent.
I was leading a church conference and people knew this question was coming. Everyone knew. Every church conference was structured in the same way to begin with. They knew that I was going to be asking people to offer testimony about their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Just get up and talk about your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I was never more disappointed than when people rose to talk to me about their relationship with their cats, their dog, their grandchildren. Very few people could talk to me and offer testimony about their relationship, their understanding of a relationship.
Now, as I said before, that's just a starting point. We branch off from there into community because I firmly believe that we are always called to community. That Acts 2 chapter about holding everything in common and our mission in ministry coming through community. If you don't know Jesus for yourself as my ancestors would say, if you don't know that that you know that you know who Christ is, where's your grounding? What is happening in our local churches that we're not ensuring that people have met Christ? What's happening that people can't articulate a relationship with Christ over against a cat, a dog, or a beautiful grandchild?
Bishop Ortiz: My perspective, I come from the Pentecostal Church, right? When I was growing up, I was in church six days a week. We had prayer night, youth night, adult night, women night, men's night. We were in community pretty much 24/7, which was extremely formative, not only as community, but I didn't have a choice but to get to know Jesus or for Jesus to come to me on a consistent basis. The structures that we have and the ways that we function today is that we have worship on Sunday for an hour. Together for an hour, the sermon is relatively between 10 and 12 minutes. People feel very much comforted by that hour. They're sent. There's a check, "Oh, we did church on Sunday, and I'll see you next week," right?
Bishop Easterling: Right.
Bishop Ortiz: The reality is that there's nothing that we do in life for an hour a week that is sustainable. We can't eat for one hour a week. We can't exercise for one hour a week and see a difference. It's not enough time because we're competing with society and we're competing with soccer and we're competing with all the extracurriculars and all the demands of our society for the sake of success or for the sake of whatever it may be.
We don't necessarily give Christ a priority in our lives or the time to get to know Him, right? To build a relationship, you need time, right? I think that that's one element. It's not everything, but I think there is something to do with the expectations of our worship space, and that there's something in our minds that says that our worship is limited to Sunday morning for an hour and hasn't expanded beyond that, beyond that space.
Also, at least in our tradition, we had the large and small catechism. The expectation was that we would go to church on Sunday for the Eucharist and for the Word. Then the rest of the week, you are engaging your discipleship around the table with your family, right? The Christian formation wasn't the church's responsibility. It was the family's responsibility. All of that has shifted quite significantly. At this point, I remember. I had a choice when I was a kid whether to do soccer or some kind of sport or go to church. I rather go to church and be part of the liturgical dance team.
Bishop Easterling: Amen.
Bishop Ortiz: Today, that's not even a debate, right?
Bishop Easterling: Right. In many homes, it's not. You talk about, again, that formation. I had the privilege of preaching at Chautauqua this summer. In one of the sermons, I was quoting from a book called Becoming Friends. It talked about how even our worship has become entertainment because we are such a consumerist society and we're accustomed to being entertained. The moment we don't like something, we can swipe up or swipe left. We can change the channel. We rid ourselves of anything we don't like.
Unfortunately, it tells us that Sunday morning worship has capitulated to that as well. Rather than becoming a place where we're challenged, where we're stretched, where we're forced to be cloaked in humility, and get to know Christ and God for who they are that, again, sermons are safe. Sermons are safe and are entertaining. I think, for me, that's part of why we've lost that connectivity. Bishop Budde, I don't know if this resonates with anything you've experienced.
Bishop Budde: I'm really taking in what both of you have said. I feel the responsibility of seeking out, in the culture we live in now, ways to embody and communicate the love of God in Christ and recognizing that much of what we've inherited does not speak to the wider society. The people for whom it does speak, it speaks very powerfully. I'm not an iconoclast. I'm not just trying to crash things down, but I am deeply curious about what is speaking and what does resonate and where Christ is in that.
I try really hard in my better days. I'm not always at my best, but I try really hard to be open to whatever that might be and also to learn from the parts of the Christian community writ large that are better at this than we are in the Episcopal Church and just pay attention. I just did a whole study this summer on really, what are the offerings that other churches, other denominations, traditions are offering that seem to be really proving helpful in encouraging people on a path of relationship with Christ. Just learn and try and not because-- like as you were saying though, if we don't start there, I really want to live into that difficult space for as best I can to learn what I can and to learn from people who are experiencing fruitfulness. That's what I would say.
