Monday, February 09, 2009
I've been wondering
There's been a really good discussion over at HOB/D (yes, we have them every once in a while), about the election of a bishop in the diocese of Northern Michigan.
To encapsulate: Jim Kelsey was the absolutely stellar bishop there who died in a tragic automobile accident as he was making his way home after a very long Sunday of visitations in that very large diocese.
Well, it's very large, geographically, but not so in terms of numbers. Someone noted that there are fewer Episcopalians in the diocese of Northern Michigan than the ASA (Average Sunday Attendance) in some of our larger Episcopal Churches.
I should mention that this is a diocese which, like Wyoming and other places, have embraced the idea of Total or Mutual Ministry, in which leadership is raised up locally from the pew, and may or may not be ordained. It is a very pragmatic process, which takes into consideration the geography, demographics and yes, financial situation of the local parish.
The diocese has taken a local practice and applied it to their diocesan process for the election for their new bishop. At this point, the slate consists of one local, albeit it highly qualified, candidate.
You can read all about their process on their web page.
Of course, there is some grumbling about this - locally and nationally. The canons do not specify a required number of candidates to be nominated. While this is clearly a novel approach, the diocese is not in violation of the canons. Still, some are asking if this is an election or an appointment.
Good question, I think, and an important one to ask.
It occurs to me, having read many thoughtful posts on HOB/D, that there is another aspect of the election in Northern Michigan which sheds some light on the election of bishops in particular and the state of the church in general.
It has to do, I think, with the corporate value we claim to place on diversity.
I want to first beg your indulgence if this doesn't sound as if I have intellectually totted all my "i's" and crossed all my "t's". I haven't. I'm thinking out loud here, as I have my second cuppa joe, and ask that you join me in thinking about this idea.
It occurs to me that TEC, since our embarrassing silence and inaction during the Movements for the Abolition of Slavery and the Suffrage of Women, has been trying to make amends. When we began to take an active role in the Civil Rights Movement, it signaled a sea change in our understanding of our identity as well as our ecclesiology.
It's no surprise to me, given this context, that our 1979 BCP should place its focus solidly in the two major Sacraments of the church: Baptism, which gives us our identity (especially in the five marks of our nature and character which we find in the five questions of our covenant) and Eucharist (which nourishes and sustains that identity).
We've had 40 years of having been shaped and formed by our Baptismal
Covenant, which is now read several times a year in the context of community worship. That's two generations, which is not insignificant. It is no wonder, then, that we are becoming, more and more, what we say we are: A community which embraces the radical hospitality of Jesus in the diversity of a God who created that diversity.
So - now the rub in Northern Michigan. I think this is so, in part, because we have only been thinking of diversity in terms of the human condition. That's no surprise, really, because that's what initiated the change in our understanding of our identity and ecclesiology. And, that's the focus of our baptismal covenant.
I think we are being asked, now, to embrace the diversity of our national ecclesiology in the same ways we have embraced the diversity of our individual identities. By that I mean the systems and processes by which we do the business of the church in our local areas, depending on the particularities of the vineyard in which God has asked us to work.
For me, that includes how we determine the tools we use to increase our capacity for ministry as well as consider the danger signs of failing congregational health so that, in both emergent life and threatened death, we might use the right tools in order to be effective.
We have already begun that process on the local level in many areas. The idea of Total Ministry or Mutual Ministry is one of those emergent ideas and tools on the diocesan level for local level use in terms of how it selects and trains its leadership for ministry. It is a natural expansion, at least to my mind, for that understanding of church identity and ecclesiology, to the diocesan level itself, in terms of how the church selects its episcopal leadership.
I see this as a growing national trend. We should not be surprised. One of the pieces of good news to come out of these troubled times is that we are, once again, examining what it means to be an Episcopalian who is a member of the Anglican Communion. I dare say that 40 years ago, most of the 'bums in the pew' not only did not know that TEC was a constituent member of the WWAC, s/he didn't give two figs about it, quite frankly.
Accordingly, I think we are being challenged to look not a standard, cookie-cutter ideas about who we are and how we do church, as well as how we govern ourselves as individual corporate bodies that are part of a unique whole. It occurs to me that even the Rothage scheme of understanding churches needs a greater perfection to include geography and demographics.
I think we are even being challenged to reconsider what it means to be a 'member' of a church. I'm thinking here about the many churches we have in rural, urban and exurban areas where the 'social service' component of the church leads to a higher impact of the church's mission and ministry than it does to ASAs.
I'm thinking of church organizations with soup kitchens and day care centers and day schools which impact a greater number of people than those who actually come to church on Sunday but for whom that local church is the only church they have - the place where they meet Jesus in deep, profound, significant ways.
I guess I'm also wondering if the fact that some folks come to church to have their human and spiritual needs cared for actually outnumber the folks who consider themselves actual members affects the way in which we think about actual membership? If it doesn't, should it?
If I'm a member of St. Swithens and I come to church a half dozen times a year and make a nominal 'pledge', does that make me more of a member than the person who comes to church every day to be ministered by the soup kitchen or school who also faithfully takes part in the Thursday evening Eucharist or Wednesday Morning Prayer?
What I'm trying to say is that perhaps we ought to look at standards and principles and values rather than the particulars of the situation. I'm wondering if these same values and standards and principles apply on a national level and find application in places like Northern Michigan's election process which we ought to consider before w
e vote up or down on a candidate for the episcopacy. Clearly, canon law is one of those components, but there are others. And, perhaps canon law needs to be changed, or at least, modified.
I guess my curiosity is about the integrity of the process as it applies to the particulars of the situation. I'm wondering about the geography and demographics of a "local diocese" that might find its way to a national understanding of who we say we are and how we do our business as TEC.
Perhaps this is a challenge for our commission on Church Structure. Perhaps I have outlined the work for a doctoral thesis which might find its way into a helpful book for TEC.
Does any of this even begin to make some sense?