Friday, November 11, 2011

Unpacking the Vision

This is the lead article in the November issue of the Springfield Current, our diocesan newsletter.

Beloved in Christ,
Many who are reading this attended the regular 2011 annual synod of the diocese last month, and heard my address on that occasion. Most, probably, did not. So the text of the Bishop's Address is printed elsewhere in this issue of the Springfield Current. It deals with a draft Vision Statement for the diocese, and what I want to do here is continue to unpack some of the elements of that statement. So, if you were not at synod, I encourage to take the time right now to read my address, and then come back to this article.


So ... I'd like to share a few thoughts on what I see as some of the implications of this statement. If we embrace this statement, how will it affect the way we think and act as a diocesan community? How will it change the way we experience life at a congregational level? Among other things, this Vision Statement will ...
  • ... change much of the language we use about who we are and what we do. That may seem like a small thing, but the words we use doinfluence how we think, and how we think influences how we act, and how we act influences what we accomplish. Terms like Parish (in its new context) and Eucharistic Community, along with others, will become familiar in time, and when they do, it will means that we have changed.
  • ... organize us for mission by focusing attention on defined geographic areas. The Eucharistic Communities in a particular geographic Parish will be responsible for pursuing the mission of the diocese in that area, and accountable to the rest of the diocese for that stewardship. This will involve detailed and carefully-made plans that are shared with the rest of the diocese. Of course, this also presumes that the diocese as a whole will provide leadership and training resources that will enable the Eucharistic Communities to accomplish this mission.
  • ... draw us into "retail" evangelism and outreach ministry. Episcopalians are notoriously generous when it comes to writing checks for particular special needs when they arise, and supporting programs of service and evangelism with their financial resources. This is "wholesale" outreach, and may have worked well when the culture was predominantly Christian. But now we live in a post-Christian culture, and the need now is for individual Christians to build connections with individual non-Christians in very intentional and systematic ways. Again, huge amounts of training and formation for this sort of ministry will be necessary.
  • ... encourage us to see ourselves as one church, rather than an association of local churches. Our theology has always been that the diocese is the essential primary unit of the church, but our practice as Episcopalians has said otherwise, and has focused on the local congregation. Without diminishing the importance of the local congregation (or, in the new way of speaking, Eucharistic Community), it's time to align our thinking and acting more closely with our theology. This means moving beyond some of the unspoken jealousies and rivalries and suspicions that have hampered our mission and ministry in the past. Really. That game has to be over.
  • ... call us to develop (or adapt) concrete patterns of disciple-formation in which lay people can be trained and become confident. I've alluded to this already in two of the bullet points above, but it deserves its own place in the sun. We will need to be "methodists" in the sense of being quite disciplined about the spiritual formation of all our members, identification and practice of spiritual gifts, and growth in virtue and holiness such that we are less focused on tip-toeing around one another's egos and more focused on the task at hand, which is announcing, modeling, and expanding the Kingdom of God.
  • ... invite us to constantly raise the bar on the quality of our worship. Our week by week liturgy at the local level needs to become more organic, vital, and authentic to each local environment. This is not so that it will become more appealing or accessible to newcomers; we need to relieve the Sunday Eucharist of that burden. Rather, it is for the sake of our already faithful communicants, that they will be adequately nourished and recharged for their work in the world.  
  • ... eventually make us rewrite our constitution and canons. This vision is, to use jargon from the 90s, a "paradigm shift." Our current governing documents assume the old paradigm. If we're going to operate in a new one, we will need new governing documents. New wine, new wineskins. But we need not rush into this work. We need to first see where we walk, and then pave those walkways with a new constitution and a new set of canons.
  • ... require ceaseless prayer on the part of a cadre of spiritually mature and well-grounded "prayer warriors." I'll tell you straight out: I believe in what is called "spiritual warfare." I believe that when Christian disciples begin to do something right, something good, something that glorifies God and builds up his church, "spiritual forces of wickedness" become alarmed and become more active. I have not the slightest doubt that the Evil One will begin to throw obstacles in our way as we pursue this vision. Often, such obstacles take the form of a moral failure on the part of a key leader. Or it could take the form of sickness, or intractable conflict and strife. Whatever form it takes, we will need to combat it with serious, concerted, and relentless prayer. 
This is serious stuff. It will be difficult. There will be missteps and mistakes galore. Burnout will be a constant hazard. And I have never been more excited and hopeful about anything in my life. We have a rich heritage in the Diocese of Springfield. God has been faithful to us in countless ways. We stand on the shoulders of some true heroes of the faith--some whose names we know, most whose individuals identities are forgotten. But I would like to think that our finest days are yet ahead of us, and that the miracles we see in the future will far outshine those that we see in the past.

Praised be Jesus Christ.



Anonymous said...

Good work.

Anonymous said...

What will happen to individual church's funds when they are no longer freestanding but part of a geographical Parish ?

Anonymous said...

To anonymous -
I'm sure that's covered by both current canons and canons yet to come. How about this question in stead, though --
What should or could happen with individual church's funds when fully engaged as part of a geographical Parish?

St Michael's Episcopal Church said...

There is a very helpful article by Fr James Schall, SJ, here-- -- on Benedict XVI's addresses in Germany on the nature of the Church's mission.