The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers



The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers is a Canon to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and spearheads Episcopal efforts around evangelism, racial reconciliation and creation care. She also serves on the clergy team at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City. Prior to her current ministry, she served as Chaplain to the Episcopal House of Bishops, directed and taught mission and evangelism at General Theological Seminary, and served as Canon for Missional Vitality in the Diocese of Long Island. Her professional ministry began at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston, where she acted as the cathedral’s Minister for Radical Welcome and founded The Crossing, a ground-breaking church now in its 17th year. The author of The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline and New Hope for Beloved Community, an updated edition of Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other and the Spirit of Transformation, and The Episcopal Way (with Eric Law), she has led numerous church-wide and ecumenical renewal and justice efforts. A native of Frankfort, Kentucky, she holds master’s degrees from both Episcopal Divinity School and Harvard Divinity School and an honorary doctorate from General Theological Seminary. She and her husband Albert deGrasse make their home in New York’s Harlem neighborhood.


Our bishop nominees have produced videos to introduce themselves to us in advance of our September meet-and-greet sessions

Essay Questions

As part of the application process, each nominee was asked to respond to a set of four questions.

How have you navigated a changing church in a changing world to enhance congregational vitality?

Change is a constant. It always has been. It always will be. What was Jesus’s first sermon after his wilderness ordeals? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). In other words, “If you’re following me, things are going to change.”

Episcopalians have definitely gotten the message. In the wake of a global pandemic, we collectively learned God can show up in cyberspace and at our kitchen tables. We made more room for the voices of laity and young people. We formed more small groups and prayer circles. The world changed, and the church changed with it. But your question remains an urgent and open one: How do followers of Jesus continue to embrace change in a changing world in ways that make our congregations more vital partners in the Jesus Movement?

I’ve been sitting with this question for a long time. In the summer of 2003, just before my final year at Episcopal Divinity School, I received a grant from the Episcopal Evangelism Society, put on my dusty reporter’s cap, and traveled the country to get some answers. The Radical Welcome project took me to eight congregations with a track record for embracing youth and young adults, different sexual orientations, races and ethnicities and/or socioeconomic classes – all as part of a deeper embrace of the Spirit’s call to holy transformation.

For the better part of a year, I conducted more than 200 interviews, read reams of literature, ran workshops and labs on campus and at churches across the Northeast. I was like a sponge, absorbing and synthesizing. I knew Matthew 13 was right, that true scribes for the kingdom must “bring out of the treasure what is new and what is old.” I longed to help the church I loved to discern the via media between ancient and future, what has always been and what God longs to reveal.

That passion has propelled me through 20 years of ministry at the intersection of a changing church and a changing world. It led me to publish Radical Welcome in 2006. The same year we launched The Crossing congregation in Boston, an intentionally radically welcoming community run and shaped by people who would fall on the margins of your typical Episcopal Church. Eight years later, Eric Law and I wrote The Episcopal Way, volume 1 in the “Church’s Teachings for a Changing World” series. In that book we specifically tackled the question, “What are the Episcopal gifts that help us to meet a changing world, and what emerging cultural realities could help the church to shift and become what God longs for us to be?” My latest book, The Church Cracked Open, is a love letter written to support churches reckoning with pandemic, decline and White cultural domination. It is rooted in my firm belief that, as we truly follow Jesus in his Way of Love, we will become Beloved Community.

Writing books, delivering talks and even planting a new church was never my end goal. From Day 1, I have been compelled by the struggles and hopes of Episcopal congregations: the small ones with a part-time priest or no priest at all, the cardinal ones with manifold resources, strict Rite I, messy church, and all styles and sizes in between. Because I want to serve these churches, and because I see them as the primary unit of Christian life, nearly every project I take on features formation guides, handouts, exercises and bible studies that rise from consultation with congregations and their leaders.

