An interview with Greg Davidson Laszakovits by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Over the last year or more, Greg Davidson Laszakovits has made a lot of changes, all by choice. Although it was a difficult year for many reasons, on a professional level 2021 was good—but “it’s not been tidy.” Tidy is not a word commonly used by those doing the work of healing racism, and Laszakovits is no exception.
Formerly a lead pastor at Elizabethtown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, Laszakovits in recent years felt restlessness, a need to get active and “move on things…a sense that even just being in the pastorate, even in a wonderful congregation like E-town, I felt a tug to something more.
“How can I be part of racial justice in the world?” he wondered.
Prior to entering the pastorate, Laszakovits had done work for the denomination and with the ecumenical community. After completing seminary, he held a series of positions with the Church of the Brethren including a term as program volunteer in the former Brethren Witness office; a term as director of the Washington Office; a term as a mission worker in Brazil. And he has been active in partnerships with agencies like Church World Service.
After 15 years of very fulfilling pastoral ministry at Elizabethtown, the decision to seek a new direction ended up being freeing. He still pastors part-time at University Park Church of the Brethren in Maryland, but feels he has become a better pastor by also doing other things. It’s a way of getting back to old Brethren ideas of church leadership.
The pull to work on healing racism came to focus after the murder of George Floyd, when in his conversations with people working in the for-profit and business world Laszakovits heard talk about the need for real change. He thought to himself, let’s coach them in a way to change that has integrity—that’s not just a “check the box” reaction for public relations or to boost sales.
Then Laszakovits was approached by an organization that asked him to help put together an online training series from a leadership perspective. The training addressed the question, “How can we be leaders who are not just racially aware but leaders making a difference for racial justice?”
That training series has now been offered to hundreds of people. Laszakovits has found it inspiring to see a tech businesses offering it to employees, a city government in Colorado offered it to all its employees, a sports department at a college using it.
As a straight white male who is middle class and middle aged, Laszakovits is well aware that he “checks all the privilege boxes” himself. However, “there’s a niche for folks with privilege to fill,” he said. “How do we leverage that privilege? One way is by white people talking to white people and holding one another accountable.” He adds that “this work must go hand-in-hand with learning from people and communities of color who can also help hold us accountable, especially when it comes to places where we may hold racist thoughts or feelings totally unaware.”
In just the brief time he has been doing this work, Laszakovits has discovered a variety of concerns to keep in mind and roadblocks to avoid. For example, diversity training may result in white people becoming more afraid of speaking honestly, and more afraid of making mistakes, which drives farther underground the topics that need open discussion. In another example of a common pitfall, he reminds: “You can’t just have a process to use and check off.” And, most essentially, “you still need to be in dialogue with people of color.”
He has discovered some answers and solutions: He aims to create spaces for white people to talk honestly and air issues. He emphasizes that this kind of process is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. You can’t heal racism in just one step. He asks people to remember that “this is about how we become better people. How do we become better followers of Jesus?”
At the same time, Laszakovits also has heard a call to develop and grow good leadership. “I prefer the term leadership coaching,” he said. “Working with individuals or groups of individuals to find out what things we can learn to be better leaders.”
He thinks of it as an “inside-out” process, first prompting leaders to ask questions like, What’s going on within me? What are my rough edges and how can I work on those? How can I improve? It is called emotional intelligence by some, but Laszakovits focuses on doing organizational development alongside the inner work. Working with organizations, he wants to help them through a discovery process. For example, in a church the process would including interviewing congregational leaders and members, looking at church records, identifying strengths, and working on a plan to develop and grow.
It is “amazing what blind spots we have in an organization,” he said, noting that organizations can’t avoid those blind spots until they intentionally begin to see them.
He works with start-up organizations and also helps to do “turn-arounds” for established organizations. Not all are churches—his services have been used by a variety of professional organizations and businesses. But his long experience with the church at a variety of levels has helped him understand common, shared dynamics. One experience that taught him a lot was his work trying to get an anti-racism effort off the ground as a program volunteer on the Church of the Brethren denominational staff. Such efforts had been made before he took it on, by well-known longterm staff members, all without marked success. He tried a focus on struggling congregations with predominantly white memberships located in areas with changing demographics; created a resource library; connected with a similar program by the Mennonites. And then, he was called to do something else and the program went the way of its predecessors.
Despite this experience and others, Laszakovits thinks “we sell ourselves short in the church.” He points to the ways that seminary training and pastoral experience have helped him build skills and learnings that are applicable to the world outside the church walls. And he’s excited by what happens as he applies pastoral and ministry skills in settings with people who may have no experience of church.
“The exciting part of doing something new and generative is the sense of impact,” he said. “Any transformation that’s happening in people show I’m on track as a follower of Jesus. Impact means I leave and they keep going. That’s the multiplicative effect that should be in the church. That’s the gospel, one person to another.
“We have allowed evangelism and that one-to-one impact to be about only if they are saved or in the church,” he said. He contends that in the Gospels, the focus is how lives are being changed, and how that change is passed on.
“That’s how communities change too,” he said, “then you get critical mass. When I talk about cultural change that’s what I’m talking about. It starts to well up from the inside out.”
— Laszakovits is making available a short video presentation on anti-racism titled “Actor, Ally, Accomplice” for use by Church of the Brethren members and congregations, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVm2R0tQs0Y. Contact Laszakovits at GDL Insight, email@example.com, 717-333-1614.
Find more Church of the Brethren news:
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- Church of the Brethren general secretary signs letter from Christian leaders to President Biden
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- Next online meeting of Standing with People of Color process is Nov. 18
- Standing Committee of Annual Conference to hold online meetings open to the public