Bishop Easterling: As we're all trying to do this, understanding that we're serving in contexts that are very diverse, I know that from the outside looking in at one of the conferences I lead, I had the impression that it was of one mind about being very open and inclusive about being welcoming to all people. I got here and found out, that was not the case.
I think, again, even some of the literature that's been published recently about the dichotomy between sometimes clergy and those in the pew, those who are clergy often are more progressive than those that they're leading in the pew. How are you leading and trying to seek unity across the diversity of your mission fields? For me, I'm always seeking ways to do that that don't diminish anybody because I don't know about you, but I want everybody at the table. We are not the beloved community of God if we're all identifying as progressive or if we're all traditionalists. How do we lead and yet lift unity across that kind of diversity?
Bishop Ortiz: I think about this all the time because my synod covers some of Maryland, some of Virginia, and D.C. proper. One of the things that I've had to believe time and time again, realize, talk about renewing my mind, is that I'm not just called to those who agree with me. I'm called to everyone. The same is true of everyone. Everyone is called to everyone, not just to those who agree with them or look like them or have the same experiences.
I think what is true for everyone is that we need to be told the truth and we need to tell the truth. I think that's been a really difficult thing in our context, in our season, in this time to tell the truth, and not only tell the truth but tell the whole story. I say that to say there are times and seasons I do this myself, where I lean heavy on the law and everything that's going wrong with the church, with the world, with life. It's just really, really heavy. This is the worst, but that's not the whole story.
Bishop Easterling: Amen.
Bishop Ortiz: There's so much more life and beauty and excitement and joy that is happening all at the same time. Then I encounter seasons. It's not usually me. It's other people who are very, very high on the really awesome things that are happening and this is what we're doing. "I feel so good about myself and I'm amazing and this is an amazing church and amazing world. Oh, my God," all these things.
That's not the whole truth. That's not the whole story. I think my call and the hardest work that I've had to do as a leader is to tell the truth and tell the whole story, especially when we're leaning one way or the other. For the sake of life itself, for the sake of justice, for the sake of the gospel, we need to tell the truth. I don't lean on telling the truth, especially hard truths, like a bully. I don't think bullies are effective.
Bishop Easterling: Right. That's right.
Bishop Ortiz: It doesn't work and it's not faithful, right?
Bishop Easterling: Right.
Bishop Ortiz: If you tell the truth in a way that is invitational like, "Did you know this? Had you considered this?" so that, as Bishop Budde was saying, this curiosity piece, how do we turn judgments into curiosity?
Bishop Easterling: Because it's always better, right?
Bishop Ortiz: Yes, because we're defensive. We're always like, "Wait. If you come at me, I already know what I'm going to say." Well, that's not where we're at. We're going to turn judgment into curiosity even with the question, "What's going on here and why are we here? Why is this happening? How might we be complicit in this reality?" When I say "we," I mean we, even me.
Bishop Easterling: You mean we. That's right, that's right. Yes, tell the truth. Another one of my euphemisms. Those who work with me would tell you, I always say, "Tell the whole truth." Tell the whole truth and we have to tell it in love. In that love, the love of God, and the love of Jesus Christ, if we're convicted by it, for me, that is the unifying element, and the ground at the foot of the cross is leveled. I don't care who we are, we're convicted by that and called to something beyond ourselves that is supposed to be for the good of the body. Not just for the good of LaTrelle or those that LaTrelle likes, but it's for the good of everybody, which means, guess what? Sometimes LaTrelle's not going to get what she wants-
Bishop Ortiz: That's right.
Bishop Easterling: -or what she'd even hoped for, but it's about being able to think beyond my own desires, needs, wants to the community. Bishop Budde, I'm going to let you jump in here because we've only got about six minutes left, believe it or not, and I want us to touch on an important topic before we have to conclude.
Bishop Budde: I'll just briefly say that one of the things that -- Two things. One, genuine interest in another human being and who they are and what their lives are like go a long way in bridging other differences and spending time with people and letting them know that you care, that you really, really care, and that you believe that God cares and that there is, in fact, something greater that unites us, whatever it is that might be dividing us.
Now, that said, in a time like ours, there's also a need for clarity. Someone said to me very early in my episcopate that I'm serving no one if I pretend not to be clear about something I am, in fact, clear about for the sake of relationship. If I'm actually clear about something, I'm not going to patronize you by pretending I'm not so that we can stay in relationship. I'm going to be clear, and yet also open to you as a person whose clarity might be in very different directions.
