Spiritual Work

As many of you know, I am part of a group of disciples who are working to proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church.  Our mission, as articulated in the founding blog posts of the movement, finds is roots in the eighth chapter of Acts.  This is a turning point in the life of the fledgling Church.  Stephen has just been martyred, while Saul looked on approvingly, and the first significant persecution is underway.  Because of the faithfulness of those early Christians, who fled Jerusalem but not their faith in Christ, the Christian faith is still around today.  It is a story of hope, of evangelism, and of perseverance.  It is a story that has motivated the Acts 8 Movement to continue to call Episcopalians to share the good news of God in Christ with a world that desperately needs it.

As one who has spent a lot of time immersed in Acts 8, it is always exciting to me when it rolls around in the lectionary cycle.  This is especially true on Easter 5B, as we hear the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.  I could probably write a book on this passage, but blogs are supposed to be short form, so I’ll spare you the long diatribe and jump right in to the word that leaped off the screen at me this morning.  Philip, having been brought to the wilderness road by the Holy Spirit, overhears the Eunuch reading from Isaiah.  In a manner that is quite forward, Philip approaches the Eunuch and asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  He responded, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

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This word, “guide,” caught my attention this morning.  Digging into it a bit, I found that the Greek word, hodegeo, is used only four other places in the New Testament.  Twice, in Luke and Matthew, it is used in variations of the idiom “the blind leading the blind.”  In Revelation, it is used to describe what the lamb at the center of throne will do for the rest of us sheep, “guiding us to the springs of the water of life.”  Of most interest, however, is how it gets used by John in the Gospel.  Late in Jesus’ ministry, as part of his farewell discourse, Jesus promises his disciples another advocate, the Spirit, who will guide (hodegeo) them into all truth.

Of further interest, is the etymology of hodegeo, which, according to Robertson, comes from hodos meaning way and hegeomai meaning to lead.  Beyond simply guiding, what the Spirit is sent to do, and what the Spirit does through Philip for the Eunuch, is to lead him in the Way.  The Spiritual work, then, for all of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus, is to lead others in the Way of Jesus.  This assumes that we will, ourselves, be disciples, having been lead in the Way by others.  It assumes that we will all be growing in our faith and in our understanding of the Gospel and of God, in order to teach others.  It assumes, more than anything else, that we will be in tune with the Spirit, who will guide us, as was the case for Philip, into all truth and into opportunities to guide others.

Good Book Club – Week 1

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“Luke’s goal in writing his two-part story is to provide an orderly account so that his readers might know the truth about Jesus.
To what end do you read the scriptures?”

Today is Ash Wednesday.  It might be my favorite day of the Church year.  While everyday there is the opportunity to confess our sins and repent and return to the Lord, the language we use on Ash Wednesday is the most poignant.  The Litany of Penance makes clear those sins of commission and omission that I would rather ignore.  The recitation of Psalm 51 takes pieces of scripture that have been spread all throughout our liturgy and reminds us of how they fit together as a word of prayer to God.  The absolution, which is more a prayer on behalf of all those gathered, is a helpful reminder that God’s desire is not to punish us wicked sinners, but rather, that God’s greatest hope is that we all might be restored to right relationship.  The smudge of ash upon my forehead, and the reminder that I came from and will return to dust, gives me the chance to recall my own mortality – something I would otherwise only do when I got onto an airplane.  It is a beautiful liturgy, filled with imagery and action that point us to our need for forgiveness and God’s amazing grace, but above it all, I adore the invitation to a holy Lent.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

As I spoke these words at 7:15 this morning, this week’s Acts 8 Blogforce question in conjunction with the Good Book Club immediately came to mind.  There, in the midst of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, I was reminded of why I read the Bible, and, more importantly, why I should.  Truth be told, I mostly study the Bible.  Four times a week, I sit down and read the lessons appointed for the following Sunday, looking for something to reflect upon, something to dig into, something to study.  About every other week, I spend hours diving even further into it.  I read commentaries, do word studies, and sit and stare into space, listening for God’s voice, over and above the monkey chatter in my brain, for a word to speak on Sunday.  So much of my engagement in the Scriptures is to study and mediate, that I sometimes forget to just read the Bible.

