Tremendous crisis, great joy

ResolutionsA few weeks ago, I spent three days with five friends writing material for General Convention to consider. Yes, this was the epitome of church-geekery. And it was great fun. It’s hard to see how we got anything done amidst nearly nonstop laughter. Yet we produced about forty pages (!) of resolutions and a memorial for General Convention to consider. I had never submitted a resolution before, and now I have been on a ground floor of writing massive amounts of legislation. We even launched a website devoted to sometimes-arcane polity legislation and an archaically-titled memorial, or open letter to the church. Why did we do all this?

Our church is at a crossroad (and yes, it probably always has been). As the Pew Research Center told us this week, fewer Americans want to be called Christians. This isn’t surprising. The church hasn’t done a good job lately of showing Jesus to the world. We fight amongst ourselves. We dwell in lavish buildings while making excuses about what we cannot afford. We are seen as morally judgmental even as we stay silent on the issues that people desperately want to hear about. We’re so eager to lower the bar to entry that we proclaim Christian pablum that hardly resembles the Gospels. (Go ahead and tell me your church is an exception in the comments; I believe you. But the big picture is as I describe.)

If the Episcopal Church does nothing different, the institutional church as we know it will cease to exist in two or perhaps three decades. Many (if not most) of our congregations are teetering on the edge of non-viability. Our churchwide structures have blossomed even as our numbers have shrunk and our ability to network and to collaborate organically is easier than ever. But there is a new way, and that way is at the center of the memorial my friends and I wrote a few weeks ago. “We can lose our life for Jesus’ sake so that we might save it.”

If we cling to our institutional bulwarks, whether at the congregational, diocesan, or churchwide level, we will slowly sink into oblivion. But if we decide that the only reason we even have an institutional church is to proclaim the Good News, to make disciples, and to be the body of Christ, we have a vibrant future. Placing Jesus at the center gives us license to lose our fears and to gain unimagined, Spirit-led creativity. That is what our memorial is about.

The first followers of Jesus were scattered into the countryside by the persecution in Jerusalem. You can read the whole gripping story in the eighth chapter of Acts. Leaving behind the comfort of temple worship and their familiar city, they went into new places and proclaimed the Gospel. That crisis — leaving Jerusalem — precipitated the evangelism and disciple-making that led to the spread of Christianity throughout the world. Crisis is opportunity. When we leave space for her, the Holy Spirit is a powerful, animating presence.

On the one hand the memorial to the church is just words, including a bunch of familiar words. But it is more than that. It is a call for us to anchor ourselves and all we do in the church within ancient practices of discipleship and evangelism. It is a call for the General Convention to get serious about letting go so that we might live. I want the Episcopal Church to be strong and vibrant not just because I love it, but because I think the Anglican witness to Jesus Christ has a lot to offer the world.

I’m not sure if General Convention will have the courage to leave behind the comfort of our cherished habits and the familiarity of our treasured places. I am absolutely sure, however, that if we listen to the voice of our Savior and Lord, we will hear him telling us to “be not afraid.” What if we could set aside personal agendas and seek to follow the person of Jesus Christ? What if we could be brave and take exciting risks for the sake of the Gospel? What if we decided that we love each other more than we love fighting with each other? What if we voted as if we believed that God can raise the dead and that with God all things are possible?

Here’s the thing. When you start getting serious about all this stuff, church suddenly becomes incredibly fun. Fear, scarcity, and anxiety are wearying. CourageAnastasis, imagination, and hope are life-giving. Laughter and deep joy ensue.

Pray for the General Convention, for all deputies and bishops, and for all leaders in the church. Really pray.

If you are inclined the sign on to the memorial, the instructions are right at the top of the page with the memorial text. The more the merrier.

Mostly though, I hope we will prepare, gather, deliberate, and elect from a place of fervent prayer — and boundless joy.

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7 Responses

  1. Peggy Sullivan says:

    This is so comprehensively true and well written I can hardly find words to say thank you. I feel like all my hopes and dreams for real Church rising up from discipleship and witness and faithful action are possible and practical.

  2. Thomas S Tisdale says:

    Perhaps all deputies to General Convention should read The Agile Church by Dwight J Zscheile. It addressed some one the issued you have raised and points a good way forward for the Church.

  3. We are mired, not just as Episcopalians, but also as Christians, in basic doctrines that make it difficult for us not to be perceived as exclusivist. Is it not possible for us to affirm Jesus Christ as OUR understanding of the ways (note plural) of salvation, and leave it open to others to have their own understandings? It feels to me as if it would free us Christians up to rejoice in our faith without having “non-negotiable” boundaries to patrol.

  4. landl30 says:

    Susan, I think what you suggest is part of the problem. We back off so much affirming the gospel guidance about Jesus that we become just another flavor of ice cream. Of course God can work through any avenue, but if we just put Jesus up on the Pantheon of Gods… which is what the Greeks suggested…. we sell Him down the river…. and with it the heart of the faith. Either he is the One, or not.

  5. I think there is a quintessentially Anglican middle way, once articulated by a seminary professor of mine. He said, essentially, “as a follower of Jesus, I believe what the creeds say and in everlasting life in communion with God. I cannot know what happens after death to people of other faith traditions, so I will not venture an opinion.”

    I believe that Christianity, and specifically the Anglican/Episcopal flavor of it, is the best and surest way to an eternal relationship with God in Christ. Otherwise, why would I choose it? That doesn’t mean it is the only way but it also doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter what one believes. I think it very much matters but that condemning someone else’s beliefs in order to convert them to your way of thinking is poor evangelism.

  6. Jim Strader says:

    I observe that it took all of 5 comments for a doctrinal difference of opinion to surface on this thread. It is at such junctures when we must re-engage what is most important for the resurrection of the ability for The Episcopal Church to share the Gospel that Jesus proclaims. Christ invites us to inbreak God’s Reign. I truly am not inteerested in participating in another theological go-around concerning Jesus the Christ’s Divine nature. I comprehend that question is constituitive to other Episcopalians, It is not my question and I view it as of lesser value than what we need to do to execise Early-Church-esq evangelism and disciples. We should choose to collaborate to create a container where differences of opinion are valued while our shared purpose guides us onward

  7. theowlpress says:

    What should we do? I read the Memorial and am not impressed. I read in the document all the things I already believe and want my church to do and be. But, what should we do? Abandon the Book of Common Prayer? Forget about the creeds? Close down the church buildings? Send our bishops packing? Abandon rural communities and focus only on cities? Let the culture set our standards? Any of these situations would leave me in tears and I would stay in bed on Sundays. The Book of Common Prayer is an essential to being an Episcopalian or Anglican. Without creeds we have chaos as Dorothy Sayers has rightly pointed out. The buildings are costly, but they are also the place where people gather to worship–they are holy places worthy of maintaining. We need dioceses to remind us of the larger nature of the church and its mission; therefore, good leadership in the form of an Episcopal presence is essential. The church has already abandon rural communities. Some think that’s okay. The Baptists, Methods, and evangelicals will take care of the “hicks in the stick,” but that denies people, no matter how few, the beauty of holiness, the thoughtful theology that is found in the Book of Common Prayer. The American culture is sick. The Episcopal Church can establish a higher standard. Young people don’t like school either and expect an A in every course (I taught in college for many years). To be a “none” is a sign of profound laziness, inept intellect, and ultimately and lack of care for the thoughtfulness of life. Let’s have specific solutions, not more words. Let’s make our parish churches temples of worship and prayer, and let’s proclaim the Gospel without compromise; let’s proclaim the good news that God is love and the rule of God is with us in Jesus Christ.

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