When I shifted from parish ministry in 2012 to serve as Canon for Missional Vitality in the Diocese of Long Island, I fully embraced the role of primary diocesan companion to congregations. Our churches needed to be strengthened, equipped and inspired to join God’s mission in their fast-changing contexts. My Subaru Impreza racked up the miles as I traveled across the diverse boroughs of

Brooklyn and Queens, through Nassau County (where the suburbs were born) and into Suffolk County (home of The Hamptons, rural villages and migrant communities alike). My team and I crafted and offered tools and strategies for mission discernment, Episcopal formation, cross-cultural competency, evangelism and radical hospitality. Sometimes we spurred turnaround efforts. Sometimes we were hospice chaplains assisting a congregation as they celebrated and closed a chapter so they and God might write another. This, too, is part of shepherding a changing church in a changing world.

All these experiences inform my current work as the Presiding Bishop’s Canon for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Creation Care. Early on, I enlisted a kitchen cabinet of parish clergy and lay leaders that I could call on to ask, “Here’s what we’re exploring. Does it help you to turn the corner, follow Jesus with joy and embrace your changing contexts?” If the answer was no, we adapted until more of them could say, “Now that would help my church.” Initiatives like the Way of Love, Becoming Beloved Community, Embracing Evangelism, Sacred Ground, Episcopal Revivals and the Creation Care Covenant have all been shaped by that grassroots input.

In 2018, God nudged me back into the congregational trenches, and I affiliated with St. Bartholomew’s Church here in New York City. When pandemic struck and I was suddenly home on Sundays (okay, I was home pretty much every day), St. Bart’s became my only opportunity to practice embodied ministry. Once we resumed travel, Presiding Bishop Curry agreed to adapt my schedule so that I could spend two Sundays a month serving and learning with my church family. As a member of the St. Bart’s clergy team, it has been a privilege to hold people’s hearts and stories and to pray, preach, pastor and help people of all ages to feel secure in the love and resurrection power of Jesus Christ. This is the sure foundation that allows God’s people to take risks, fail and rise up to try again for the sake of the gospel.

No one should crave change for the sake of relevance or for change itself. Neither should we resist change because it’s new. Following the wisdom of the Preface to the Prayer Book, I would rather “keep the happy mean between too much stiffness in refusing, and too much easiness in admitting variations in things once advisedly established” (BCP, 9). In the gracious space between, God is unfolding pathways to renewed life in Christ for Episcopal churches and deeper relationship with the changing communities where God has planted us. This way leads to the kingdom.

Describe a situation in which you needed to create a sense of shared interests and community among individuals or groups who felt disconnected from one another. What is the role of the bishop in bringing a diocese together, and what gifts do you bring to the ministry of connection?

The year was 1937, and Bishop Henry Hobson was traveling the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio in his Airstream trailer, known as St. Paul’s Wayside Cathedral. He honored local stories and spread healing everywhere. Wherever he moved, people felt not only more connected to him but to all the other communities he had visited. Rolling around in that Airstream, he was knitting together a diocese. That was episcope.

I am tempted to dive in here with similar stories about times I’ve drawn disparate groups of people to see God in one another and in the common dream they share. But in your diocesan profile and especially in this question, I hear a deep vulnerability and longing. Beloved Community is in your lexicon; that doesn’t mean people feel like a community or feel particularly beloved. The East versus Cincy. Educated elites versus the working class. One race versus another. The barriers are real, and they leave everyone feeling lonely, even the ones who seem “connected” from the outside.

You have taken a risk sharing your struggles. I will meet you in this brave space and share an ongoing story of forging community, connection and trust, particularly in the wake of trauma.

Soon after his installation as Presiding Bishop, about two weeks before I officially joined his team in January 2016, Bishop Michael Curry announced the removal of three top figures in the churchwide offices. The details are not important to relay here. What is important to note is that I walked into a deeply traumatized system with wounds older than the tenure of the trio who had been dismissed. Many staff and volunteer bodies did not trust each other or the senior leadership team I had just joined. Every step I took, I had to be careful not to agitate old hurts or unconsciously create new ones. Needless to say, I fell short at times. Yet, over the last seven years, with intention, prayer, outside professional support and a concerted systemic effort, significant pockets of health have developed. I thank God for them all.

What makes the difference? There are no shortcuts to authentic connection. As a leader with privilege and power in a system where some have felt unsafe, I can step out on the shaky limb first and model vulnerability and truth-telling around the system and around my own fears, failures and hopes. I err toward transparency, because too many secrets have been held for too long. I try to listen like Jesus: not assuming I already know the answers, but instead asking as he often did, “What do you seek?” and “Do you want to be healed?” I have drawn on my capacity to compassionately seek and hold other’s stories, even as I practice self-differentiation and remember it’s not all about me.

