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.”

Why Resurrection? Some thoughts on D009 #EpiscopalResurrection #GC78

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.

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.

Sharp Knives, Vines, and Eunuchs

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m still not sure if I’ll preach from Acts 8 or John 15 on Sunday.  These weeks are fairly rare.  Typically, after a first read of the Sunday lessons, I’m fairly certain what direction I’ll go.  When it does happen that two texts are drawing me in, I’ll give them both a fair shake and for at least a couple of days, I’ll use resources dealing with both texts.  As I’ve read through my resources on the Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch, I’m realizing once again how absurd this story would have been in its original context.  All of Acts 8 is fairly absurd, when it comes down to  it.

Christ-followers are a tiny minority sect, in a minority, albeit it well respected, religion in the Roman Empire, and so it is no wonder than when things get dicey in Jerusalem, negative attention turns to the new-comers who talk about eating flesh and drinking blood.  It doesn’t take long for the small cadre of Christ-followers to realize that they need to exit Jerusalem as quickly as possible.  As they do, Luke tells us that they proclaimed the Good News everywhere they went.  Luke uses Philip as an example, but you can imagine these stories happening again and again, all over the known world.  Philip first finds himself in Samaria, the home of unclean, half-bloods.  After sharing the Gospel, Philip sees the Holy Spirit poured out with power and might, and is amazed that God’s grace was grafting all sorts of people into the fold as the Spirit moved beyond Jerusalem and God’s chosen people.

The Spirit spoke to Philip again, and sent him down the dangerous wilderness road toward Gaza.  There he met another outsider, perhaps an even stronger outsider than the Samaritans, a Eunuch from Ethiopia.  This man knew something about sharp knives.  He was intimately knowledgeable about pruning.  His position in the Court of Candace was the result of his castration, men were chosen for high rank who could not be tempted to have physical relations with the queen.  His status was certainly better as a eunuch than it would have been as a slave, but one wonders if the benefits outweighed the costs.  Nonetheless, this man was, to use a crude metaphor, cut off within his own society and was even more outcast within his adopted religion of Judaism.  As he returned from taking what little part he could in the Temple worship (see Deut 23.1), the Ethiopian Eunuch is grafted as a branch into to the vine of Christ.

Luke tells us that he went on his way rejoicing.  Legend tells us that he returned to Ethiopia and converted others.  History says that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as well as the strong presence of Christianity among the Nuba people came from somewhere.  The Ethiopian Eunuch was unable to produce off spring, but because he was grafted into Christ, he went on to produce much fruit.  It is certainly crude imagery, probably not suitable for the pulpit, but sometimes, when you’ve got two distinct texts dancing around in your brain, things like this happen.

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.

What is a Congregation? An #Acts8 BLOGFORCE Challenge

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.

2015-02-07 09.27.02

Pill packing for the Diocesan DR Medical Mission Trip is a verb.

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.

We asked for change, and they delivered – thoughts on the #TREC Report

EpiscoGeeks let out a collective sigh of relief on the morning of December 15, 2014 when the Task Force for Re-Imagining The Episcopal Church (TREC) published their final report, complete with General Convention Resolutions and proposed Canonical changes.  For those who maybe don’t know, TREC was founded out of Resolution C095 at the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church whose purpose was “to present the 78th General Convention with a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration.”

We asked TREC to give us change, and boy have they delivered.  It took less than two hours before the sigh of relief turned into the very visceral response of rending of garments and bowls of tears to drink.  Having served on a Diocesan re-imagining task force that presented its report in February of 2014, I could have predicted most of the responses on Social Media.  The Conventionistas and Status Quo folks will be upset that TREC dared to change anything.  Those who are genuinely interested in change will be upset that their particular version of change was not put forward. Only a very small number of people, all of whom serve on TREC, will be happy with the proposal.  All of those responses are OK because what is most important part the TREC report is that the report exists at all.  The report isn’t perfect (more on that in a moment), but it is a beginning of a conversation, a chance for the Church (ekklesia – the community gathered) to weigh in and think about how we can better serve the world and build the Kingdom of God.  I look forward to the next six months of conversation, dueling blog posts, competing resolutions and debate because I think that is the sign of a healthy Church; one that is able to live in tension and prayerful discern the best way forward.  The TREC Report gives us the opportunity to model for the world healthy disagreement, and I hope we live up to the challenge.