The gift of the Good Book Club, for me, is the opportunity to just read the Bible.  I have already so enjoyed just reading about the birth of John the Baptist, the Magnificat, and the Nativity of our Lord.  No looking for the kernel of truth.  No seeking a sermon hook.  No getting lost down the rabbit hole of a Greek verb.  Just reading the story, the greatest story every told, of God’s great love for creation.  To what end do I read the Scriptures?  Well, at least for the next three months, it will simply be to hear God’s love story, yet again.


Blog Force Participant

Where is Galilee? – An Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Challenge

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“And now, go quickly and tell his disciples he has been raised from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.” – Mt 28:7 (NLT)

I get to go to Galilee for at least an hour every week.  Sure, there are some weeks where I spend most of my time “out there,” the reality of full-time ordained ministry is that I sit at a desk a lot more than I thought I would.  But even when the week has nothing but study, sermon prep, and administration to offer, I know that at 9am on Thursday morning, I’ll enter the Galilee that is Mrs. Davis’ Kindergarten class.

Now in its seventh year, Saint Paul’s has been providing volunteers to support the work at Foley Elementary School.  When we began our work there, the free and reduced lunch rate, a key poverty indicator, was at 72%.  Now it is 80%.  Four years into the program, FES had its first minority majority kindergarten class, but Alabama’s draconian immigration policy has changed that (some).  I took a two year hiatus after the teacher in my classroom left to raise here babies, but boy am I glad to be back, seeing the face of Jesus in each child, in the grandmother who volunteers alongside me, and, most especially, in Mrs. Davis.

I know that FES is Galilee because that’s where I find Jesus.  I find Jesus in the caring hearts of every teacher, janitor, nutrition specialist, and administrator who give of themselves to ensure that every child knows that they are loved by someone.  I find Jesus in the kids who find joy in learning, who are reading well above grade level, and who carry the same privileges as me.  I find Jesus in the child who had never held a crayon before the first day of Kindergarten, who can’t tell an “A” from a “Z” or the color purple from the number nine.  I find Jesus in the simple act of playing Chutes and Ladders knowing that learning to count to 6, or 10, of 100 might help one child break the cycle of poverty.

Rarely do I wear my collar there.  Seldom to we talk about what I do.  I’ve probably never mentioned Jesus to one of these children, but I’m certain that they’ve experienced God’s love in the person of Jesus Christ because he’s met me in Galilee, just as he has promised.

The Resurrection Question – #Acts8 BLOGFORCE

The Acts 8 Moment is asking candidates for Executive Council to answer one question ahead of General Convention.  While not in the business of endorsing candidates, the Acts 8 Moment (full disclosure – I serve on the steering committee) is interested in proclaiming resurrection, and therefore is asking each candidate for no more than 350 words on this question:

How will you share your love of Jesus inside and outside the church, and how must the church change in order to be more effective at proclaiming resurrection?


Sharing the love of Jesus is my full-time job, not just because I happen to be ordained, but because I am a baptized member of the Body of Christ.  As a disciple of Jesus, among the many demands that makes on my life, I am called to share the Good News of God’s saving love in word and deed.  As a member of the Executive Council, I would have the unique privilege of working alongside some of the best minds in the Church to encourage the lifting up the gifts of every member toward the goal of bringing the whole world to know of the saving embrace of Jesus.  I would continue to use my blog, Draughting Theology, to help committed disciples, both lay and ordained, engage the Scriptures in that place where those holy words meet everyday life.  In my ministry context, I would continue to reach out to the underserved in my community, particularly lifting up the voice of the more than 70% of students in our public schools that live in poverty.  The world is hungry for love, and there is no love like that of the God of all Creation.

With that in mind, my suggestion to the Church is simply this: in order to proclaim resurrection, you must know and embrace your own story.  The author of the First Letter of Peter admonishes his audience to “always be ready to give an account for the hope that lies within.”  Whether we find ourselves seeking after marriage equality, prison reform, educational enrichment, or holiness of life, we need to be prepared to answer the inevitable question, “why?”  Why do we do the things we do?  Because God’s love is so compelling that I can’t help but share it with the whole world.  For you, sharing the love of God might mean picketing for immigration reform, while for others it is opening a soup kitchen.  No matter the manifestation, the saving love of God shown in the resurrected Jesus must always under-gird the work of the Church and her members.

