Saturday, September 17, 2011

Live From Quito 2 (Part B)

We had a panel of Liberation Theologians on Friday afternoon. They were ok but mostly stating the obvious. I rarely speak at HOB meetings, but this time I asked what I considered to be a provocative question. Their replies were totally non-responsive. So while I did not like their answer I still like my question. Maybe you can do better with it:

The U.S. context for church, mission, and theology differs from Latin America in that the U.S. has had a large, strong, prosperous middle class. The Episcopal Church is overwhelmingly a middle class church. But the middle class has been declining and shrinking for years. Wealth disparity is on the persistent rise. The recession has shrunk the middle class further. Economists predict that the recovery will continue the tend. New jobs will be very high or low paying, not much in the middle. We are becoming an hour glass economy and society -- all haves and have nots -- not many have somes. Our way of being church, the people we evangelize, our liturgy and music is all shaped by being the church of a class that is ceasing to exist. Who is God calling is to become, what is God calling us to do in this shifting context?

After the panel, Prince Singh (Rochester) invited me to join him in a search for hats in Quto. We had a great time. I got a black wool South American cowboy hat. Prince wanted a leather hat. We asked some friends the Spanish word for leather but it turned out they gave us the word for skin. Fortunately we discovered the mistake before asking directions to a skin shop. After our purchases, we ate Ecuadoran food al fresco under an awning during a heavy rain storm. He and I are about as different as can be. Rochester and Nevada are about as different as can be. But we love comparing our experiences. So different in every way on the surface but with the same gosspel in our hearts.

We hurried back through the drenching rain to an Indaba conversation about the draft proposal for rites of same sex blessings and the supporting theological statement. There were 35 of us gathered for this special discipline of honest gentle sharing. What people said is confidential. But there are several noteworthy things that marked the meeting. 1. There were not two positions. There were at least 35 distinct viewpoints. Some will vote yes and some no. But their positions are all complex, nuanced, and intelligent. 2. I was surprised to hear some of the opinions coming out of the particular mouths expressing them. People had changed and grown as they struggled with hard and subtle issues. 3. I was impressed by the intelligence, wisdom, and compassion of every single person in the room without exception. 4, I continue to be amazed at the ability of these people to express strong feelings which put them at odds with each other but to treat each other with the utmost respect as they strive to understand the differences. It is as if they really mean their Baptismal vows!


Ann Whitfield said...

My first response to your question is.....that has not been my experience in my many congregations. That being that the
Episcopal Church is filled with upper class, and high middle class members. I know that has been the image since the founding in the USA; but not in rural America.

Our church is made up of 80% rural congregations of 150 or less memebers. This is do to the missionary efforts of our founders as they moved west.

I have served in LA where the congregations were weathy, to the mid-west, where they were anything but, to the rural west where the working man, blue collar, was the norm of the Episcopal Churches.

As we strieved to pay the bills, it was often said, "You have at least one Doctor, one Lawyer, one Millionaire and one political figure. The congreations I served had none of these.

To your question Bishop, I will have to ponder and pray because I know it's truth and we need to seek new ways. Immediately I think, why don't we do it the way rural congregations do: Volunteer, make do, be inventive and resourceful, trust God and live and preach the Word out into the community as we all work, play and survive together.

Too simple, I'm sure. Deeper reflections will come later.

Bishop Dan said...

Yes but it is the blue collar middle class that is diappearing in the American economy. Upper class and high middle class will probably survive.