All that is easier because my executive coach/therapist/spiritual director helps me to unpack my own story and other’s feedback and to keep growing into the leader God has called me to be. My job and my joy is to reflect back to the teams I serve when and where I see us moving toward wholeness, and to cultivate conditions where we help one another to take those steps closer to each other and to God. And while they may not be my congregation, God has placed them on my heart. I pray for them by name, and I love them.

You seek a bishop who will serve as this connector, a lover of souls who can cultivate authentic community among Episcopalians in Southern Ohio. For me, being a bishop does not equal holding to privilege, standing at the center and having everyone come to you. A bishop is the common thread running through the congregations and communities that together comprise a diocese. You stretch to where the people are, listen to them deeply, and communicate with your words and presence that they are precious to God and to you, and invite them to behold one another with that high regard.

Like the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, you remind them that we are one in Spirit and that the body needs all of its members with all their differences in order to fully embody Jesus, who is our head. If all were Cincinnati or Columbus, or all were large and suburban, or all were any single identity on its own, where would the body be? No, the body is all of us, so you draw near to all of it, gather up the wisdom and longings from every corner, and interpret them in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and our Episcopal traditions. Then you reflect back a Jesus-shaped dream shot through with flecks of all our stories, a vision so compelling and accessible that people are excited to come together and offer their lives and resources to pursue it.

After five years serving as chaplain to the Episcopal House of Bishops (a role only two priests hold at any given time), and having also served alongside wise, deeply prayerful diocesan bishops like Tom Shaw (Massachusetts), Lawrence Provenzano (Long Island) and Presiding Bishop Curry, I have few illusions about the glamour of episcopacy. When the vestments are hung and the crozier is packed, this part of the job – that of chief priest and pastor, that of lover of community and lover of souls in a particular place, that of culture shaper and cultivator, that of animator and narrator of shared dreams and realities – matters more than almost anything.

Bishops knit together all the baptized – truly the essential ministers in the body of Christ – through an expansive ministry of word and sacrament, prayer, witness, formation and celebration. They nurture connections between priests and deacons in the clericus, praying for each by name, hosting fellowship, offering pastoral care, listening actively, setting out clear policies and accountability, and organizing intentional formation. They note connections between our past, our present and God’s future.

You have already forged more of these connections over the last two years, as you’ve begun the hard work of healing and community-wide truth-telling. I can imagine coming alongside you now like a modern-day Bishop Hobson, moving across landscapes and contexts to nourish and bind God’s people into the church we are together becoming. A bishop can do this. I would be honored to do this … with you.

What is your theology of money? Tell us a story of exercising your leadership to move an institution into a more Jesus-centered, mission-oriented relationship with money.

My theology of money has everything to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ and with growing up the child of a single, working-class Christian woman.

In my first job at age 16 as a summer intern at a newspaper, I made more money per hour than my mother, a secretary to a top-tier administrator at the state university. It was a given that I would contribute and even help to manage our family budget, and then set aside whatever savings I could for college. Sure, I envied friends whose parents didn’t have a second job at the Food Lion grocery story. I also secretly enjoyed the feeling of abundance that comes when you know, as Mama used to say, how to make a dollar out of 15 cents.

She taught me another lesson that informs my approach to faith and money. By my 20s, I was living in Cambridge and attending Harvard University. On a visit home, I accompanied Mama to our family church in the country and was horrified to see her giving generously. “But Mama, you can’t reliably pay all your bills. How do you have enough to give to church?” (Clearly I had not yet internalized Jesus’s story of the widow’s mite.) She looked at me in genuine shock. “I don’t give because I have to. I give because I’m grateful that God wakes me up every morning. I’m grateful for everything we have. I know none of it really belongs to me. I’m so happy to give right back to God.”

I now recognize Mama was teaching me about what I call the stewardship of abundance. Whether you have a little or a lot, don’t overly attach to it, for “where your treasure is, your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Instead, keep your heart stayed on God, to whom all things belong. Pray about how these funds can fuel God’s mission. And then steward them with wisdom, generosity and joy. Do all that, and God will accomplish infinitely more than you could ask or imagine.