Our Aim is to Please

Back in March, The Acts 8 Moment did a BLOGFORCE series on the mission of the Church beginning at the congregational level and moving upward through the diocese to the church-wide structure.  In her final post in the series, my friend and co-conspirator, Susan Brown Snook pointed out a distinct difference in understanding when it comes to the telos of Christianity. On the one hand was The Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, COO of The Episcopal Church, who said that the mission of the Church was “to serve the poor and create servants of the poor.”  On the other hands was the Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, who suggested this as the mission of the Church: “First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ. Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration. Some of it may be very necessary, useful, or wonderful decoration – but it’s decoration.”

It seems to me that these two definitions show the crux of the problem with the Church today.  Bishop Sauls has a good and noble mission, but it is merely a small part of the much larger Gospel of Jesus to which Archbishop Welby seems to be calling us.

This conversation comes to mind for several reasons.  First, I heard Bishop Sauls speak over the weekend and was reminded of his somewhat myopic view of the Gospel.  More importantly, I read the lesson from 2 Corinthians appointed for Sunday and was immediately drawn to Paul’s understanding of the goal of the Christian life.

“We make it our aim to please [God].”

Caring for the poor certainly pleases God.  There can be no doubt about that, but there is much more that we can do to please God in this life.  The authors of “A Memorial to the Church,” a list on which I’m proud to be listed, gave us several suggestions including daily prayer, Bible study, corporate worship, giving to the Kingdom, evangelism, discipleship, and, of course, service to the least and the lost.

This too is not an exhaustive list.  If our aim is to please God, then everything we do is a means to that end.  Pleasing God is a lot about the religious life, but it is also a lot about everyday life.  Pleasing God means treating the cashier at the Piggly Wiggly or the server at Big Daddy’s or the service tech at Bebo’s with the respect due every human being.  Pleasing God means keeping your word and refusing to engage in improper business practices.  Pleasing God means forgiving that jackass that cut you off on the interstate.  Pleasing God is a full-time job, as you well know, but the rewards are most certainly worth it.  As the Psalmist writes:

“The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.”

The Spirit of Evangelism – A Pentecost Sermon

You can listen to my Pentecost sermon on the Saint Paul’s website, or read on.

Today begins a new season in the life of the Church.  The Day of Pentecost marks the mid-point in the Church year.  From Advent 1 until the Sunday after the Ascension, we were in the Season of Jesus’ life and ministry.  We’ll spend the rest of the year in the Season of the Church, learning how to be disciples of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.  This year, Pentecost happens to fall on a weekend that marks several other season changes.  School ended on Friday and tomorrow is Memorial Day, so today is also our unofficial transition into summer.  It also happens to be my last Sunday before a three month sabbatical: a season of rest, renewal, and refreshment.  Moments of transition call for discernment, and on a day with so much transition happening here, I can’t help but think that maybe we too should be taking some time to discern what God has in mind for Saint Paul’s.  Specifically, I find myself wondering, what is there in the lessons appointed for this day of transition that might help us better understand who God is calling us to be?

Truth be told, I don’t think today is just a day of transition for a couple hundred Episcopalians in Foley, Alabama.  I think that the whole world is in a season of transition.  My former Systematic Theology professor, the late Bishop Mark Dyer, observed that every five hundred years or so, the Church undergoes a giant rummage sale, and we are living in the midst of one.[1]  As with any rummage sale, it isn’t that everything is up for grabs – that’s called an estate sale – but rather the Church is trying to figure out what is worth keeping and what we might be willing to give up.  If we think about it, it is actually pretty unsurprising that institutions, which are made by and for people, tend to collect things, just like people do. About every 5 centuries the attic, garage, basement, and a storage shed or two become so packed with the unnecessary stuff that something must be done.  A return to the essentials begins and the difficult discussions about what is really needed take place.

Inevitably, the conversation about what is essential will creep its way back through history to find what was kept after the last great rummage sale.  That will take us to the lessons learned in the Great Reformation: sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo Gloria; only Scripture, Faith, Grace, and Christ, and always to the glory of God.  These are good mottos, which have served the Church well for a long time, but the temptation to return to our roots can’t stop in the 1500s.  We’ll have to look deeper into the archives to find what it is that God would have us be about.  As we do, eventually we’ll find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the first great rummage sale, sitting with the disciples on the Day of Pentecost trying to discern out what to do next.  They’ve been gathered together for 10 straight days, waiting and praying for the Spirit to come, when suddenly, the Spirit arrives with power and might.  We can learn a lot about what is essential for disciples of Jesus by looking carefully at what happens on the Day of Pentecost.  And what happens on the Day of Pentecost?  The Gospel is proclaimed.

