Good worship last night with an especially helpful sermon by the Rev. Stefani Spellars. Good worship this morning with especially excellent music led by Dent Davidson. For communion, Dent played a medley of Adoro Devote (Thomas Aquinas’ “Humbly I adore Thee, Verity unseen, whom thy glory hidest ‘neath these shadows mean.”) and Let Us Break Bread Together. It captured the vertical and horizontal themes of our cruciform communion. Just brilliant.
Then Tom Breidenthal, Southern Ohio, presented on formation for mission, starting with forming the right kind of character for reconciliation, specifically the reconciliation of people with Christ – so not the characters to be reconcilers, but rather to point the way toward the reconciliation done by Jesus. Tom sees this mission as something we are caught up in by God. So how can we prepare for it? Tom expressed hope that God will flip the switch for small congregations focused on their own survival so that they might give up survival strategies to become the Church. Until that switch flips every program gets distorted into a survival strategy. I will be saying in my panel presentation “He who seeks to save his life will lose it.” (Jesus). That is especially true for congregations. Survival strategies are inherently counterproductive.
Tom suggested that we can do “formation in expectation of mission.” It largely has to do with simultaneously embracing community and recognizing that community is the context for all our sin. He noted the perpetual tension between Christianity’s attraction to community and dread of corruption by it. Anglicanism came down strongly on the side of community with the Book of Common Prayer, though community is always at risk of collusion, exclusion, and panoply of faults and failings. So what are the practices that form us for humble, open community? Tom pointed chiefly to the Eucharist. I agree with his points. He speaks from the perspective of an excellent systematic theologian. But I would add that there are practical skills we can learn through community organizing (IAF), reconciliation practice (Lombard Peace Institute), and behavioral covenants (Gil Rendle, Alban Institute) that will help us to effectively live out the meaning of our rituals. The translation of ritual values into practice requires an intentional formation. It doesn’t happen automatically. Too many folks practice the rituals faithfully, but don’t live their meaning (even in the context of church activities) and don’t appear to be aware of the disconnect. It strikes me that some strands of the anti-institutional movement aspire to create a more authentic community; other strands reflect our desire to flee the community because it is a place of trial; and some are caught between the two.
Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer, reported on the organizing of the 815 office staff to make them more accessible to dioceses for support programs. It all sounds favorable. There is a flap these days over the corporate name of The Episcopal Church and actually people talked more about that than the support structure. The corporate name is now, has always been, but may not ever be: Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society. Of course no one actually uses that name. It’s our corporate name, not our public name. The plan is to drop “Domestic & Foreign.” Some folks object to “Missionary.” Others like it very much. Either way, it’s already there. The change is dropping “Domestic & Foreign” – not adding “Missionary.” Reasonable people of good will are concerned about this issue. I personally am not that exercised about it one way or the other. I am more concerned with the diversion of a large amount of the money that once went into supporting various kinds of ministry – we lost our Latino Ministries grant for example – into the open ended Mission Enterprise Zone grants. That may yet turn out to be a great move. But at this point, it all still seems unclear. I will be relieved to see that grant program actually functioning.
The Church Pension Group then reported on their progress in bringing the health insurance premiums for different dioceses toward the same amount and on the complex interaction of the denominational health plan with the Affordable Care Act. The denominational health plan is doing better on cost control than national rates; and they are making some progress on leveling the cost of insurance for some of us high premium dioceses like Nevada with other dioceses.
Two general observations: There is a trend in the personalities of our new bishops – that means newer than me, the folks elected in the past two or three years. They seem to be of a generally moderate disposition. I am not speaking of their theology or their politics. I honestly don’t know much about that. But generally, they seem to be differentiated personalities of even temperament. This is particularly interesting to me because of the level of reactivity and emotionality that I see around the church particularly via social media. I sometimes suspect that we got in the habit of an elevated level of drama during the first decade of this century but the issues we were churning over then are now, though not completely resolved, resolved enough that they no longer drive us out to charge barricades. But we are habitual barricade chargers. So we are rather casting about for things to fight over. But the issues of today are just not up to the task of sustaining our habitual passions.
I don’t know if it will be possible to redirect our energy from fight/flight conflicts into sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through word and deed with a world so broken and so heartrendingly in need of salvation. But if it were possible, I suspect these new folks are the kind of leaders we would need for that sort of Church on that sort of mission.