That theology informs my household to this day. My husband and I are open about our tithing, and I’ll tell anyone what giving back to God and living in right relationship with money means to us. This theology served me well on staff at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston, which had an endowment, and yet again when I shifted to work more fully for The Crossing congregation, where I had to raise my salary and work half-time as an editor for the Episcopal Church’s publishing house. We hustled, wrote grants, raised money. We cultivated a culture of generosity among young adults and poor folks, even though everyone told us “people like that” never give. Ah, but people were growing vibrant, loving relationships with Jesus Christ in community, and that spilled out in generosity and gratitude. It was just as Acts 2 – and my mama – had promised.

I brought this perspective to my post as Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Creation Care, where I have intentionally taken up the call to lead the institution into a relationship with money that is centered on looking, living and loving like Jesus. The budget for my portfolio amounts to roughly the same as the Diocese of Southern Ohio. I am attuned to every line, to the trends and intersections between them all (have I mentioned I was on the Math Bowl team? Something in me clicks “on” in the presence of numbers.)

When I entered the post, I sent a signal to the teams within my care: budget realistically and spend what is necessary for the sake of God’s mission. Do it fearlessly. And there is no need to choose pricey restaurants or high-end hotels. No need to arrive at year-end, see money left in the budget, and hustle to spend so Finance doesn’t reabsorb it. Real churches with real struggles gave sacrificially so these budgets would be available to us. If the ministry takes less money, spend less. If it takes more, say so, and we will work to release and raise the funds to advance the movement.

God put my commitment to the test when the 2015 General Convention allocated $2 million for the work of Becoming Beloved Community. As you know better than most, we took time to discern a long-term path toward racial healing and went public with the framework and vision in May 2017. This came just as the church was crafting budgets for the 2018-20 triennium. Despite pressure from many quarters, I refused to support dispersing funds without a real plan for lasting impact. Instead, we carried $1 million into the next triennium as seed funding for a more meaningful investment in Becoming Beloved Community.

That said, once we got a full head of steam and cast a bigger vision than had been funded in racial reconciliation, evangelism and discipleship, my teams partnered up with the Development Office. Like any congregation faced with a clear calling and limited resources, we have welcomed grateful people across the church to contribute for the sake of ministries that are clearly changing lives. We’ve placed “Give” buttons on the bottom of ministry pages. We’ve met with donors big and small. We’ve written successful grants. We believe in abundance and enjoy growing and distributing the resources to fund bold mission.

It was a somewhat radical idea, that a nonprofit corporation with a $50 million annual budget and $400 million in trust assets might allow staff to raise money for enterprising ministries and Jesus-shaped visions. But surely we have learned by now that it’s not healthy to look to one group or source to provide for all the rest. Our ministries will always be more energized when more of us have skin in the game. Our ministries will always be richer when a diverse community of people and groups are taking a risk and giving out of love for God, for one another and for the vision we have co-created. Whether we have a little or a lot, we can all rejoice in giving thanks, holding our resources before God, asking what Jesus is up to, saying “yes” and stewarding abundance for the sake of God’s dream. Then hold tight – God is ready to do more with us and our resources than we could have ever imagined. Count on it.

In many ways, our region reflects the social inequalities (e.g. gender, education, health, housing, and race/ethnicity) that afflict our country as a whole. Please discuss ways in which you have had experience dealing with and supporting multicultural populations. What do you see as a bishop’s role in addressing and healing these disparities?

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

The words of the prophet John are more than a beautiful image. They are a clarion call to form multicultural communities where all the children of God gather and flourish across the wondrous range of human diversity: different races, ethnicities, languages, genders, sexual orientations, educational backgrounds, classes, housing situations, physical and mental abilities, ideologies. Difference is celebrated as a sign of God’s blessing. Every tear is wiped away. Hunger and thirst are no more. God is all in all. As followers of Jesus, this dream of Beloved Community animates all that we say and do.

