Once you were in darkness, but … by Nurya Love Parish

There is no doubt that, as Susan Brown Snook recently wrote, it is not restructuring that will save us, but reawakening.  Indeed, in Jim Collins’ book How the Mighty Fall (relevant reading for mainline clergy), he notes that restructuring initiatives are often part of the process of decline.

Reawakening means recognizing that even though we do need to restructure, our life in Christ depends on much more. It includes a certain level of holy indifference: If we live, we live to the Lord… if we die, we die to the Lord… so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:8) It includes a willingness to discern what is true, and look the truth in the face. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.   (Ephesians 5:8-10)

As a member of the search team for our next bishop in the Diocese of Western Michigan, I’ve been studying the data about our diocese. When our profile is published early next month, our major findings will be shared with the world… including our next bishop, whomever he or she may be.

Our data includes both challenging and encouraging facts about our life together. On one hand, only about half of our churches can afford a full-time priest. Even our largest congregations are not the size that are generally considered “resource parishes” – large enough to have resources to share. On the other hand, despite the recent financial downturn, average giving to annual operating budgets of churches held steady across the diocese. Most of our congregations have at least six months of operating funds in savings.

Facts matter, because without facts we cannot make wise choices. It is by wise choices, “pleasing to the Lord,” we may thrive to minister for years to come. Facts serve us well when we see them in their proper place: as servants of our mission to make disciples of Christ and minister to the world in His name. We may not always like the facts before us, but as disciples of Christ we cannot fail to acknowledge them, recognizing that no fact – indeed, nothing at all – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This post is excerpted from Nurya Love Parish’s blog, Plainsong Farm.  Read the full post here.

The Rev. Nurya Love Parish is Associate Priest at St. Andrew’s, Grand Rapids and Communications liaison for the Diocese of Western Michigan Bishop Search Team.  She blogs for www.buildfaith.org, an online Christian education community, and at her own blog, www.plainsongfarm.com. She welcomes your thoughts in response to this article at nuryaloveparish at gmail.com.

Synchronicity, by Frank Logue

As God is doing a new thing in and through The Episcopal Church, we shouldn’t be surprised to see many people reaching similar conclusions all across the church with no evident common source other than the Holy Spirit. This summer at the General Convention, the move for an Acts 8 Moment—in which we stopped to pray, to study the Bible together, to discern, and to dream—was not the only outward and visible sign that something is afoot. The Episcopal Evangelism Network was also present at the General Convention for the first time and there is definitely a connection between the groups. Here is a brief description of EEN from the group’s website

EEN is a network of Episcopalians and friends called to the practice of progressive evangelism and contextual mission. Our passion is for equipping, supporting and networking individuals and congregations desiring to start new Episcopal spiritual communities, to renew existing ones, and to develop new forms of and approaches to evangelistic mission. We have faith that the church’s desire for such renewal and growth is part of a broad-based missionary movement that the Holy Spirit is kindling in and through the Episcopal Church.

At one level, I share in the connection as I was at Trinity Wall Street in May for the Episcopal Evangelism Network’s Missional Development Consultation. I came to the convention excited that others would experience the breath of fresh air that is the work EEN has been doing in progressive evangelism. This was covered well in a recent Episcopal Digital Network article ‘Want Prayer?’ Progressive lay evangelists take church to the streets. EEN is also moving forward with a Missional Development Conference to be held September 20-22 at General Theological Seminary in New York.

In another odd connection, I read with interest the last inerview of Cardinal Carlo Martini who challenged his own Roman Catholic Church saying in part:

Where are the individuals full of generosity, like the Good Samaritan? Who have faith like that of the Roman centurion? Who are as enthusiastic as John the Baptist? Who dare new things, as Paul did? Who are faithful as Mary Magdalene was? I advise the Pope and the bishops to look for twelve people outside the lines for administrative posts–people who are close to the poorest and who are surrounded by young people and are trying out new things. We need that comparison with people who are on fire so that the spirit can spread everywhere.

Synchronicity was Carl Jung’s term for the experience that events which seem to be unrelated, serendipitous or random, may be meaningfully connected. I see this in Acts 8, the Episcopal Evangelism Network, and even these words from Cardinal Martini and so am looking to find what else the Holy Spirit is bubbling up out there across the church. We don’t have to create the new thing. We just need to notice where the Holy Spirit is bubbling up, pray and discern our place in it and hop on board.

