Susan Snook’s Post
Friday, June 29, 2012
The Acts 8 Moment: A Call to Prayer and Action
What time is it? It’s 2012, but it’s not the end of the world! Instead, it is a time of transition in the church, a time to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, a time to go where God says to go. It’s a time for action, but first and primarily, it’s a time for prayer, conversation and discernment. Together with Scott Gunn and Tom Ferguson, I am hoping to start a new conversation at General Convention. Come and join us to think, pray and dream! Read more at the bottom of this post. We would like to open up a space for the Holy Spirit, because …
This is an Acts 8 Moment.
It’s a dark time for the church. Social forces have impacted believers so that it’s not clear how the community of faith can continue. The institutions that have held the church together are breaking apart, and people are scattered, unsure of their next step, uncertain that the gospel will survive into the next generation.
The Episcopal Church in 2012? No – the Followers of The Way in Jerusalem, 40 A.D. Acts Chapter 8 has the story. A persecution has broken out against the followers of Jesus. In Jerusalem, the apostles have created an organization, with assigned roles and delegation of responsibilities to deacons and others. It seems to work, until Stephen speaks out of turn, insisting that the older Temple organization is not necessary. Stephen gets killed as a result, and a persecution begins. The fledgling institution is destroyed and scattered, and no one knows what to do.
No one, that is, except the Holy Spirit. Where human plans have failed, God is doing something new. It turns out that the very persecution that scatters the believers and destroys their institutions now becomes the seed of new life in unexpected places. The Twelve had assumed that the main life of the church would always continue in Jerusalem, headquartered in the Temple. But the Spirit flung the church out into new and frightening places: Samaria and the road to Gaza and a place called Azotus. Simon the Magi and an Ethiopian eunuch become Christians. Baptism happens in a puddle of water alongside a road, instead of in a carefully planned liturgical ceremony. What will God think of next?
Here in The Episcopal Church, we are not in any danger of being martyred as Stephen was. But our anxiety over a changing world and a changing role for the church has created a transition point for us, as it did for the church in Jerusalem so long ago. Our institutions are no longer useful in the same way they once were, society around us often seems hostile to our mission, and we’re not sure what’s coming or how the church can survive into the next generation. We are being scattered, flung headlong into a new world.
This sounds like a job for the Holy Spirit. Where human plans fail, God may truly be planning a new thing, something that none of us anticipated. And the new thing that is coming may well be the very thing that brings life where we least expect to find it. We may find ourselves in our own symbolic Samaria, on the road to Gaza, or in Azotus, reaching new people in new ways with the good news of God’s grace to us in Jesus.
The Episcopal Church in 2012 is in an Acts 8 Moment.
Where Should We Go From Here?As we approach General Convention, we seem to be consumed with questions of “restructuring” and the budget and how we will organize our institutions in the years to come. I’ve been paying a lot of attention to some of these questions myself.
But I don’t think our structure or our finances or even our decline in membership is what we should be focused on.
I think we need to focus on what the Holy Spirit is doing.
How do we do that?
First, don’t make any hasty decisions. In 2009, we restructured by slashing the budget. No long-term strategic thinking went into what line items were slashed, even though those cuts resulted in long-term changes in how we did our mission. PB&F was faced with an impossible task, and they did what they could.
But restructuring by budget-cutting is not a healthy way to run any organization. Let’s pass a transition budget that does some responsible and sensible cuts, but gives us the time we need to seek out the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Next, don’t deceive ourselves that changing the way General Convention operates, or the place the Church Center does its work, or way we create our budget, or any other organizational fix, is going to get us where we need to be. Those might be good things to do, but they’re not going to put us on the road to Gaza. Restructuring our organization isn’t the answer to our problems.
Then, allow some space for the Holy Spirit to do its work. Philip listened, and the angel of the Lord told him to go out to the Gaza Road. We need to listen too.
