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Friday, December 09, 2011

Love in deed is Love, indeed!

I wasn't planning on this post, but just this morning, I got into a fairly passionate discussion with a few colleagues about the whole proposal by Bishop Stacy Sauls, the new CEO of The Episcopal Church, and his "vision" of "restructuring the church for mission".

Which he did, oh, by the way, without consulting the President of the House of Deputies or any members of the Executive Council or, in fact, any of the commissions or committees of The Episcopal Church that might have a stake in - or be required to - carry out - his "vision".

Yeah, I'm a little less than pleased.

I'd like to add a few of my own thoughts on the matter, in the 'sure and certain hope' of continuing and widening this conversation. Or, at least, stimulating some thought.

Part of what keeps me up at night is that I fear the horse is already out of the barn.

God's people HAVE changed and those churches that have noticed but remained willfully blind to the change are dying.

Or, living on dead people's money (endowments).

Or, eating great mounds of the Bread of Anxiety and support the church not out of deep gratitude for the abundance of God but in fear of the scarcity of the world.

These individual churches - and the institutional church - merely circle the wagons, nickle and dime-ing the budgets (Oh, look, we can save $500 her or $1,000 there, or cut the "Outreach" because, in this crisis economy, we take care of ourselves first and then, what we have left over, we give to others - or, have "special fundraisers" which is designated for "Outreach").

Here's a question: When did "Outreach" replace "Mission"?

I submit for your consideration that a clear sense of mission helps us to 'reach out' to others, but I've never known "Outreach" to give a clear sense of "Mission".

Rather, it becomes one person's - or a small committee's - "charity project" - a means by which some individuals can "feel good" without that "outreach project" contributing two figs to the clarity about the identity and mission of the church. You know. The Body of Christ.

I suppose we've fallen into this habit because, well, it's easy to do.

We all live busy lives. If Jane Smith or John Jones want to "do that" - whatever that particular "outreach program" is - for or in or through the church, well, Thanks be to God because, God knows I'm too busy to get "involved". 

Or, well, that's not my "thing". It's "their thing". I don't know what my "thing" is. Yet.

Or, well, they are far, far better people than I am.

Or, in the perspective of some clergy leaders, well, at least someone is doing something! The real problem with that is in the leadership not connecting the "outreach" to the "mission" of the church - so that others might take part in whatever way they can.

Which leads me to these questions: Why aren't bishops recruiting LEADERS for ordination? Indeed, why aren't rectors recruiting LEADERS from their congregations to recommend to bishops and Commissions on Ministry? Why aren't Commissions on Ministry given any leadership training so they can discern servant leaders who can train other servant leaders in their midst?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Here's another question: Not that it's either/or, but when did "Congregational Development" become more important than "Mission"?

When was the last time you saw a diocese - any diocese - have an "Officer for Mission" along with a "Congregational Development Officer"?

In the Diocese of Newark, we no longer have a Department of Missions. That was dismantled a few years back - quietly and without notice, much less a vote at Diocesan Convention.

Which is fine, I suppose, but we didn't replace it with anything - except to begin calling churches and diocesan organizations "mission stations" without giving them the tools and resources - AND institutional support and backing - to make the transition.

When was the last time you established a new "mission station" in YOUR diocese?

Many diocesan staff configurations include a "Communications Director" or a "Director of Stewardship and Planned Giving" but no one who is a "Missioner".

Why is that?

When was the last time you saw a church with a "Missioner" on staff in any Episcopal Church? That's a real question.  I'd really like to know, because I'm not aware of any and I'd love to think I'm wrong.

In some places, we have decided that clergy compensation is "The Problem" - an easy thing to do as this is what is happening in the world - "taxing" employee salaries to cover the rising cost of health insurance polices or hiring "contract" status employees to get around salary and benefit requirements.

When did clergy become merely "employees" of the institutional church?

For that matter, when did Canons to the Ordinary become "Chief of Staff" or Bishop's Vicars become "Priests in Charge"?

It's a subtle, sometimes 'cosmetic' change, but the shift from being "that wonderful and sacred mystery" of the church to being more and more of the model of "corporate ecclesia" is, I fear, part of the problem we face.

Language is important.

What does this shift in language reveal about us? Is this a manifestation of "rational functionalism"?

Other churches have made change - but they are mostly cosmetic: different kinds of music, the prayers and music projected on screens, slide shows as the background to sermons.

All of these can be very effective, BUT, if - please note I said "BUT" and "IF" - it doesn't come from a place of authenticity, it begins to feel like inviting a praise band to a funeral.

I don't mean to put too fine a point on it, but as I've traveled around to various churches in the past year, my experience is that we all sing and clap (or fold) our hands and feel better for the moment, or become enchanted with all the bells and whistles of technology and the entertainment value of it all, but some of us go home at the end of the service and feel this vague, disquieting sense that something has died - or is dying - and we've just been kept too busy to notice the coffin.

Having been so gloomy, I hasten to add that there are many good examples of congregations - not just clergy but lay and ordained leaders - who "get it", and have "gotten it". These are the healthy churches that have decided to change the narrative of their community, not just rearranged the deck chairs on The Titanic or circling the wagons or building moats to protect ourselves against the invasion of the infidels.

