The Rev. Dr. Sean Cox, who will begin work on May 1 as the diocese’s new associate for transitions and congregational development, knows that clergy transitions can be an anxious time for congregations. And, as it happens, he’s got some experience helping people deal with anxiety.
“I spent almost 23 years in parish ministry, then alongside that, I am a chaplain in the Navy Reserve,” said Cox, who has spent the last six years as rector of Faith Episcopal Church in Cameron Park, California. “I’ve deployed and I’ve been in places where the level of anxiety was almost beyond description.”
In 2007, Cox served in Afghanistan. He was “loaned” to the Coast Guard in 2010 and deployed to several bases in the wake of the explosion of the Deep Water Horizon oil rig that killed 11 people. Most recently, he served as senior chaplain to Joint Task Force Guantanamo in Cuba.
“I did Ashes to Go in front of the detention camps in Guantanamo Bay on Ash Wednesday 2016,” Cox said. “I couldn’t ash the foreheads of the guards because they were going in to work, so I put them on the backs of their hands.”
“Deployment,” in a military context, means something a bit different than “deployment” when one is speaking of priests and deacons, he says. Yet he has been meditating since his time in Afghanistan on what it means to send someone to do important work, or to be the one sent to do it.
“I’ve noticed that in the context of conflict and transition, those are some of the richest moments to witness God at work, to witness the redemptive work of Jesus acted out in truly an incarnate way,” says Cox, a graduate of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. “And when we take the time to notice what God is doing in that context, it can be a very rich experience.”
He had been sensing “kind of a shift” in the nature of his own vocation in recent years. “I’ve just found myself drawn to the prospect of working with clergy and congregations in transition and working alongside colleagues in a bishop’s office, and doing ministry at the diocesan level to affect positive change for the church in a way that I’ve observed as a parish priest but have not necessarily participated in,” Cox said. “So when I read about the opening and the scope of the work I was drawn to it.”
In his new position, Cox will provide support to congregations in the midst of clergy transitions; work with the Commission on Ministry and Standing Committee in supporting people in the process of discerning whether to pursue ordination; and oversee the diocese’s Safeguarding God’s People Training.
“I’ve known Sean Cox for 18 years and have long followed his vocation to serve the people of God in congregations and on the front lines of our armed forces,” Bishop Jennifer says. “He’s been in store-front start-ups, traditional parishes, and desert deployments, and his depth and breadth of experience will be an asset here in our diocese. He isn’t afraid of learning from failure and he knows how to encourage others as a faithful follower of Jesus.”
Cox and Bishop Jennifer got to know one another in 2001 when they attended CREDO, a weeklong discernment and wellness conference offered to clergy by the Church Pension Group. “I really admire her vision and her energy and I affirm what she wants to do in the church, and I look forward to supporting those goals and being part of her team.
His most immediate challenge, he says, will be dealing with the sheer number of clergy openings that will soon be created as members of the baby-boom generation continue to retire.
“What I hope to accomplish in this work is not only to adhere to the administrative process of the church that must be observed, but also to be a catalyst who points to the work God is doing for all of us when we are in transition,” Cox says. “I also believe that most people are in some phase of transition throughout their entire life. So we have an opportunity to explore the greater mystery of what God is doing in our cycle of life.”