That being said, I’ll take this opportunity to give you my initial thoughts on the actual content of the TREC Report, and as you might expect, I like some parts and I don’t like others.  Let’s start with the good news first.

What I like:

  • TREC has said this before, but I’m glad that on Page 1 they reiterated the fact that “structural and technical changes, by themselves, will not be sufficient for reimaging the Church in the midst of a changing world…” These are the initial changes that need to be made in order to free up “time, energy, and financial resources for innovation and adaptation.”  The Church will not save itself through structure.  The Church will be saved through a commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ: loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  If our structures are crushing our ability to live into that commitment, either through bureaucratic red tape or undue financial stresses, changes must be made in order to renew our commitment to the Gospel.
  • The word experimentation. In my upcoming DMin thesis, to be written in 2015, God willing, I’ll posit that 13 time General Convention Deputy, William Reed Huntington (1838-1909)and Non-Denominational Pastor and Emerging Christianity author, Brian McLaren (1956-) are correct in their assessment that The Episcopal Church is best suited to meet the needs of a changing nation: post-Civil War or post-Christendom.  Both of them have argued for The Episcopal Church to find a way to be more flexible in its liturgy, theology, and organization in order to more quickly adapt to the changing world.  I’m glad to see the word experimentation in this report because inherent in it is a spirit of flexibility and a willingness to learn from failure.
  • A shout out to the Acts 8 Moment (full disclosure – I serve on the Steering Committee for the Acts 8 Moment) as an example of grassroots networks doing “extraordinary and innovative work, and… catalyzing the kinds of necessary changes at all levels of the Church.” I commend to you the work of the Acts 8 Moment: the BLOGFORCE (of which this post is a part), #Acts8TC tweechats, and especially the Collect Call podcast (available on iTunes).  The Acts 8 Moment’s mission is to Proclaim Resurrection in The Episcopal Church, a mission that I think TREC is aiming for as well and I’m glad to know that TREC was looking to groups like it for input throughout their process.
  • A nod to subsidiarity. On Page 6, under the heading “An Urgent Agenda of Reimagination” come these words: “We believe that to adapt to today’s needs and to strengthen its ability to serve God’s mission as Luke described, The Episcopal Church must address how we ‘do the work we have been given to do’ at every level – congregational, diocesan, and Church-wide.”  This is, I hope, a veiled reference to the subsidiarity conversation that I’ve been arguing for since 2012.  If The Episcopal Church is going to have any hope for the future, this conversation has to happen sooner rather than later.  If we don’t first figure out at what level mission, ministry, and administration are best done, we’ll continue to waste resources at every level: resources that are in scarce supply as it is.  I call it “a nod to subsidiarity” because I don’t believe that in its 3 resolutions, TREC has actually addressed these issues, but I’m hopeful that the conversation can begin in earnest now that their report is published.
  • A002: Reimagine Dioceses, Bishops, and General Convention – Third and Fourth Resolves. The process by which Bishops are elected is in need of major revision, and I applaud the move toward discerning a new model that deals honestly with gifts assessment and expertise.  I’m happy with the size and makeup of the Task Force for study and I will pray fervently for their work.  I currently serve in a Diocese that is engaged in the search for a new Bishop and I think collaborating with our neighbors in Mississippi and Alabama makes a whole lot of sense.
  • The canonical change that moves us from four deputies in each order to three. The Central Gulf Coast cannot afford to send any alternates to General Convention.  That means those of us who are elected as deputies are putting in 15 hour days the entire 10 days of General Convention.  Three deputies in each order would free up money to send an alternate and, I would argue, allow for greater diversity and representation as alternates could now get “on the floor” experience at one Convention in order to move up to full deputy status in the future.  I’m all for this move, but I know that this will be a huge bone of contention with the conventionistas and the “justice” minded crowd.
  • A nod to discipleship. Again we have nods to things, but not the thing itself.  On page 11, TREC suggests the need to “focus more deeply on local missions and community building.”  Included in that section is a nod to discipleship as TREC states the Church must prioritize “forming Christian community.”  That’s the work of discipleship, I think, but again, I’d like to see some concrete suggestions toward that end at every level of the Church.
  • Making the PHoD, newly dubbed the Presiding Deputy, as a paid position. This just makes sense given the way the office has changed over the years.  It is impossible for most to serve this position in its current incarnation.
  • The ability of Executive Council to, by a 2/3rds majority, discharge the four main Officers of the DMFMS.
  • Mutual Ministry Review at all levels of the Church. Accountability does seem to exist the higher one goes in the Church, and I would argue that it is more needed there than anywhere.