The Episcopal Church in the 21st century is not in a restructuring moment – we’re in an Acts 8 moment. Let’s open up a process of prayer and discernment that allows people across the church to pray together, to study the Bible together, to dream together about what the church could be. Let’s put everything out on the table, including our dearest structures. The disciples learned that they didn’t become Christians in Jerusalem – they had to move to Antioch. Everything has to be open to change, and we have to be ready to listen.
And let’s make sure that the group that is coordinating this churchwide discernment process IS open to change. Yes, we should listen to the voices of experienced folks who have worked on Structure and Executive Council and 815 and other positions of leadership. But if we are truly going to change, then we can’t depend on our current leadership structures to initiate that change. We need outsiders to lead us into a new era. We need Gen Xers and Millennials. We need people in minority groups. We need people who understand technology. We need evangelists and teachers. We need dreamers and thinkers and organizers. Let’s get a group together who will lead us into a new generation.
A whole bunch of folks will be together at General Convention! Let’s get the conversation started there. I am working with Scott Gunn and Tom Ferguson – go check out their blogs too. Together, the three of us would like to invite anyone who is interested to come together in Indianapolis at 9:30 p.m. on July 5 (location TBA – like us on Facebook or follow the Acts 8 Moment on Twitter for details). We want to start the process by gathering, praying, reading the Bible, and talking together about the church we dream of seeing. Let’s listen for where the Holy Spirit is calling us to go! Let’s hear each other’s prayers and dreams! Let’s enter into our own Acts 8 Moment.
“History belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being….The future belongs to whoever can envision … a new and desirable possibility, which faith then fixes upon as inevitable. This is the politics of hope. Hope envisages its future and then acts as if that future is now irresistible, thus helping to create the reality for which it longs.” Walter Wink, 1992 “Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination” Augsburg Fortress p. 299 (reprinted in Avery Brooke’s “Healing in the Landscape of Prayer”)
Tom Ferguson’s Post
June 29, 2012
Let’s Get Crusty: COD Takes GC
Bet many readers out there have rolled their eyes are various times while reading this blog, wondering when Crusty Old Dean would stop ranting and actually do something? I am Crusty, but I am merciful, and COD forgives any who may have thought that. Because Crusty Old Dean is delighted to announce he is teaming up with Susan Brown Snook and former nemesis turned un-indicted co-conspirator Scott Gunn to gather a group of like minded people at General Convention.
Join us on July 5 at 9:30 pm, exact location to be determined. This will be a time for bishops, clergy, and lay people, some deputies, some representing various networks gathered at Convention, to come together and share our visions, dreams, and hopes for the kind of church we need to co-create.
We’re calling it our Acts 8 moment: reflecting that critical turning point in the church, a time of conflict, which was the genesis of the great transformation that helped bring Jesus’ message from the Jewish community to the include the entire world. Crusty Old Dean wanted to call it the Matthew 8:22 moment but he was outvoted. We are also hoping that ChurchSnobTEC will show up in a Guy Fawkes mask.
Link up with us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Acts8Moment#. This is where we will be posting up-to-date information like where, exactly, we will be meeting.
And stayed tuned to Crusty Old Dean. I will be posting by General Convention preview in the next 24 hours or so.
Crusty Old Dean will also be firing up his twitter account for up-to-the-minute snark alerts from General Convention. Follow him on Twitter @crustyoldean.
Scott Gunn’s Post
June 30, 2012
An Acts 8 moment?
For the last couple of weeks, I have been in much conversation with Susan Snook and Tom Ferguson (known for their blogs, A Good and Joyful Thing and Crusty Old Dean). We have been talking about our church and the situation in which we find ourselves. By many accounts, prospects for the Episcopal Church are bleak.
We’ve seen public feuding among our churchwide leaders. We are in the midst of a decades-long period of decline. There is a coming demographic change as the baby boomers die, which means that we’ll lose a vast number of members in a short time. Oh, and the financial situation is pretty grim in a great manycongregations.