This vision moved me even before I was a baptized Christian. In my undergraduate years at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, our generation of students launched the school’s first Gay/Straight Alliance, Women’s Issues Network and NAACP chapter (for which I served as founding president). From there, I pursued graduate study in liberation theology and faith-based movements for social change. The vision from Revelation was on my heart when I joined a financially poor, spiritually mighty Lutheran church in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. I was baptized there and welcomed into a Christianity that looked like the early church … right down to the electronic fold-out organ and drunk guy yelling at the rear. The church also encouraged me to serve as a founding member of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, a faith- and values-based group dedicated to story-sharing and growing the capacity of ordinary people in ordinary organizations to make extraordinary change in our city. That wildly diverse coalition looked to me like heaven.

Early in my work in The Episcopal Church, I was especially concerned about representation and inclusion as the pathways to Beloved Community. Different cultures, experiences and intelligences need to be at the table, if we hope to discern the mind of Christ and make wise decisions. I’ve strategized and fought for this kind of multicultural engagement, and the longer I’ve studied, led and grown multicultural organizations and communities, I see that representation is not the final word. Is it really multicultural, if the dominant culture stays in place and assembles a colorful menagerie of those who are “different” but don’t have real power? Is it really Beloved Community, if those from non-dominant cultures have to leave our identities at the door in order to adopt and glorify the culture at the center?

The answer is no. Radical welcome and Beloved Community push us to question the narratives that elevate one culture or group over the rest. In a radically welcoming, multicultural community, we address the forces that created haves and have nots in the first place. We cross borders, tell brave truths, and put our bodies and resources on the line in order to forge a common, sustaining life for all. We understand that nobody is truly free until we are all free.

When I began to explore the concept of radical welcome, I had already been trained in anti-racism. I hoped radical welcome would lead us to reckon with a variety of margins and disparities, and always in the footsteps of our radically welcoming Lord, Jesus Christ. Over the last 15 years I have trained and led thousands of people and congregations in everything from seminary courses to convention addresses, three-hour workshops to ongoing church consultations. It has been humbling to hear reports that my work has had a transformative impact on parishes, clergy, laity, seminarians and institutions. As recently as last week, I met with church folk in Northern Indiana and helped them shift from their safe place behind the serving table, and instead to fully honor the gifts and humanity of people they had only seen as needy. We explored what it takes to show up, learn from others, sometimes be wrong and ultimately be changed. We got to know the Way of Jesus.

A bishop can play a pivotal role in shifting a system toward multiculturalism and Beloved Community. He can use his power, voice and vision to shape new and more just structures within and outside of the church. He can shine light in forgotten places, work to reallocate resources, and publicly demonstrate compassion and respect for those who are far off and those who are near, with the intention that all might experience justice and wholeness.

A long line of Southern Ohio bishops and leaders have exercised this kind of prophetic episcopal ministry, and I am inspired by their example. Under Bishop Roger Blanchard’s leadership, in 1970, you launched the Institutional Racism Project, a 20-year effort involving a rigorous audit of racism in diocesan life (note: The Episcopal Church conducted its Racial Justice Audit in 2020). As soon as General Convention cleared the way for women’s ordination to the priesthood in 1976, your sixth Bishop John Krumm was in Dayton ordaining Rev. Doris Mote.

In the 1980s, Bishop William Grant Black and Archdeacon Morry Hollenbaugh stood tall with the people of Appalachia. What a day of rejoicing it must have been in 1988 when you elected your first African-American diocesan bishop, The Rt. Rev. Herbert Thompson. I personally sat up and took notice when Bishop Tom Breidenthal led you to embrace the churchwide effort to dismantle racism and become Beloved Community, and I joined the chorus of praise in 2020 when the diocese formed a Reparations Task Force.

You know these examples better than I, but I lift them up in part to remind you that – however great the challenges before you, however extreme the disparities between and around you, however you may feel – you have a deep well of experience on which to draw. You have done far more than write checks and make stirring speeches. You have partnered with one another and with your neighbors to make real change within your own body and in the society around you. I light up when I imagine bringing my passion for justice and my background in community organizing and laying them at the feet of the movement for Beloved Community to which God has called you.

Together, we could build relationships with policy makers in Columbus, grassroots organizers across Appalachia, corporate leaders in Cincinnati, young advocates for the earth, and so many more. Within, beyond and through the church, we could help to wipe away the tears, fill the hungry, and repair the breaches between the children of God. I know of no higher, more beautiful calling.