As most of you know, my beloved Episcopal Church is having her triennial gathering of governance, The General Convention. They’re meeting in Indianapolis. Instead of tackling the easy-come-easy-go questions like Women Bishops, Gay Bishops or sacramental blessings for same-sex couples, it seems like today’s crises are governance and finance.
Well, how should the Church run herself when there are dwindling dollars and fewer knees on kneelers? Who should we cut first? Should we force the bicameral General Convention into one house and have them meet less frequently? So on and so forth. Leading up to Convention, there was a botched budget, followed by a public shaming by the COO of the Church, and a (potentially shady) new budget formed by the Presiding Bishop’s office. People are getting nervous, as there is a great amount of distrust between the Houses of Bishops and Deputies.
Some calls for iconoclastic change are a little too eager, as they appear as long-held pet projects hidden under the guise of leaner governance. That’s why I was glad to read today these wise words of the Rev. Thomas Jackson:
Last night I found myself agreeing with a speaker from the Diocese of Albany – a first – when he warned that structural change is not the answer to lagging attendance or falling revenue. The change we need will come from the hearts and minds of our people as they live out the Gospel; it will flow from their lives into their community. This is change we can believe in, real grassroots change that can spread across all of the church. It does not appear to require changes in how we govern our church as much as it emerges from people being creative and thoughtful and innovative.
As long as the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons is preserved, I don’t really care if the Episcopal Church has a social media coordinator or whatever. I think I’d even prefer the older-style office of the Presiding Bishop, where they are still tied to a diocese and not to a ridiculously expensive office in Manhattan. I’d even back a healthy (and voluntary) pay-cut for Bishops. But, it doesn’t really matter because it won’t change anything in our Parishes. These things don’t change much on the ground.
Will people stop not attending our Churches because we no longer have a bicameral system? I can assure you, few people care what the Episcopal Church thinks about anything — if they even know who we are. Apart from the roughshod liturgical “reforms”, what effect will 98% of the resolutions have on me as a layman holding a Prayerbook at Mass? Very little, I expect.
I’m not a deputy. Were I to have the ear of anyone at General Convention (which I highly doubt), I’d advise them: calm down. Seriously.* Every three years we embarrass ourselves with some new controversy. There’s always some shady deals going on. There’s always a grab for power. Somebody yells that we need to get to the barricades. Voices are drowned out by these shouts for change. If it is embarrassing to us, imagine what our crucified Lord thinks.
This is not mission. This is embarrassing.
Fortunately, there are others who feel the same way. Fellow bloggers, The Crusty Old Dean and the Rev’s Susan Shook and Scott Gunn (all worth subscribing to, by the way) started The Acts 8 Moment, a group that simply wants to meet together, pray and listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Imagine that! Christians praying for wisdom and direction! It boggles the mind! In all seriousness, I think this is a fantastic idea.
Their first meeting was last night. I tuned in by way of a static-y livestream. They asked those gathered to finish the sentence: “I dream of Church where . . .” The answers have been inspiring, moving and pleasantly surprising. Check them out. I even shared my dream on their Facebook page: “I dream of a Church that believes that God will save the world through beauty and that mediocrity does not equal mission.”
My favorite, though, was this one: “I dream of a Church that actively engages in raising the dead.” Amen. Kyrie Eleison.
Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses, nor the offenses of our forefathers; neither reward us according to our sins. Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and by thy mercy preserve us, for ever. Spare us, good Lord.
N.B.: There is also a FB group, “Praying for General Convention.”
**UPDATE: Fellow East Tennessee Millennial, Spencer Cantrell shared these thoughts on my Facebook page:
So, I’m here right now. In Indianapolis, that is. And I’ve got to tell you… For all of the negative press leading up to this thing, particularly about the 3 to 5 (lost count) different budgets, people here seem, on the whole, very cooperative and optimistic about the current direction of everything. I’ve been truly refreshed by what I’ve perceived as a real commitment to discerning this stuff through honest reflection upon scripture and our sacred tradition, and I think it’s producing some real unity this year. Anyway, I hope I can impart a bit of optimism!
That’s good to read! Anyone else who is actually there have any thoughts?
*: I’d even futilely recommend that at next General Convention, nobody does anything but pray and meditate on the scriptures. Seriously, treat it like a retreat. Pray the Great Litany in procession around the host city. Have Mass. Say the Office. Have small group Bible studies. Have stations set up for Confession. Leave wide-open spaces for prayer and contemplation. You know, stuff Christians do. Then, have one day of legislation on the last day. I wonder what would change?