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun!
Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
—Isaiah 43:19

#MainlineSummer and the Ecumenical Autumn, by David Simmons

One of the challenges from the movements in the #mainlinesummer, including #acts8, #dreamumc, #dreampcusa and others is how to re-envision our denominations for the future. Whatever those visions entail, I believe they will all include one common ingredient – ecumenism. For those of us who are not ecumenical wonks (and I know that I’m in the less than one percent for being one) “ecumenical” is a word that creates yawns. It brings up visions of long, tepid joint Thanksgiving services. But the future of our churches will be ecumenical for two reasons. One is a glass half-empty, the other is a glass half-full.

The glass half-empty reason is because we can literally no longer afford to walk apart. In the sixties, we could afford to each build high-rise denominational headquarters in major cities and employ hundreds of staffers as our churches built out in the ’burbs. In our time, as denominations shrink down to more historical levels of membership, we are all faced with budget cuts that threaten important ministries. What better way to continue these ministries than to walk together where we can! Do we all need separate denominational health plans? Do we really need completely separated national youth ministries? What about disaster relief? These separate programs used to be tools of competition between our denominations, but they are rapidly becoming ministries that simply cannot stand unless we find ways to cooperate. What about co-locating denominational headquarters? Could not support staff and office equipment contracts be shared? As the corporately-ordered denominations continue to implode, ecumenism is becoming a reality of survival rather than a polite sideline.

But let’s spend more time on the glass half-full, shall we? Jesus prayed in his high-priestly prayer that we might be one. Wow, we’ve really screwed that one up. But we are in a time of opportunity. There are those that have talked about an “Ecumenical Winter,” since we as Christians don’t get mainstream recognition for ecumenical progress like we used to a century ago. No one is handing our Nobel prizes these days for ecumenical work. But I don’t agree with that. Dr. Tom Ferguson, AKA the Crusty Old Dean, has written that we are in an “Ecumenical Autumn”. (His articles are excellent on this, find the first part here.) This is not the dead time, it is the time for harvesting the rich fruits of the Faith and Order movement in order to prepare for winter (see glass half-empty) and then a spring.

Continue reading #MainlineSummer and the Ecumenical Autumn, by David Simmons

Mainline Summer, by Frank Logue

This summer, the Holy Spirit has been moving in and around the old mainline Christian denominations. During conventions of the United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches Twitter.com feeds for #dreamUMC, #dreamPCUSA, #acts8 and others such as #dreamCCDOC and #dreamUCC have talked about a new way of being the church. Each movement has grown out of unique circumstances and will result in different responses in different places, but it is hard not to notice what God is doing this summer.

What is holding us back from taking action within our denominations? What can we begin to do to incarnate the change we wish to see without the denominations’ formal backing? How might we be increasingly faithful to the Gospel?

The Acts 8 Mo(ve)ment — Suggestions for Next Steps

July 16, 2012
Adam Tambley

On of the most exciting and hopeful aspects of the Episcopal Church’s 77th General Convention was the Acts 8 Moment.  The initiative takes its name from the chapter in Acts of the Apostles when the church faced a great persecution and scattered out of Jerusalem.  The result was the spread of the good news to new people and places with great joy.  Three Episcopal bloggers, Scott Gunn, Susan Snook and Tom Ferguson, hatched the Acts 8 Moment idea after reading each others’ writings and thinking about how to move the church forward.  Two meetings at convention gathered dozens of people for prayer, Bible study, dreaming and discussion.  A video of most of the powerful completions of the end of the sentence, “I dream of a church that…” can be found here.

At the end of the second meeting, some time was spent brainstorming how to move forward.  Susan Snook has summarized that discussion in her blog, also posted here at the Acts 8 Moment website. Putting together the website (thank you Frank Logue!) was a big first step.  In the interests of continued brainstorming, I’d suggest the following as a framework for thinking about next steps for the Acts 8 Moment.

Hearing our discussions and thinking about what this group of people could add at this time, I would suggest three broad goals for our work:

Continue reading The Acts 8 Mo(ve)ment — Suggestions for Next Steps

The Acts 8 Moment: Where Do We Go From Here?