Bishop Easterling: Right, I like that. I'm not going to pretend to be--
Bishop Budde: Me too. The other thing is if I'm not clear about something, I'm not going to pretend that I am. I'm going to live in that ambiguity with you. That was very helpful in the early days of our conversations about the presence of LGBTQ+ persons in the church and my position as I was coming into this diocese. I'll debate a lot of things with you, but that's not what I'm going to debate with you.
Bishop Easterling: Amen. I remember reading it and hearing of you taking that stand. That has encouraged me to be able to stand firm in my belief that all people are beloved of God and called of God as you said, but also have enough convicted humility to still be able to be in conversation and to love those who don't share that. I want to make sure we have some time before we conclude to talk about what it's like to be women in ministry even as there's still some who resist that understanding.
Not too long ago, I got a letter from a gentleman in one of the churches that I had been invited to come preaching. He took it upon himself to remind me that women were not supposed to be in leadership [laughs] over men in the church. Now, mind you, this denomination has been ordaining women for over 50 years as two of our denominations have. One is on the precipice of that. Do you still expend any time or energy defending your call to consecration and what word of encouragement would you give for some women who are wrestling with call?
Bishop Ortiz: Do I still wrestle with that? There is some wrestling. I'm also the first woman to be called as bishop in our synod-
Bishop Easterling: Oh, I didn't know that. Thank you.
Bishop Ortiz: -and happened to be a woman of color, Latina, and happened not to be cradle Lutheran. I had a whole lot of things come against me. Yet, there's this term that I've heard a lot in this culture, in white culture, is that you have really big shoes to fill, right? That never sat well with me, especially when it came to ministry, because God didn't call me to fill someone else's shoes. God called me to walk in mine, right? When people try to compare me or ask me, "Why don't you do things like your predecessor?" well, because God called this person with this skin and this gender and this humanity to serve in this role.
It's more about people aren't so brave and so bold have yet to come to me and say, "Well, you shouldn't be," but there is something that is very like, "Well, we should do things like before." Well, could it be that we're not called to compare our ministries or the ways in which our call takes on life to another human being, whether they're male, female, whoever they may be, but that God called us in our skin.
Bishop Easterling: Absolutely.
Bishop Ortiz: My skin happens to be brown and female. What does it mean for me as a woman? What does it mean for anyone who's listening in your skin for you to show up because you have been the one that's been called for such a time as this?
Bishop Easterling: Amen.
Bishop Ortiz: Not the fire or the one next to us, but you.
Bishop Easterling: Bishop Budde, thank you. Thank you, Bishop Ortiz.
Bishop Budde: Very well said. Thank you. Personally, no, I don't struggle anymore with the validity of the call. I think, generationally speaking, I'm in my 60s. Generationally, I see very different kinds of questions that women are asking coming into the ordained life. I feel that the women coming up behind me are asking their own questions about gender and vocation. I want to listen to them and to honor them because I feel like there's just some really interesting conversations happening around role and gender identity, sexuality, all of those things.
I was blessed to have a pretty easy go of it in terms of my own ordination because of the struggles of other women. I'm trying to do my part for others to make sure that others have a door open. I'm also seeing, and this is something that you were getting at earlier, Leila, that people are redefining the role. I'm seeing that. Sometimes it's a struggle for me and I have to listen and learn and grow.
Bishop Easterling: Right. Well, for me, I think it's us just, again, being who we are, showing up in the places and spaces that God has given us the opportunity to do so. I think that is an encouragement and gives hope to those who are struggling and wrestling with their call. I also often remind people. Humanity may be confused, God is not. If God is calling you, then lean in, mean it.
My sisters, I can't believe that we've come to the end of our time together. Just being in conversation with you gives me hope. I'm sure it will give hope to those who listen to this podcast. Again, I will be forever grateful that I began my episcopal leadership, having the privilege to serve with two phenomenal women such as you. Thank you for this opportunity to be in conversation. I'm sure it won't be our last. I'm sure we'll see each other in those streets again. Again, thank you so very much.
Bishop Budde: Thank you.
Bishop Ortiz: Thank you.
Bishop Budde: A great joy. Thank you for your ministry.
Bishop Easterling: Thank you.