What I’m not sure about:

  • A002: Reimagine Dioceses, Bishops, and General Convention – First Resolve. My initial reaction was to hate the suggestion of a unicameral General Convention.  I’m a fan of the checks and balances inherent in a bicameral legislature.  However, the more I think about it, the more I’m thinking that perhaps there is some merit to a unicameral house that is able to deliberate separately, when needed.  The raising up of “historical and current tensions between the HoB and HoD” (pg. 47) needs to be fleshed out some for me.  As I’m keen to say, the plural of anecdote is not data.
  • General Convention as a “Church-wide mission convocation.” I’m not sure what that look like.

What I don’t like:

  • The TREC Report is 73 pages long. This is 100% insider baseball for Bishops and Deputies to General Convention.  In light of a 700+ page “Blue” Book, we probably got off easy, but there must be, in short order, some distillation of this report for consumption by the masses.  If TREC fails to do this work on their own, then the myriad bloggers, each with their own perspective on the issues at hand, will do it, and the average parishioner will be at the mercy of who they read rather than hearing the official word of those who spent the last three years crafting these thoughts.
  • Resolution A001: Restructure for Spiritual Encounter. The name doesn’t seem to match the content of this resolution.  A focus on bi-vocational ministry and new ways of educating clergy is certainly a part of what is needed to meet the needs of a changing world, but restructuring for Spiritual Encounter, in my opinion, is all about subsidiarity.  As I said in the “What I like” section above, we need to take honest stock of what is best done at which level of the Church: local, Diocesan, or Church-wide; and then restructure and reallocate resources to better enable that work.
  • Resolution A003: Restructure Assets in Service of God’s Mission in the Future. In the explanation on page 49, it sounds like TREC is advocating for the renting out of Naves and Sanctuaries for secular use.  While I agree that “we should be incredulous that our building are often empty” and that we should “tap our Anglican understanding of incarnation…” I just can’t wrap my mind around sacred space being rented out to the highest bidder.
  • Shrinking Executive Council by half (full disclosure, I’m a nominee for Executive Council in 2015, so this might just be me not wanting to lose my chance to serve). I had the honor of serving on a similarly enormous board at Virginia Theological Seminary.  Good leadership by Bishop Lee and a strong and active committee structure meant that a ton of good work was done by those 40+ members outside of the Board Room, work that couldn’t have been accomplished by a group of only 20.  If we’re going to eliminate all but two Standing Commissions, then let some of that work be done by a 42 member Executive Council with quality committees.
  • A partnership with ChurchNext that started today (Dec 16, 2014) a full six months before the opening gavel of General Convention. This just felt icky to me given that members of TREC would be teaching courses.  Icky, I say.
  • The word nimble. It is on page 60 and I know everyone who was at the 77th General Convention noticed it.

There is much to digest in this report.  No doubt dozens of self-described “experts” will weigh in.  Some, will actually be experts.  Some, like me, will be merely interested observers.  Some will be yahoos who shouldn’t be allowed to post in the web, but do as often as humanly possible.  No matter what, I’m grateful for TREC’s hard work on an unenviable task and excited for the conversation it has and will continue to foster going forward.

It’ll be an excited few months leading up to the 78th General Convention in Salt Lake City.  As we approach that time, I implore you to pray for the Church and for those who will take counsel for it.  If you can’t find the words to pray, I offer you the Prayer for a Church Convention or Meeting which can be found on page 818 of the Book of Common Prayer.

Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Origin Story – An Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Challenge

This week’s Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Challenge is seeking out the stories of how you came to be a Christian and an Episcopalian.  The fun, or perhaps quirky, twist being that the 120 word abstract should sound like a superhero origin story.  You can find out more by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.  Without any further ado, I offer you my origin story.

