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IN SHORT 2

A missional strategy for the local parish involves change, and perhaps nothing is more unsettling than change. For centuries we’ve been used to the idea that parishioners belong to a church in order to get their needs served. In many parishes countless hours are spent talking about who wants what in worship, who doesn’t like what in worship and who gets to do what at parish socials and projects.

 

A priest is “hired” to meet these needs and must spend his/her time largely worrying about whether performance is gladly evaluated in a positive manner, putting out fires, and making people happy.

 

Some times, often the time exceeds the performance, is spent discussing how to attract like-minded people. After all, we’ve let our children become “free-thinkers” or to marry outside the church, and those of us left are getting closer and closer to the grave. We’ve always believed that our history, liturgy and good taste are attracted enough to draw people in through the red doors.

 

But now we have a new idea. The church is to be base camp. Those who are active believers are to be shaped into eucharistic communities charged with going into the local world to tell the Good News of Jesus.

 

Now of course not everyone is either talented to be an evangelist or called to be an evangelist. Among the core group will be those who support mission with prayer and even money. There will be those whose ministry surrounds worship, not as spectators or those to be satisfied, but as active offerers of the Eucharist for the life of the community; the Eucharist is for the baptized and the baptized are the priestly company through which Christ makes himself known in the shared Breaking of Bread.

 

Some will have talents in radical hospitality, providing practical care by feeding the hungry, teaching children, helping people with finance, healing the sick and a myriad of other services outside the church building to the community. But there must be a core group of people trained and empowered to speak about Jesus in housing estates, local neighborhoods, supermarkets, work, play. Certainly such evangelism will be deeper than handing out tracts and asking people whether they are saved. However it will be much more than merely “doing good” and hoping people will take the hint that we are Christians!

 

And all present church buildings may not be suitable to be “base camp” for the church’s working out of the Great Commission in the local community. Not all clergy will be able to lead Great Commission parishes. Buildings which swallow up the resources of the eucharistic community need to be abandoned. Far better to rent a store front in a strategic area than pour money into a Victorian faux gothic pile far from where people now live and work. Clergy whose talents are liturgical and pastoral need to be gathered into team ministries led by clergy who have the gift of evangelism and have been intentionally trained to teach and lead outreach.

 

The Episcopal Church needs to develop ways to pay clergy who transform parishes into eucharistic/great commission base camps. Mutual mission patterns and yolked parish models are old-fashioned and only compound the felony of preserving old and obsolete patterns of parish life and ministry. Dioceses need to take a hard look at population concentrations and revamp the parochial system to respond to such concentrations. Population concentrations don’t have to be large, but in smaller towns it is vital to make sure that the cost of maintaining an existing building and paying a priest doesn’t cripple outreach an mission.

 

All this needs to be fleshed out. We need clergy training centers devoted to equipping entrepreneurial clergy and lay leaders. Bishops and COMS must start to risk promoting extroverted ordinands, or introverts ready to conquer their introversion. Canons which permit parishes to resist the new model must be revised. Above all our outreach must be to all who respond, whatever their social or political views. While we remain “Progressives at Prayer” or “Conservatives at Prayer”, our religious faith shaped primarily by our politics, we will remain a sectarian, dwindling, hopelessly old-fashioned church. We will not deserve to survive.

 

 

IN SHORT

For centuries the model was a parish church drawing to it the surrounding community. It was assumed that all were Christians, but not all were active. The job of the parish was to seek out the lapsed and to offer pastoral care to all.

 

 

In the US, from colonial times, this morphed into a growing number of denominations in competition for the same pool of people who were mostly identified as Christian. A market economy emerged. Churches sought to make themselves attractive not only to their lapsed but to people shopping for a church who might be converted to one’s particular brand. The model remained one of seeking to attract people who would fit in. Recently this has developed into genre brands: conservative, liberal/progressive, moderate, socially involved, evangelical etc. The question remained, how may a church make itself welcoming to searchers?
That whole pattern is becoming defunct. Those stuck in this old pattern compete for a dwindling market of seekers. But like Europe, a growing and significant number of people have no attachment, even former attachment to Christianity. They were not formed as children with basic biblical/liturgical knowledge. These people see or think they see nothing done within church walls which impacts the reality of daily life. Another complication has been a growing separation of “religion” and “spirituality”, the latter something personal and often unconnected to corporate practice.
In a sense we are returning to a pre Christian culture, or rather one complicated by a post Christian folk law about “organized religion” its failures, corruptions, and irrelevance.
None of us, clergy or laity have adjusted to this new reality, nor are we trained to go beyond our dwindling and aging communities to tell our story or witness our faith. Stuck in our buildings and structures we have not the flexibility or the courage to break out into the world. We’ve tried new liturgy, inclusiveness, evangelism, conservatism, liberalism with little impact. We “thrive” still in urban and suburban settings where there’s still a pool of people attracted to our wares.
Until and unless we find ways and means to break out of our post Constantine model, we shall continue to dwindle and marginalize.

THANKFULNESS

Yesterday afternoon my splendid oncologist, Dr. Nathan, rang me up. She was obviously excited. She began by saying she had good news. Last week I had a bone marrow biopsy and PT and CT scans. These tests were ordered because I had reached the magical one hundred days after undergoing a stem cell transplant – my own cells – in an attempt to rid my body of Waldenstrom’s disease, a form of lymphoma. I’ve been battling the disease since being diagnosed in 2006, with a brief intermission. After the transplant matters were complicated by a stomach blockage and then later, after being sent home, I was returned to hospital with a blood infection. In short, the whole procedure was less than fun.

 

But yesterday all that changed. Dr. Nathan informed me that I am now in “complete remission”. There’s no trace of cancer in my body.

 

I keep wondering whether it is all a dream. I’ve become used to being ill, tired, run down. Now, all things being equal, I can concentrate on getting my strength and immune system back and living my life without the constant realization, often more subconscious than not, that I have cancer. And I am thankful. I’m thankful for everyone who has supported me with encouragement and prayer. Many, indeed most of you I’ve never met in the flesh. Some I’ve known for years. A few are my parishioners who have fed me, prayed for me and supported me during these past months during which I’ve been off work and in quarantine.

 

Thanksgiving isn’t a festival I grew up with, and to be honest, I’ve never had much sympathy for puritans, then or now. Turkey is a poor substitute for Bread and Wine, Christ’s present of his utter givingness to and for the Church and for me. But I do give thanks today “for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life. And above all for the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace and the hope of glory….that we may show forth thy grace, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves in thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days.” Book of Common Prayer.

 

Thank you God. Thank you all of you.