Chautauqua Institution names religious life leaders

Melissa Spas

CHAUTAUQUA — Chautauqua Institution has appointed two new religious leaders.

Melissa Spas, acting director of the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, has been named the institution’s new vice president of religion. The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, will become the institution’s senior pastor.

The appointment of two individuals to what previously was a combined leadership position represents an investment by the institution in its Religion pillar. The new leadership structure positions Chautauqua to further distinguish itself in the marketplace of ideas through deep and thoughtful engagement on issues of faith. Spas and Sutton join Maureen Rovegno, longtime director of religion, a signature curator of Chautauqua’s Summer Assembly program, in charting a different course for Chautauqua’s religion program.

“Chautauqua’s Religion pillar represents a legacy that takes us back to our very founding as the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly in 1874. We draw upon that profound legacy to convene the most important inter- and multifaith conversations of the day, and I’m proud that our commitment to these two leadership roles positions us for future growth within that space,” said Michael E. Hill, president of Chautauqua Institution. “The leaders of our Religion program have an incredible opportunity to help us shape the future of religious and spiritual life in the public square. We’re immensely grateful and excited that two forward-looking visionaries such as Melissa Spas and Bishop Eugene Sutton are joining us to lead the way.”

Chautauqua Institution’s Department of Religion provides a wide variety of worship services and programs to community residents and patrons that express Christian heritage and an interfaith commitment in spirit and practice.

Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton

In the role of vice president of religion, Spas will be responsible for the strategic vision and administration of all worship, faith/ethics-based programming, and ecumenical interfaith communication at Chautauqua Institution.

She will oversee the creation of a religion program during Chautauqua’s traditional nine-week Summer Assembly and also serve as the architect of a new year-round set of programs and partnerships to ensure Chautauqua’s religion pillar is a differentiator of the Chautauqua brand.

As senior pastor, Sutton will be in residence each summer to preside over the institution’s Sunday and daily ecumenical worship services in the Amphitheater, curating and expanding a diverse roster of guest chaplains. He will also serve in a pastoral role for the Chautauqua community, both locally and nationally.

“Chautauqua’s religious programming is among our most hallowed and sacred, and I’m elated to welcome these two servant leaders to shepherd this legacy while thoughtfully evolving to create as welcoming and inclusive an environment as possible,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer. “For Melissa Spas, we are so excited to welcome her home to Chautauqua, and to benefit from her incredibly strong experience in and vision for interfaith work, strategic partnerships, and community engagement and education. In Bishop Sutton we are blessed to have an internationally recognized pastoral voice to helm one of our country’s most historic and prominent pulpits, selecting the preachers that will provide moral clarity and direction on the day’s most pressing issues of faith and justice.”

From 2007 to 2013, Spas worked for Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, where she contributed to the development, design and delivery of strategic leadership programs and resources for Christian institutions. A graduate of Allegheny College and Harvard Divinity School, she is an active lay person in the United Methodist Church. She is married to Giovanni Machado and together they have an infant son, Robert Orlando. Spas will begin her service to Chautauqua at the beginning of the 2022 Summer Assembly, in late June.

“I am excited to dream big and imagine all the ways that the Department of Religion can build on a remarkable legacy of worship, programming, and rich conversation, while attending to the unique role that religion will play in the future,” Spas said. “People of all traditions including those without religious affiliation yearn for soul-deep conversation about the things that matter most. It is my experience that something remarkable happens when individuals inhabit their own religious identity and deliberately ‘make meaning’ with those from other traditions and backgrounds, and Chautauqua nurtures that authenticity, conversation across difference, and genuine curiosity. As a young person, Chautauqua Institution played an influential role in my own imagination of what might be possible in my vocation as a religious leader, and I am gratified and honored to join the staff.

Sutton has served as canon pastor of the Washington National Cathedral and director of its Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. A noted leader of retreats and conferences on spirituality, nonviolence, the environment and reconciliation, he co-founded Contemplative Outreach of Maryland and Washington, an ecumenical network committed to the daily practice of Centering Prayer. He is a contributor to the books The Diversity of Centering Prayer and Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: Challenging the Epidemic of Gun Violence.

Sutton is recognized as a thought leader on issues of racial reconciliation, testifying before the US Congress for Congressional Bill HR40 that calls for the establishment of a bipartisan commission to study reparations as a step toward racial reconciliation. He has appeared on National Public Radio, Fox News, PBS, and other networks on the need for reconciliation in America. His board memberships include the Institute for Christian, Jewish and Islamic Studies, the Institute for Sustainable Communities, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Bishops United Against Gun Violence. Bishop Sutton is married to Sonya Subbayya Sutton, president of the Association of Anglican Musicians.

A frequent Chautauqua chaplain and lecturer over the past decade, Sutton will reintroduce himself to the Chautauqua community on Aug. 21, 2022, as the chaplain for Sunday Worship in the Amphitheater. His service as senior pastor will begin in September 2022; he will preside over his first service at the opening of the 2023 Summer Assembly, on June 25, 2023.

“Chautauqua is unique in its ability to address many of the world’s most pressing moral, ethical and religious issues that affect our lives in the 21st century. In the midst of the diverse traditions that could divide us, we need safe places like Chautauqua to find the spiritual core that unites us in our common humanity,” Sutton said. “I am both honored and excited to join with this community in exploring faith together.”

The Rev. Natalie Hanson, a longtime faith leader within the Chautauqua community, will serve the institution as interim senior pastor during the 2022 Summer Assembly, while Sutton completes his tenure as bishop of Maryland. Chautauqua in 2022 returns to a full slate of religious and interfaith programming, including Amphitheater worship services with full choirs and the popular Interfaith Lecture Series five days a week in the Hall of Philosophy. Director of Sacred Music Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair as the institution’s organist, returns to direct the Chautauqua Choir and Motet Choir. A new organ internship will debut in 2022, allowing a rising organist to study under Stafford and gain experience directing, conducting and performing choir and sacred music.


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