It all starts in that upper room with a cacophony of sound.  There is the whoosh of a mighty wind, the crackling of flames, and the sound of 120 voices all speaking in foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the ability.  Here’s one of those places where the easy to read modern translations fall short of what’s really going on.  The King James Bible get a little closer, saying that “the Spirit gave them utterance.”  The Greek word translated as ability or utterance is thirteen letters long and I can’t pronounce it.  What’s important about it is that it isn’t the word used for common speech.  That’s an easy word to pronounce, “lego.”  This word carries the deeper meaning that the words being spoken are of divine origin.  The 120 remaining disciples were all speaking different languages, but they were all saying the same thing, and what they were saying came from God.  Seven verses later, we find out that the divine utterance is telling of “the mighty acts of God,” the Good News of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In the midst of all the confusion, as some sneer that this is nothing more than the incoherent ramblings of a group of drunks, Peter steps forward to speak.  The same thirteen letter Greek word used to describe what the 120 did is used to describe the sermon that Peter gives.  He spoke a divine utterance to the crowd of more than 3,000.  If we’re still confused about what is essential for Spirit filled disciples of Jesus, Peter clarifies it for us in the words of the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughter shall prophesy, and you young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”

When the Spirit comes, people prophesy.  They don’t read palms or predict the future, but they proclaim the message of God.  They tell God’s story.  They share the Good News.  They evangelize.  The primary thing that Spirit filled disciples of Jesus should be about is sharing the Gospel.  Unfortunately, we Episcopalians haven’t been good at sharing our faith for a very long time.  Last week, we received confirmation of this sad truth from two different sources.  Pew Research Center, a leading voice in religious demographic studies published a report that shows the portion of the population claiming to be Christian has dropped from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014.  That’s a 10% drop in only seven years.  Mainline Protestants: Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and the like, lost nearly 19% of their membership over those same seven years![2]  Within days of the Pew Research report, the Report of the State of the [Episcopal] Church was published in preparation for General Convention.  While the authors of that text found things to be hopeful about; the staggering number for me was that the Average Sunday Attendance in the average Episcopal Church fell 4.5% in just one year![3]  The call to be a people who are committed to evangelism can no longer be ignored.  It is, whether we like it or not, the primary work of disciples.

My goal during my sabbatical is to write the thesis for my Doctor of Ministry degree.  In that paper, I will argue that The Episcopal Church is well suited to meet the needs of a post-rummage sale America, but if we can’t tell people about how Jesus makes a difference in our lives, we are doomed.  We prayed this morning that the gift of the Holy Spirit might be spread throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, but many of us don’t even know what the Gospel is, let alone how to share it. As I leave you for the summer with the challenge to share the Good News, I’ll give you the best summation of the Gospel that I know, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever puts their trust in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

The Gospel is the story of God’s love being made flesh in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That love changed the world by changing the hearts of human beings.  That love will compel us to do good works, to seek justice for all people, and when we sin to repent, seek forgiveness, and return to the Lord.  In this time of great transition, we are being called to share that Good News in Foley, throughout south Alabama, and even to the ends of the earth.  Pour out your Spirit upon us, O Lord, and open our lips to share the Gospel of your love.  Amen.

[1] Tickle, The Great Emergence, 16.

[2] http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

[3] https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/12702.pdf

A Memorial to the Church

I am a firm believer in the future vitality of The Episcopal Church.  I have to be.  I’m 35 years old and looking at another 30 years of ordained ministry.  I’d also like the Pension Fund to still exist when I retire someday.  I’ve got two daughters and I’m committed to raising them in the knowledge and love of the Lord.  I’m even spending the bulk of my sabbatical time this summer exploring what The Episcopal Church has that makes us special and what we might need to tweak to ensure that the current religious climate isn’t one of crisis, but an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ for generations to come.  All of these reasons, and many more, are why I am thrilled to join Susan Brown SnookScott GunnTom FergusonFrank LogueBrendan O’Sullivan-Hale, and Adam Trambley in presenting “A Memorial to the Church” along with several enacting resolutions calling on The Episcopal Church gathered at the 78th General Convention to proclaim resurrection by to acting with boldness to proclaim the gospel in some very specific ways.  The Memorial has six points, which I’ve repeated here with some brief commentary.

