Sunday, June 29, 2008

What would a Postmodern Anglicanism look like?

In the wake of the recent statement from GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference), Canon Neal Mitchell writes that the statement reflects that many at GAFCON
..are responding in non-Modern ways, embracing certain aspects of Christendom in the Anglican Communion while dismissing other Christendom aspects of the Communion—which is a very Postmodern thing to do.
Canon Mitchell seems to rejoice in the Anglican Communion being set free from the hierarchical ecclesiology of a dead Christendom paradigm and seems also to advocate strongly that the prospect of overlapping jurisdictions formed by relationship rather than geography is not only inevitable, but a good thing.

At the same time, Bishop Pierre Whalon (Bishop of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe) attempts in a recent essay to define exactly what Anglican ecclesiology is. After describing the difficulties of such a definition, Bishop Whalon proceeds to identify some features of Anglicanism that relate specifically to how we structure ourselves and what that has to say about how we view God and the Church. He also looks beyond Lambeth 2008 to see what will continue to be issues facing the Anglican Communion.

Where these two essays meet for me is the question: What should the Anglican Communion look like in a post-Christian age such that it is both faithful to our own traditions and yet responsive to the contemporary world? In other words, what does a Postmodern Anglican Communion look like?

I don't know, and I suspect few others do either. However, it will be quite interesting to find out. I'm wondering if there is any structure, agreement, or statement that can take us beyond the present conflict and help us to get on with mission and ministry while addressing some of the underlying tensions. We'll see...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Winding Down and Wondering

As I wind down my time here in Seattle and my time at the Church Development Institute (CDI), I find myself with thoughts that are turning to the Episcopal Church and my own diocese and congregation. At the same time, I find myself with an inordinate amount of time and a high-speed Internet connection with which to surf the web for various and sundry tidbits about what is going on these days. While doing so, I came across a great blog entry from Fr. Tony Clavier which, among other things, includes this wonderment:
But have the losses [in membership in the Episcopal Church] we have sustained been largely the fault of "The 1960s Religious Establishment" or of our own lack of enthusiasm?
As someone who was born in 1968 I was largely a child of "The 1960s Religious Establishment." The only real memory I have of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is that of removing it from the pews so that the "new" prayer book could take its place. Perhaps the fact that this is the world I have lived in my entire life predisposes me to a more liberal-leaning worldview. On the other hand, I find myself theologically conservative on many issues. As both a centrist and a self-styled Evangelical, I wonder if Fr. Clavier has a point there: What if the numerical decline of the Episcopal Church is not due to theology but to our lack of enthusiasm for our faith?

I submit that if we as the members of the church cannot articulate why their faith makes a difference in their lives, why we come to church, and what is worth sharing about the Episcopal version of being Christian we should not be surprised when people don't beat down the red church doors clamoring to join us. Perhaps what Episcopalians need much more than a cohesive theological statement is both a competence and a comfort in articulating our own individual faith stories and an enthusiasm for what Jesus Christ means to us and what is means to be a Christian of the Episcopal flavor. If such an identity means nothing to us, we should not be surprised that it means nothing to anyone else, either. Perhaps the question might be asked of each of us: "What's your story?"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wine, Wi-Fi, and Seattle

Having no other journal with me but this blog, I just wanted to say that I'm sitting in front of the window of the hostel where I'm staying this week just a block from Pike Place Market, the sun is streaming in, it is about 68 degrees outside, I have a glass of good red wine in my hand to go with my dinner (OK, Budget Gourmet, but...), am catching up on my email and surfing the 'net on the hostel's wireless network, and am contemplating wandering down to the Market and grabbing a cup of coffee from the first (original) Starbucks. Life doesn't get much better than that... Reality will hit when I return to Albany on Friday, but for now, life is good!

P.S. I did in fact grab a cup of coffee at Starbucks later and sat out overlooking the harbor reading and drinking my cup of "Pike Place Roast." Not bad at all!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Semi-Sleepless in Seattle

I've spent the last week in Seattle, Washington completing the course of study at the Church Development Institute (CDI) that I started last summer at the beginning of my Sabbatical. It has been great being back here, seeing both new faces and those who, like me, started this journey last year. I'm also moving from the thought of "wow, I could use bits and pieces of this to tweak things we already do" to "wow, I could use a ton of this to radically reshape the parish I serve. Given that the Bishop's Advisory Committee (Vestry/church board) and I will be having a Program Planning Retreat on August 16, I'm in the process of thinking about how I might use the knowledge and expertise I've gained here at that particularly critical time in our congregation's life. We'll see what God has in mind, and if I'm listening clearly enough to understand God's will.

