While there are several critiques of the content over at EpiscopalResurrection.org, the one we tend to hear most often is about our choice of the word “resurrection.” Many of the authors of the Memorial and enacting resolutions were critical of the Task Force for Re-Imagining The Episcopal Church’s (TREC) choice to use the image of Lazarus in its Letter to the Church (September 2014). I was not one of them. Instead, I applauded TREC for the boldness of their choice.
Until we admit that old ways of being the Church are failing, (miserably according to my friend Susan Brown Snook) we have no motivation to take the necessary steps toward new life. It is my sincere hope that the 78th General Convention will be able to admit death in order to be open to new life, which is why I am proud to be listed as an endorser on Resolution D009, “Revitalization of Congregations.”
The goal of Resolution D009 is to put in concrete terms what TREC left a little too airy in their Final Report, namely their invitation to “enter into a season of sustained focus on what it means for us in this moment, in our various local contexts, to follow Jesus, together, into the neighborhood, and to travel lightly.” In D009, we’ve asked General Convention to set aside $1 million in order to begin creating the structures that will be required to help congregations who though they admit they are dead, are readily seeking resurrection. While this seems like a lot of money, it is really only a drop in the bucket of the investment that must be made if we are going to help revitalize our existing congregations, and it is our hope that the Development Office will, alongside their work raising funds for new church plants, begin to fund a Congregation Revitalization Venture Fund that will fund grants to existing congregations with high potential for growth.
Of course, none of this will work if we just throw money at the problem. Instead, the funds are only one part of a four-pronged approach to identify, support, and facilitate congregational revitalization.
D009 calls for the creation of a Churchwide Staff position to oversee the whole process and to coordinate training possibilities for congregational leaders. We seek to create a network of regional consultants who have had success revitalizing congregations who will be trained to coach others in that work. Together with the staff officer, these consultants will work to develop best practices and offer training opportunities for clergy AND LAY LEADERS from congregations which have been identified as having a high growth potential to help facilitate the hard work required to re-vision their purpose, use of space, outreach to their communities, evangelism efforts, and new ways of proclaiming the gospel of Christ.
The Church will not be revitalized over night, and the harsh reality is that not every congregation can be (or even wants to be) saved, but with the right resources focused in the right places, we believe that many Episcopal Congregations can find new ways of being Church that will speak to the needs of a rapidly changing world. Resurrection is possible, but it requires 1) that we admit we’re dead, 2) faith that God is still in the business of resurrection, and 3) an openness to change for the sake of the Gospel. Time will tell if The Episcopal Church can successfully navigate all three of these requirements, but it is our prayer that we can move beyond the crisis of today into a hope-filled future.