I’m a day late and a dollar short in answering this week’s Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Challenge, but since it is the first of a three-part series, I figure I should go ahead and write this post in order to be ready for what is to come. This week’s question is What is the mission of the congregation? A follow up question is added to raise the level of difficulty: How should it be structured to serve its mission? Here goes.
I can’t answer “What is the mission of the congregation?” without first thinking about the mission of my congregation. Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Foley, Alabama is part of God’s mission, as the Catechism says, “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP, 855). We do that in a very particular way because Christianity, especially Anglican Christianity, is very much an incarnational religion. Our work is specific to the particularities of who we are and where we are. Building on the more generic mission statement of the Church, Saint Paul’s makes this claim:
Saint Paul’s is a ministering community: reaching up in worship; reaching in to serve; reaching out in love; to the glory of Jesus Christ.
The mission of the congregation is to be a verb: actively participating in God’s mission in the world. So it is that Saint Paul’s is a ministering community. Ministering is a verb, it is something we do, specifically, we “attend to the needs of others.” In order to attend to the needs of others, we actively seek out those who have needs. Before we do so, however, we first find our strength and our hope in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We worship: in word, song, bread and wine, we find ourselves tied in with the mission of God throughout the generations in order to find unity with God. We are nourished at the table, through fellowship, discipleship, and by being cared for, genuinely loved, by others in our community in order to find unity with one another. Then, and only then, are we properly equipped to reach beyond our walls to love and serve the wider world.
The follow-up question is a difficult one because every context is different. The structure that suits a congregation of 500 wouldn’t match well for a Mission of 30 or a parish of 3,000. Again, taking my congregation as an example, for 50 years, Saint Paul’s has been a Pastoral Size congregation. Add to that a long string of only male priests, and you have a strong “Father knows best” mentality at work, even though, historically, it has been strong lay leadership that founded, built, and sustained this place through lean years up through the second World War and some pretty crummy priests in the 1960s and 70s. We are attempting to reignite lay leadership in this place, but it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy for the clergy to give up control and it isn’t easy for the laity to work muscles that have been at ease for a while. Ideally, the structure is relatively horizontal: with clergy and lay leadership working together to facilitate mission activities like worship, discipleship, fellowship, and outreach, but as we all well know, there are plenty of ways to make sure that ministry happens on the local level.
Stay tuned for posts pondering the Diocese and the Churchwide structure, and be sure to join the Acts 8 TweetChat, Monday, February 9th at 8pm, Central.