I was a senior in High School and it was Young Life Banquet time.  My YL leader, Flecth, had asked several of us to share our testimonies at the tables of some of YL Lancaster’s biggest donors.  I remember feeling some strange mixture of trepidation and relief as I prepared my story.  I was terrified because my story of how God found me is pretty boring.  I was relieved because I didn’t have to tell my friends’ parents and my parents’ friends about the day I woke up in the middle of a corn field with a needle sticking out of my arm and saw Jesus standing in front of me.  I feel a similar strange mixture today.

I grew up as the quintessential first child.  To this day, I am a ruler follower ad nauseam.  When I was 16, I spent three weeks in Germany with my high school German class.  There is no legal drinking age in Germany, but I still only drank once while I was there, and I still feel guilty about it.  The Church and the moral life to which she calls us has been a part of me for as long as I can remember.  After the youth group at Saint Thomas crashed and burned as I entered into high school, I spent several years bouncing between the CMA church’s youth group and Young Life.  I remember pulling my Saturn over on Manheim Pike one Friday morning to write down the date and time I had invited Jesus into my life, but the truth is, he had always been there.

My entrance into The Episcopal Church happened when I was three years old.  My dad had been transferred from R.R. Donnelly’s home base in Chicago, IL to a brand new plant built to produce TV Guides in scenic Lancaster, PA.  As the story goes, the Realtor my parents used to find a new house was a saintly woman named Jeanne Ritter.  After selling them the perfect house for a family with two small children, Jeanne said something like, “I go to Saint Thomas’ Episcopal Church.  You should try it out.”  They tried it out, and it stuck.

Though I attended an Episcopal Church with my family from early on, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be an Episcopalian, to be imbued with the rhythm of life and the words of the Book of Common Prayer really until I entered the discernment process.  It was there that I learned what all those words I could say by heart: from the opening acclamation to the dismissal; really meant.  I guess that’s why I have such a passion for liturgics, Church history, and general church-nerdery these days.  I want everyone to know how these words that seem rote to the outside observer can be living, active, and offer so much more than the rules and guilt that are so often associated with Christianity.

My origin story doesn’t have superhero qualities to it, but I’ve come to realize that that’s OK.  God enters our lives in all sorts of different ways, but most often, it is by way of a simple invitation.  Thanks be to God.

If I Had A Million Dollars – An #Acts8 BLOGFORCE Challenge

This week’s Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Challenge is a deceptively simple question.  “If you had a million dollars to help ‘proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church,’ where would it go and why?”  I say “deceptively simple” because when I read it on Monday morning, I thought, “Pshhh, no problem,” but almost immediately push back came from without and within.  Here’s the dirty little secret, when Jesus said that the love of money is the root of all evil, he didn’t just mean for people.  Institutions, like Saint Paul’s Foley, Beckwith Camp and Retreat Center, the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, and perhaps especially, The Episcopal Church are just as susceptible to the dangers that come with the love money as your typical person might be.

Anyone who is vaguely familiar with the politics of General Convention can tell you that she who holds the purse strings holds the power.  That’s why every three years, good and faithful Christians queue up to speak to the Committee on Program Budget and Finance to essentially beg for money in the triennial budget.

I think that is me in the jeans preparing to beg on someone else’s behalf for money.

And so it is that this question from the Acts 8 BLOGFORCE has real life implications.  If PB&F handed me a million dollars to proclaim resurrection in The Episcopal Church, what would I do with it?  Honestly, I’d probably give it away.  Well, not all of it.  First, I’d develop a website geared toward sharing resurrection stories.  Then, I’d invite members of The Episcopal Church to share their stories.  I’d want to hear about food banks and lunch counters; after school programs and literacy for older adults; innovative liturgy and damn good Anglo-catholic worship; prison ministries and drop-out prevention tools; anything and everything that the Church in all its varied forms is doing to share the good news of Jesus, that the Kingdom of God has come near.  Then, I’d give it away as grants to help sustain and grow those ministries because the fact of the matter is that a) ministry costs money and b) even congregations that are doing amazing things for their communities can be dying.  For example, supporting the out of work in a failing coal town costs money, and odds are in a town hemorrhaging citizens, the local Episcopal Church isn’t growing either.   They need someone who believes in their work and the power of God to help them continue to share the love of God for as long as possible.

It is probably simplistic and naive, but that’s what I’d do with a million dollars.  I’d give it all away.