  • Engage creatively, openly, and prayerfully in reading the signs of the times and discerning the particular ways God is speaking to the Episcopal Church now.  This means moving beyond politics as usual.  It means letting go of our long-standing arguments over any number of things that are adiaphora to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It means listening to the culture and looking for signs of God already at work in the world.
  • Pray, read the scriptures, and listen deeply for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in electing a new Presiding Bishop and other leaders, in entering into creative initiatives for the spread of the kingdom, and in restructuring the church for mission.  As a democratically governed church, we assume that the Holy Spirit is at work in the election process: from Bishops to Standing Committees to Vestries.  This is true of our senior leadership as well.  The Presiding Bishop, President of the House of Deputies, and Members of Executive Council will work to enact the vision set forth by General Convention.  If they are not willing to risk creatively for the spread of the Good News, then we have already failed.
  • Fund evangelism initiatives extravagantly: training laborers to go into the harvest to revitalize existing congregations and plant new ones; forming networks and educational offerings to train and deploy church planters and revitalizers who will follow Jesus into all kinds of neighborhoods; and creating training opportunities for bilingual and bi-cultural ministry. It is no secret that ministry happens at the local level.  Unfortunately, many local congregations are too worried about keeping the lights on to think about mission and evangelism.  It is our hope that General Convention will put its money where its mouth is and set aside upwards of $10 million to plant and revitalize congregations.
  • Release our hold on buildings, structures, comfortable habits, egos, and conflicts that do not serve the church well.  In order to move into the future, some of the past must be left behind.  This is not new in the life of the Church, but even thought we’ve done it before, change is never easy.
  • Remove obstacles embedded in current structures, however formerly useful or well-meaning, that hinder new and creative mission and evangelism initiatives.  There is much in our current structures that started out as very useful tools for ministry, but as the world is changing right before our very eyes, we have to look honestly and critically at every level of structure and ask “Is this supporting the work of the Church or could these resources be better used elsewhere?”
  • Refocus our energies from building up a large, centralized, expensive, hierarchical church-wide structure, to networking and supporting mission at the local level, where we all may learn how to follow Jesus into all of our neighborhoods.  Jesus commissioned his disciples to “go and make disciples” and they immediately sat down in a committee meeting to discern how to do it.  Two thousand years later, we have committees, commissions, agencies, and boards asking the same question.  While they aren’t inherently bad, CCABs do tend to be self-perpetuating with ever expanding budgets.  Let’s turn our focus back on the Great Commission and find ways to work together to help unveil the Kingdom of God here on earth.

I hope you will take a couple of minutes to read our Memorial in its entirety.  If you’d like to join the movement by adding your name, simply email endorse@episcopalresurrection.org with your full name and whether you are a Bishop, deputy, alternate deputy, or better yet, a supportive Episcopalian.  Above all, please pray for the Church, for her leaders: Katharine, our Presiding Bishop, Gay, the President of the House of Deputies, the House of Bishops, and the House of Deputies; and for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we might have the courage and wisdom to move forward with boldness to the glory of God.

Experiencing Resurrection – #Acts8 BLOGFORCE

This week’s Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Challenge invites us to share stories of resurrection:

As we move through the latter weeks of the Easter season, it’s important to keep the story in our heads.  There’s a lot of doom and gloom around cultural change and restructuring, but we are a people of the Resurrection.  The BLOGFORCE question before us:  “Where have you experienced resurrection, either in the church or otherwise, this Holy Week and Easter Season?”


I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this week’s question; thinking back over the particularities of Holy Week and Easter.  We had our first “real” Palm Sunday procession this year: eight blocks from the main intersection in town to our front walk.  Evening Prayer was delightful, with meditative music, provocative lessons, and earnest prayers.  Maundy Thursday is always challenging, but I got away with not having my feet washed, and I knew that God loves me.  Good Friday, as I read the Passion from John’s Gospel, I felt the tears welling up, and remembered what it was all about.  And then there’s Easter Day, what can you say about a day so bright and glorious.

Even as I took the time to remember all those events, I felt like I was still missing the point.  I had done plenty, but I wasn’t sure I had actually experienced resurrection.  Sometimes I’m not even sure I know what that means.  Life is just so busy, I wonder how much I really experience anything.  And then I remembered this weekend.