July 13, 2012
Susan Snook

The Episcopal Church is a gigantic ship, and surely turning this ship will be a monumental task. Yet a deeply hopeful General Convention created a mandate for change in passing the Structure resolution, providing my favorite moment of the whole Convention. As the vote was taken, the House of Deputies resounded with a hearty “aye” – and not a single “no.” Of one accord, every person present – nearly 900 people – agreed to form a Task Force that would lead a process of change. Then we stood in a standing ovation, cheering and clapping, and joined together in singing the hymn, “Sing a New Church Into Being.”

The Structure resolution was a good one: carefully drafted, taking the input of many into account, providing for an independent group that will not be supervised or sabotaged by current leadership structures that will want to protect their own standing and their natural inclination to say, “But we’ve always done it that way before!” This group is accountable only to the 2015 General Convention.

Continue reading The Acts 8 Moment: Where Do We Go From Here?

Eldad and Medad—an Acts 8 Moment

The following is a reflection of restructuring the church from outside the camp which was written by the Rev. John Ohmer for Center Aisle, a General Convention newsletter created by the Diocese of Virginia. The original article is online here: What If the Real Purpose of General Convention Lies Outside Its Structure?

The unanimous passage of the resolution to create a Task Force to restructure the Church may be the clearest sign yet that the real work of God takes place outside the official structures we’ve inherited. Indeed, the Holy Spirit seems to be most active and alive in what I’d call “Eldad Events” and “Medad Moments.”

Remember the story in the Book of Numbers about Eldad and Medad? God gives official prophetic powers to 70 people whom God has asked Moses to assemble at the Tent of Meeting. Two men, however — Eldad and Medad – have remained behind in the camp, and are not present when God commissions the 70.They prophesy anyway.

When someone complains about it, Moses says, “Don’t stop them – I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets!” In other words, what God is doing outside the official structures is often every bit as important, or even more important, as what God is doing inside, or through the structures.

Continue reading Eldad and Medad—an Acts 8 Moment

An Acts 8 Mo(ve)ment

Nurya Love Parish blogged the following after the Acts 8 Moment meeting on the last evening of the General Convention:

The run-up to the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church was full of drama. There was one proposed budget. Oh-oh, the proposed budget was in error. There was another proposed budget. The fact that the new proposed budget was from the Presiding Bishop was unprecedented. It was like a soap opera, except (for those of us who care about these things) infinitely more frustrating, because it was real life.

But we give thanks to God even in our trials (Romans 5), because what causes pain also brings endurance, courage and insight. In this case, a trio of bloggers (Susan Snook, Tom Ferguson, and Scott Gunn) decided to convene a new gathering at General Convention. (Here’s Susan’s original post describing the Episcopal Church as experiencing an Acts 8 Moment.)

I couldn’t go to the first Acts 8 meeting, because I wasn’t in Indianapolis yet. But as I followed the legislative conversation online, I had no doubt that Susan, Tom, and Scott were accurate in their description of the current state of the church. Approving a task force to review and recommend restructure of the church, approving a move of the Church Center, and approving same-sex blessings… all were signs that the Episcopal Church is in a new moment.

I did attend the second Acts 8 meeting, which was held last night. As before, the agenda began with the study of Scripture (Acts 8:26-40). It continued with people finishing the sentence “I hope the church will…”  And finally, there was open conversation on where to go from here. A suggestion for a corporate Bible study on Acts was greeted with enthusiasm, and a commitment from Scott Gunn that Forward Movement could provide one. A summation of the conversation by Susan Snook produced the tweet: “What we want: spiritual renewal, prayer-led and Bible based. #Acts8 #gc77

As in every gathering, there was the meeting and the after-meeting. As people dispersed, there became two unconnected groups of people talking in two different corners of the room. As we overheard one another, we realized that with no (human) coordination, we were both talking about the same thing: developing a common Rule of Life.

At the same time we realized that Acts 8 met for the second time on the Feast of St. Benedict. (This wasn’t intentional, but it was certainly a happy accident.) St. Benedict was the person who developed a lasting rule of life for monastics, beginning with the words “Listen with the ear of the heart…” and continuing to prescribe prayer, stability in community, and conversion of life.

Continue reading An Acts 8 Mo(ve)ment