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THINGS CAST DOWN ARE RAISED UP

Today a group of influential Episcopalians issued a “Memorial” to the upcoming General Convention calling for spiritual, theological and structural renewal: http://www.episcopalresurrection.org/memorial/

The memorial calls the Episcopal Church to:

Engage creatively, openly, and prayerfully in reading the signs of the times and discerning the particular ways God is speaking to the Episcopal Church now;

Pray, read the scriptures, and listen deeply for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in electing a new Presiding Bishop and other leaders, in entering into creative initiatives for the spread of the kingdom, and in restructuring the church for mission;

Fund evangelism initiatives extravagantly: training laborers to go into the harvest to revitalize existing congregations and plant new ones; forming networks and educational offerings to train and deploy church planters and revitalizers who will follow Jesus into all kinds of neighborhoods; and creating training opportunities for bilingual and bi-cultural ministry;

Release our hold on buildings, structures, comfortable habits, egos, and conflicts that do not serve the church well;

Remove obstacles embedded in current structures, however formerly useful or well-meaning, that hinder new and creative mission and evangelism initiatives;

Refocus our energies from building up a large, centralized, expensive, hierarchical church-wide structure, to networking and supporting mission at the local level, where we all may learn how to follow Jesus into all of our neighborhoods.

I think we are finally emerging from those heady days of iconoclasm – for the moment,- during which, in the name of renewal, not only our liturgical and spiritual inheritance was scorned as something irrelevant or even harmful to “man come of age”, but the heart of the Gospel and the mission of the church questioned. As I’ve written before, we had become a boutique church, designed for a politically and socially aware elite. In the process we forged a schism, equally designed for a politically and socially elite, a mirror image of a designer church for those who agree with us, or with whom we feel comfortable.

I am struck by the acuity of thoughts expressed by the present pope when he was rector of a seminary in Argentina, days when the church there was under attack by a right-wing, bloodthirsty dictatorship on the one hand, and those who had submerged the Gospel in a specific left-wing crusade.He wrote:

“The example of Our Lord saves us: He became incarnate in the people. Peoples have habits, cultural references which are not easily classified…..To adjust our ears to hear their desire for change requires humility, affection, the habit of inculturation, and above all, a rejection of the absurd pretension to become the “voice” of the people, imagining perhaps that they don’t have one…..The first question any pastor seeking to reform structures must ask is: What is my people asking of me? What is it calling me to do? And then we must dare to listen.” (Austin Overeigh, The Great Reformer, A&U Press, 2014)

What I am not advocating is a program proposed, lobbied for, won by majority vote, all in the name of those who are the church. The church will no more be renewed by a further group of empowered reformers than it was in the seventies. Of course renewal and revival begins with small groups of people inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is when such groups become divisive factions, using political power to enforce their will that the problem arises. Now is the time for genuine egalitarianism. An unrepresentative General Convention as insulated from popular opinion as Congress needs to divest itself of privilege, and claims that it speaks for the people: it needs to listen to the poor, blue collar workers, those who do not subscribe to their political and social ideals, to traditionalists and even to those who have left us for other churches or to ACNA.

Let me be clear. I am not advocating a conservative solution. I am not suggesting we abandon our mission to those who are left out of the national political process, or shunned by us. I am suggesting that unless we recover our spiritual, theological and ecclesial roots, we have nothing to offer that a political party or a social activism group can’t do better. There is only one skandalion, stumbling block, set before those whom God loves, and that is Jesus and him crucified and risen. We have alienated the many in the hope of attracting the few, and assembled enough stumbling blocks to build a multitude of mission churches among those who are battling with the complexities of modern life and see nothing we have to be relevant to their lives. If we claim to be a catholic church, for God sake let us rediscover our mission to all people.

I therefore endorse the work of Episcopal Resurrection, for what my endorsement is worth. I am merely a grey head, the vicar of two small missions, my retirement job. But I assure this group, many of whom I know, of my support and prayers.

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