On Saturday morning, we buried a Saint.  It was one of those times where the procession leaves the church, but doesn’t require police assistance or a pretty white hearse.  We left the Narthex and turned right into the Memorial Garden where the Committal immediately followed.  As the service concluded, I raised my arm to offer the blessing, which is one of my favorites:

The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant: Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight; and the blessing of God almighty: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you this day now, and forever more.  Amen. (BCP 486-7, I’ve apparently changed the ending in my memory, this is the version I say, which is not what is actually in the Prayer Book)

On Sunday morning, we baptized a Saint.  We welcomed the three-month old granddaughter of our Rector into the household of God.  The church was packed, the music was glorious, and my arms felt as if they were floating as I stood in the Orans position during the Eucharistic Prayer.  As the service concluded, I raised my arm to offer the blessing, the same blessing as the day before, the blessing appropriate for Eastertide, for Good Shepherd Sunday, and for a baptism, and I almost didn’t make it through.  It was in that moment, as I pronounced God’s blessing upon the gathered body of Christ, that I experienced resurrection.

Things aren’t perfect at Saint Paul’s.  Finances are tight.  Average Sunday Attendance has plateaued.  A group of people don’t like the music or the noisy children or whatever.  As much as I hate to admit it, Saint Paul’s is pretty much like every other church in the world.  We have our ups and down: good times and bad.  I’ve been bummed about this realization.  After eight years of hard work, I want to only have good stories to tell.  I want it to be fun all the time, but as I raised my hand to bless the people on Sunday, I felt peace and joy that only comes from God.  As I struggled to get those words out, I knew that God was in control, that his work and his will are to be done, that even when it isn’t going the way I want it to, as long as we remain faithful, it will head in the direction God wants it to.  I felt relieved, and for the first time in longer than I’d like to admit, I got out of my head and experienced the moment again.  I experienced God’s blessing pouring down upon his people, and upon me.  I experienced all of heaven rejoicing at the baptism one tiny little baby.  I experienced resurrection.

What is the Mission of the [D&F] Missionary Society [of the PECUSA]? #Acts8 BLOGFORCE Challenge

This week marks the third and final question in the Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Mission and Structure Challenge.  You can click to read the various posts on Question 1, on the Congregation, and Question 2, on the Diocese.  If you are specifically interested in what I had to say on the subject, you can read “What is a Congregation?” and “Why the Diocese.”  As always, the question has two parts.  First, What is the mission of the (Domestic and Foreign) Missionary Society (of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America) or whatever you currently insist on calling it? And second, How should it be structured to serve its mission?

Episcopalians tend to sum up our mission in one of two ways: via a bumper sticker or via the Catechism.  Our Bumper Sticker mission is quite simple.

We are a community of faith whose mission is to welcome everyone into our midst.  The living out of this mission is very congregationally dependent, of course.  It would be hard for the Church-Wide Structure to welcome people, though I guess a coffee bar at 815 2nd Ave. in Manhattan would be a start.  There is also an insidious side to this particular mission.  Welcome assumes that someone has come to us, that they’ve arrived for worship on Sunday morning, for Bible Study mid-week, for the food pantry which is open one Thursday a month.  Whatever reason they’ve come, they problem with this motto is that they’ve come to us.  In the Nicene Creed, which we recite every Sunday, we say that we believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and to be apostolic means to be sent.  So we have to be about something more than welcoming.

We turn then to our other go-to mission statement, which sits atop page 855 of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Again we find ourselves in a sticky situation where this mission is grand and noble, but it has to be lived out locally.  The best that the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (the legal name of The Episcopal Church) can do is not impair the work of restoration by doing, saying, or publishing something stupid.  Where The Missionary Society (the in house term for that long title above) gets its mission comes, I believe, in the next question in the Catechism

Q. How doe the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace and love.

It seems to me that this is the mission of the Church-Wide Structure: to enable Common Prayer, to support the proclamation of the Gospel, and to promote through education, advocacy, and study; justice, peace, and love.

