Thursday, January 26, 2012

Maintenance, Mission, and Ministry

I just watched a video greeting (via Episcopal Cafe) by Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, ostensibly to the deputies to General Convention 2012, but is useful for everyone to begin to think and pray about what sorts of structures are useful in nurturing mission and ministry in our multicultural, postmodern context and which are either less useful or, worse, actually choke off the Spirit's work in and through us.

I'm glad that we're having this conversation. While I don't think maintenance and mission are mutually exclusive, a balance between the two would seem a necessary prerequisite to effective ministry in today's fluid and networked world. I am aware, however, that there is a temptation to overcompensate by simply getting rid of nearly all structures in the name of freedom of ministry. I don't really think that is a great idea, either. The Episcopal Church has a sense of order and a Benedictine value of stability within its DNA. While some of the structures might tend to be stifling, other (such as the ordination and disciplinary canons mentioned in the video) have their place if properly applied. I don't think anyone wants to go back to the days when the "ordination process" was merely a nice chat with one's bishop, with little involvement from others nor a disciplinary process that involved an uncomfortable conversation with that same bishop and then a quiet resolution to the issue. Generally transparency and communal discernment are to be commended.

That said, it makes complete sense to ask the question: "Why are we spending over half of our financial resources keeping the structures functioning?" Some of the reason is provincial--no one wants to have their department cut or committee dissolved and there is some concern that a leaner church structure is also a less democratic one. I'm not quite sure that democracy is a Gospel or biblical value, but even if it is, a denomination with less than 2 million people that has a legislature larger than the United States congress that meets every three years for a marathon legislative session seems more than a little out of balance to me.

I'm not a deputy to General Convention. I am a member of our own diocesan Standing Committee, and we also are asking questions about the structure and purpose of various ways of doing things. Like cleaning out closets, it will be an interesting process of deciding what to keep, what to throw away, and what to re-purpose.