Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Beyond Modernity: Episcopal Evangelism

There is an excellent presentation by Brian McLaren: the keynote address for the Diocese of Washington (DC). It is well worth watching, but I include his talking points below to wet your appetite.

In his presentation he mentions four advantages that Episcopalians have in the twenty-first century. They are:

1) A "Via Media" Mindset: Many Anglicans never surrendered to the modern mindset.
2) A Celtic Mindset: We have vestiges of non-Roman Christianity in our makeup.
3) A Diverse Mindset: We give people space to differ in their opinions.
4) A Liturgical Mindset: Space to experience God, bonding to meaning, beauty of worship, participatory.

He also notes some disadvantages:

1) An Upper Class Mindset: Elitist, "civilized", older, one-size fits all.
2) An Institutional Mindset: Centralized, controlled, change-resistant, risk averse, bureaucratic -- averse to charismatic leaders.
3) A Christendom Mindset: Parish/geography, people ought to come to us.
4) A Bi-polar Mindset: Cold war liberal-conservative.

He goes on to suggest some things that are needed:

1) A "bring them in" spirit (not merely welcoming within a caste): Diversity, innovation, welcoming all seekers (especially the young!), inviting friends, relatives, associates, neighbors. Question: What would it take for you to be excited about inviting your friends to church? What embarrasses or concerns you?

2) A "let's experiment" spirit (not institutional): Entrepreneurial, self-organizing, evolutionary, experimental--adding experiments (for 4 to 8 weeks), adding new services, planting new congregations (inside existing?), adding new models or examples (Fresh Expressions, Anglimergent?).
Question: Who says "no" to new ideas? Who can say "yes"? Who can bring new ideas?

3) A "we're beginning again" spirit (renewing, not conserving, a history): Demography, adaptive, agile--a huge rummage sale "What needs to be put on the curb?", getting rid of the junk in "cleaning house", changes in physical, social, and/or spiritual architecture.
Question: Would you rather be motivated by desperate necessity or surging creativity? What would your church look like if it could seize the possibility of a total makeover?

4) A "transcend and include" spirit (above liberal and conservative): Where is the via media? Which future do you prefer (conservative, liberal, centrist, or transcendent inclusive)?


5) The Holy Spirit! People aren't seeking religion, they are seeking spirituality. You can't give what you don't have (you have to smoke what you're selling). People need to experience God, worship, transformation, belonging, participation in God's creative and healing mission in our world...
Question: Are you eager to become a "sample" of what God wants to do in the lives of others?

McLaren goes on to cast a vision for the church as a collection of individuals in partnership with God for the transformation of the world. I'll let you listen to the talk for specifics, but this sounds like a mission that the Episcopal Church, as a incarnation-centered, socially active, and spiritually rich church could really get behind!


Fred Preuss said...

"Celtic" Spirituality? This from the people who were such good friends to the Irish, the English?
Are you serious, shameless or just clueless?

Fred Preuss said...

Or do you mean the Welsh, with three chapels for every two churchgoers? Or the Wee Frees in Scotland?

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

Fred: I am well aware of the history of the English and the Irish, though perhaps not so well aware as you are, considering the vehemence of your comments. Let me make two points.

First, these are Brian McLaren's words, not mine, as much as I might agree with their spirit. Second, the point is not Celtic ecclesiology or culture, but Celtic theology--the idea that God does not need intermediaries to communicate God's will. The idea that there are "thin places" in which God's Spirit can be discerned directly. Very anti-institutional and thus very postmodern.

If the Synod of Whitby had gone the other way, in favor of Celtic rather than Roman religious practices, the Church of England and thus the Episcopal Church would likely look very different than it does today. Perhaps McLaren is suggesting we travel back and take a different fork.

In any case, if you have a better set of ideas, I'm certainly eager to hear them!

Fred Preuss said...

And end up where?
You're already been separate from the 'Romans' for over 400 years; you've probably worked out any 'roman' poisons by now. Though by the huge numbers of people from protestant places visiting/living in Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and Latin America, there may be things you left behind that you'd like to reclaim.
You're right about no intermediaries being a great idea, but based on how priest-ridden Ireland was until only a generation ago, I don't know if that was something 'celtic' or something 'roman'. After all, even Italy and Spain have managed to separate church and state; we're still waiting for the English and Scots to do this. And you didn't need a doctor's prescription to get a condom in Italy until 1996.
And if you'd become Russian Orthodox, think of all the lovely painted boards you'd have! Face it, it's not one system over another-it's the entire idea of someone invisible living in the sky who wants you to work for him and talk to him in a dress.
My guess is that you think that if you'd been 'Celtic', gay sex would have been a sacrament by now. Guessing from Anglicanism's main preoccupation, I'd have to come up with that as a central motivation. Whether or not anybody at Whitby (or Henry VIII)would have agreed with your views is another thing, but hey, I'm only a humble atheist. I look at evidence first, then try to draw a picture.

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

You may well have a point. The challenge for the institutional church is, I think, less about where to sit on the liberal-conservative line with regard to sexuality and more to venture out, even to you 'humble atheists' and draw you to the love and care God has for you, preferably without any institutional stumbling blocks along the way.