The structure should support that mission with staff teams focused on Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Music; Lifelong Christian Formation; Theological Education; and Advocacy.  Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music would work to meet the ever changing needs of local congregations, develop liturgical resources, and compile musical resources in a way not unlike Common Worship in the Church of England.  Lifelong Christian Formation would serve to enhance education in the Church by developing curriculum, vetting independent resources, training lay leaders, and support lay schools at Episcopal Seminaries.  Theological Education would serve to bring together the 11 Episcopal Seminaries under one umbrella to ensure that the diverse needs of the Church are met in the education of clergy.  Finally, Advocacy would serve to support justice initiatives on the local, national, and international levels as approved by General Convention with the support of the PHoD.  Since the TREC report, the conversation about the merits of the Presiding Bishop serving as CEO rather than some sort of Executive Director.  Honestly, I’m not sure what the right answer is as a lot of it would depend on the person elected as Presiding Bishop.  Either way, it would seem to me that the best way to structure The Missionary Society would be not too unlike that proposed on page 13 and following of the TREC Report:

Executive Council

Presiding Bishop
“Chief pastor, spiritual leader, principal local and international representative, and prophetic voice of the Church”

Chief Operating Officer              Chief Financial Officer          President of the House of Deputies
Serves as Mission and Vision Strategist
(Could be the same as VP of Advocacy)

VP of Liturgy & Music     VP of Formation Officer     VP of Theological Education    VP of Advocacy
Call these what you want, they serve as department heads of the four areas of mission with staff members serving to fulfill the Strategic Vision and Mission cast by General Convention in consultation with the PB and the PHoD.

It certainly isn’t a perfect model, but perhaps it is starting place as the Church seeks to be a good steward of resources in support of its mission to restore all people to unity with God and one another through prayer, worship, the proclamation of the Gospel, and advocating for justice, peace, and love.

Why the Diocese? An #Acts8 BLOGFORCE Challenge

As you might recall from a few week’s ago, the Acts 8 Moment, a group of Episcopalians seeking to Proclaim Resurrection in The Episcopal Church, has taken on a three-round BLOGFORCE Challenge on subsidiarity.  Question one dealt with congregations, asking “What is the mission of the congregation?”  You can read my response here and the round up of all posts here.  This week’s question bumps us one level higher to what church types like to call the mid-level judicatory, or in The Episcopal Church, the diocese.  Again there are two questions to answer: What is the mission of the Diocese?  How should it be structured to serve its mission?  Here goes.

On Saturday, February 21st at Trinity Episcopal Church in Mobile, Alabama, the 44th Annual Convention of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast elected the Rev. James Russell Kendrick as its 4th Bishop.  In the months leading up to that election, we were invited, as a diocese, to pray the Collect for the Election of a Bishop found on page 818 of the Book of Common Prayer.

Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a bishop for this Diocese, that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It seems to me that this prayer sums up not just the ministry of a Bishop as chief pastor, but also makes a bold statement about the mission of the diocese.  To me, the mission of the diocese is quite simply, to equip us for our ministries.  Certainly there a few ministries that are best done at the diocesan level, but to my mind that list is very, very small.  As the hub from which congregations radiate, the diocese should serve to facilitate the ministries of each member congregation.  It should serve as a hub of communication, of best practices sharing, of training, and of support.

I live and work in a diocese that has a very small staff.  With 5.6 full-time equivalent employees, the structure of the Central Gulf Coast is almost entirely focused on administration.  The Bishop’s Secretary, the Financial Secretary, the Diocesan Secretary, and the Diocesan Administrator all work, for the most, to keep the system running.  A 0.1 FTE Canon to the Ordinary and a half-time Diocesan Youth Coordinator are the two positions that exist in order to equip us for our ministries, while the Bishop does his best to keep the myriad plates spinning, all the while changing hats as often as he checks his email.  A three person communications team works as contract employees for the Diocese in order to help tell our stories, but they are grossly underfunded to do that work.

Realizing that this structure does not facilitate congregations in their ministry, my suggestion has been and would be to re-prioritize the paltry staff budget so that at least 50% of the time and money spent in the diocesan budget is used for equipping and engaging in ministry.  In my diocese, for example, this would look like

  • The Bishop – a 50/50 ministry/administration office (1 FTE)
  • A Canon to the Ordinary- Ministry (1 FTE)
  • A Diocesan Administrator/Financial Officer – Admin (1 FTE)
  • Executive Assistant serving the Bishop and Canon – 50/50 (1 FTE)
  • Communications Administrative Assistant – 50/50 (1 FTE)
  • Youth Ministry Coordinator – Ministry (.5 FTE)

This means that 3 FTE are focused on ministry and 2.5 FTE are focused on administration.  We can’t eliminate administration, but it shouldn’t be the overwhelming mission of the diocese.  Equipping congregations for ministry and serving as a facilitator of communication, dioceses can help their congregations flourish and help us move away from being a lose confederation of congregationalists toward once again being The Episcopal Church in a geographic region, serving to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.