After Morning Prayer at our tables (an amalgam of BCP and Enriching Our Worship--sung guitar-accompanied Venite, said Psalm, Office Hymn sung unaccompanied), our morning panelists were introduced: Mary Frances, church planting director for the ELCA; Becca Stevens, a priest of the Diocese of Tennessee who runs a nationally-acclaimed ministry with women recovering from violence; and Tom Brackett, church planting staff member with 815. Their presentations were each quite compelling. From my standpoint as a small-diocese bishop always on the prowl for usable ideas, I thought Pastor Frances had the most red meat to offer. The ELCA process is quite methodical and structured, and I mean "structured" as in "helpful." As I shared with my table group, from-scratch church planting doesn't figure prominently for us in the Diocese of Springfield at present. We are straining toward a more organic approach in which existing Eucharistic Communities take responsibility for mission in their own geographic parishes, and plant satellite communities that are eventually hived off. But we don't have much to show for it yet, because we're in the process of marshaling our resources and laying foundations. By the time any of our work is visible above ground, we'll already have a strong root system.
Topic One in the afternoon was the ecumenical dialogue between the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church. The members of the bilateral group have put in years of work, and are now wanting to move forward toward a full communion agreement such as we have with the ELCA. They're trying to test the waters as to whether their work is ready for prime time at the 2015 General Convention, or whether in needs to ripen some more yet. I have a passionate commitment to ecumenism. There may be be no more important work that Christians do than to heal the visible wounds on the Body of Christ that undermine our witness to the world. And I also want us to do our work well, and not have a proliferation of "Oops" moments as we live into covenants that we agree to. What I will be looking for from our Methodist partners is some evidence that there is a critical mass of buy-in on this at the grassroots level. It matters little to sharpen our pencils and swallow horse pills in areas like ecclesiology and sacramental practice for the sake of ecumenism when clergy and laity "on the ground" in many Methodist congregations (depending on the area of the country) think and act much more like Baptists than like their Anglican forebears.
Topic Two in the afternoon was the sore subject of diocesan giving to the national church. There is no canonical mandate in this area, and a great many dioceses pay less--far less--than the 19% of diocesan income that is asked for. Opinions--and feelings--are all over the map on this. For a number of complex and long-standing reasons, Springfield is one of the very low givers to the DFMS. What might help move us along is if somebody could calculate our proportional share of the actual cost of running General Convention. As long as we continue to send Deputies and a Bishop, I think I could make a case that we need to at least meet that figure--it's only fair. Beyond that, getting into DFMS program, it becomes a much, much tougher sell.
I played hookey from the Eucharist in order to drive Brenda on a semi-urgent shopping expedition to Whole Foods, of which we are lamentably bereft in Springfield. Later in the evening, we met some old and dear college friends--Brenda's roommate and her husband, now living in Franklin--for dinner on the west end of of Nashville. It's rather amazing for four people who first bonded as college students to sit across a table from one another after four decades of life have intervened, and now be talking about our grown children and growing grandchildren. Rather sweet, actually.