They know WHO they are and WHOSE they are. They have a clear sense of identity from which flows an understanding of their mission - their purpose - their reason for being. Which, I would submit, is all about a balance of worshiping God and serving the people of God.

We are fed so that we might feed.

We are cared for that we might care for others - outside of the church who may not be our actual, physical "neighbors" but the ones whom Jesus called "neighbor".

What's that old saying? "A church that lives for itself, dies by itself".

What did John Wesley say? "The world is my Parish".

Worship - even Episcopal worship - doesn't have to look the same in every place. If praise music is 'your thing' - do that. If a Taize music is 'your thing' - do that. If traditional, straight up BCP and hymnal is 'your thing' - do that. If expansive, creative liturgy is 'your thing', do that.

Do it well. Do it to the very best of your ability.

I submit that you will know that you are "doing it well" - not by counting the "bums in the pews" on Sunday mornings (ASA is NOT the only measure of "congregational vitality"), or by the 'bottom line' of the budget, but rather, if you have at least as many, if not more, people working the mission of the church as you do sitting in the pews.

I re-submit for your consideration to you "Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power," by N. Graham Standish. You can find it by clicking on the link which is connected to the title of the essay.

I'm also very impressed by the work done by the folks at the Alban Institute on Narrative Leadership. You can find some of at the Alban Institute Website.

We've not only got to start thinking "out of the box" - we've got to get OUT of the "God box" and into the world.

If we don't do that, well, I think we'd better stop kidding ourselves and decide that we're not communities that believe in and celebrate Resurrection but simply keep our blind eyes closed and ignore Death.

We'll have to admit that we are not communities of Transformation but Stasis. Not Growth but Decline (and, as we learned from Arlin Rothauge, a ten year period of stasis IS decline).

And, yes - sigh - not Mission but Maintenance.

But, none of that is going to be very successful in local congregations unless there is strong, bold, visionary leadership at the top (and middle) to risk and model - as well as support and encourage - transformation and mission at every level of the life of the church.

Here endth the rant. Well, for now.

I hope it's been helpful to stimulate you to consider how it is you put your faith into action.

I am haunted by a panel I once saw in an AIDS Quilt. It said, "If love is all you need, you'd be alive today."

The Beatles were naive - and, weren't we all - when we sang "love is all you need".

It's Love in deed.  It's not "all" we need, but it's a damn good start.


walter said...

Brother Paul says..The gift of memory continues to be my best hope for finding the high road. I bring together all of my joys and sorrows, my good days and bad days, my high resolve and my low expectations, the joy and love given to me by my grandchildren and my friends-I bring them all to the center of my needs. Once I am there the veil of despair and hurt disappears. The rough places are made smooth. I surrender myself to the One who knows everything about me-who acknowledges my "lostness" and who shines the light on my path leading to the high road- where the God of my life is waiting for me and for you. A voice calls out to me: wait, Paul! Wait Paul! I will be there. Amen - It is appropriate to question how to feed my needs. Given a need is a want, my want which is a pleasurable intuition. This having being clarified we must go back to the question of how do I feed my needs? I want the CDs I want the Libby Vitale Spiritual Collection I want The Blue Grotto Tavern. How do I feed these needs, how do I nurture them? By memories. The response I got from Libby on May 2009, the responses I got from Paul and from Elizabeth. It may sound almost banal but there is in it a profound existential religious wisdom. How do You nurture that which is not yet in the present-the cross of the present? Narrative Leadership, Memoria Scripturarum, Memories in the pre-consubstantial Holy Trinity brings to us The Gift of Memory which is the High Road to the Vitale Cross of The Present. In the name of One God.

Walter Vitale

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Walter

Lindy said...

Not that I approve of any part of the Diocese of Texas, but they do have a Missioner for Intercultural Development (Read: Hispanic. Heaven forfend they should be any more multi-cultural than that.) There's also a a Missioner for Youth and Young Adults, and a Missioner for Christian Education.

They are just words, of course, but they do exist. FYI.

Another good post, btw.

Matthew said...

Why did he not consult with the committees, the executive committee, house of deputies? I'm actually curious. I don't follow TEC politics much because I've never been to general convention and so inside baseball tends to be lost on me, but I am perplexed why he did not to create consensus among the various groups in TEC if a consensus could be achieved. Admittedly, sometimes we need to let go of our sacred cows in the process but i don't see why he cannot talk to said sacred cows.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lindy - Actually, I think TX does take mission pretty seriously. I gotta give 'em props for that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matt - Ummm... He forgot? He didn't have their phone numbers? He sent a letter but the dog ate it? He tried to but an elephant sat in his living room and he couldn't get around it? He's a bishop and didn't think he needed to check with anyone else?

JMB3 said...

The Diocese of Connecticut has both a Canon for Mission Leadership and a Canon for Mission Collaboration. Our Bishop, Ian Douglas, has made mission a central part of our diocese, including creating a website called the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut Mission Discernment ( that explores issues relating to mission. The Diocese has also created a statement of "God's Mission in 100 Words" that forms the basis of discussion about mission throughout the diocese.

John Barton

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

John - That's great AND, given your bishop, I'm not at all surprised. I will check out your website.

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