One unexpected blessing of being here is that there is little to no excuse to tune in on the news from around the Anglican Communion, which is generally depressingly more of the same anyway. I'm staying in the Greet Tortoise Hostel here and being with twenty-somethings from around the world who have no connection whatsoever with the church, much less the Episcopal Church, makes me realize just how insulated I can easily become as I serve God in both St. Alban's and the Diocese of Oregon. How much less earth-shattering the regular stream of local, national, and international news of the Anglican and Episcopal world means in this setting!

Anyway, I'm headed back to Albany on Friday and will be catching up on things and preaching and celebrating on Sunday, when we celebrate St. Alban's Day, our patronal feast. I will hopefully return with both new skills and a new perspective!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Evangelism, Conversion, and Mission

I just ran across the Episcopal News Service (ENS) story on the "Everyone, Everywhere" missions conference currently happening in Maryland. While I'm pleased that the Episcopal Church is talking about mission, I don't notice much about evangelism. Even when conversion is discussed in the article, it is done so only in the context of the "perils of conversion" mentioned by The Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler, Episcopal missionary and author and the conference's June 6 plenary speaker.

It seems to me that the Episcopal Church in the 21st century appears to think of mission exclusively in terms of social service, relief of suffering, and development. Episcopal Relief and Development, a wonderful agency, thus seems to be our primary "evangelism" tool. In a church that is losing members daily, I find it somewhat disquieting that evangelism is number three on the list of the Episcopal Church's five budget priorities.

As much as I applaud an emphasis on the Millennium Development Goals, I'm wondering if we're simply substituting something that the Episcopal Church has generally been unable to do well--evanglism--with something with which we have had more success--social service. While I don't think this is an either/or proposition, I do think that we have perhaps had the pendulum swing too far over from the evangelism side to the social service side. A balanced approach would seem to be needed. Perhaps we need to be less linear and more circular in our thinking. Rather than simply implicitly saying "My faith compels me to be of direct physical service to Christ in all people" and letting it stop there, might we also then say "My service to Christ in all people is part of the story of my faith that is worth sharing"?

If a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ is the goal, and the mission of the church is to "restore all people to unity with God an each other in Christ" (BCP, p. 855) then how will that be accomplished without at least a mention of that transforming relationship and the unique role of Jesus Christ in our unity with God? Inquiring minds want to know...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Relationaships and Resources

I just returned from a meeting of our Convocation (Deanery) at which we spent more than an hour going through and discussing the diocesan budget draft. About as enjoyable as root canal surgery but without the numbing drugs. I have had similarly long and less-than-pleasant discussions at our Bishop's Advisory Committee (Vestry) meetings. There always seems to be a sense in which we are running around plugging leaks in a boat and there are more leaks than we have hands or other means of plugging them. That culture of scarcity, that sense that there is never enough, it pervasive throughout the modern church, at least in my experience.

As I thought about those conversations, I reflected that really what these conversations are about is not our resources (time, money, energy, etc...) but our relationships. Budget problems are a symptom, not the disease. The disease is a breakdown of relationship. In the case of a diocesan budget, it is the relationship between the diocese as a whole and its individual missions and parishes. In the case of a congregation, it is a breadown in relationship between the members of the congregation and their church, pastor, or even God.

The solution to this breach in relationship is the Christian solution: reconciliation. It is a combination of a responsiveness of the wider organization as well as transparency and clear communication on the one hand and a recognition that the church does not operate on a fee-for-service basis but on the basis of free gifts with no strings attached. We ar not a retail establishment, providing sacred products for a specified fee. However, there is no biblical mandate for most of the programs and business practices of a congregation or a diocese. For that reason, as well as the biblical mandate for transparency, there must be responsiveness to the mission of the church as discerned through the members of that church or diocese.

I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, but it just seems to me that as an anxious church in a very anxious and transitional time, finances dominate our attention and I'm not at all sure how to go about getting out of that cycle without a wholesale rethinking of who we are and how we function as a church surrounded by a consumer culture.