And yet, there is hope. Or, more to the point, there is hope if we look outside our current situation and our readily available options. With God all things are possible. The church has been in rough spots before, and it has survived warring factions. Now is a time for us to look beyond where we are, to see where we can go. We are in an Acts 8 moment. At next week’s General Convention, it’s time for us to turn the corner.
Susan Snook has written about our modern-day Acts 8 Moment. In a time of severe distress, it might have seemed that the church was doomed. The disciples had imagined a church that would thrive in Jerusalem, centered around the temple. As that reality became impossible, it might have appeared that the church had no future. But from this “impossible” situation, the church found hope.
Precisely in the need to move outside Jerusalem , the church found its opportunity to engage the world. In thinking beyond the familiar world of Judaism, the church was able to offer the Good News to Gentiles. A small vision was crushed in order to make possible a broad, world-changing vision.
Lots of people who are now in leadership positions in our church have imagined a world in which we will have a large staff at 815 Second Avenue in New York. Others find familiarity in a complex network of committees and commissions. We continue to fight the same battles because predictablity is comfortable. Too many of our congregations are engaged merely in maintenance rather than mission. Evangelism is virtually unheard of.
If we think we’ll find our way out of this mess by tweaking committees here and there or by merely relocating some staff, we are mistaken. If we think that we can avoid change at the local level, we are mistaken. If we think that we do not need to go out actively into the world and share the Good News, we are mistaken.
The simple fact is that while it is true that the church has survived all manner of misfortune in its history, it is also true that the church as we know it will not survive much longer. In Christian history, the last couple of hundred years in general, and the last few decades in particular, are anomalous. The world has become post-Christian, and we’re still carrying on as if we live in Christendom. We try to cling to vast institutions worthy of the Roman Empire.
Our church will soon begin to look much more like it did in 250 than in 1950. Before Constantine, the church traveled lightly — no vast bureaucracy, not many buildings, and a focus on life-changing encounters with the Savior who called people to costly discipleship.
So this time of ours is not to be wasted with petty squabbles over turf in institutions that won’t exist much longer. We must not convey to the world a small-minded vision of who we are and what we are called to do. Now is not a time to ask less of our members, but rather more.
What I’d like to see is this: a real conversation about our church and its future. Let’s briefly ackowledge the reality of our present situation, and then let us find hope in our future. Christ has given us a mission to make disciples of all nations. Christ has given us a mission to proclaim Good News, especially to those at the margins of society.
My hope is that, at this General Convention, we will manage to do three things:
1. Pass a transitional budget that gets us through the next triennium without making radical, ill-considered changes. Crusty Old Dean has written about this; we are in danger of creating unintended consequences. The PB’s budget is not perfect, but it is the best we have at the moment. Let’s pass something like that and not spend too much time hashing out pointless arguments over budget lines.
2. Most important: let’s make sure that we set up a fresh group of people with fresh ideas about how our church might adapt for our time. Sure, we need the experience of decades-long governance veterans. But we also need to hear from people who think General Convention is a total waste of time. (I’m not in either one of those groups, but I’d like their voices to be heard.) Let’s get people who can listen to ideas they disagree with and engage in inquisitive and open conversation. This group needs to function outside our vastly broken current system.
3. Let’s have a bit more joy and prayer. Drama is not becoming. Some more humor — and grace-filled prayer — would be a great addition to General Convention. What if we all began to pray for those with whom we disagree on this or that?
OK, now I’m getting to the punchline. Finally. On Thursday, July 5, at 9:30 p.m., join the Acts 8 Moment. (Location TBA.) Like the Acts 8 Moment on Facebook to keep up with what’s happening. Tom Ferguson, Susan Snook, and I will gather people for prayer and conversation about this moment in our church’s life. Please come if you are in Indy. We’re working on video streaming for those who aren’t going to be at General Convention.
But more important than anything else, pray for our church and our leaders. With God all things are possible, but we might need to set aside our own agendas to make room for God’s call to us.
We have a great opportunity to be transformed by our Acts 8 moment. We have an opportunity to engage God’s work in new ways for our time. Will we seize this moment to grow? Or will we cling to fear?