Reforming the structures–what about Diocesan conventions?

So I was sitting in the room today, paying attention to the day’s business and I started reflecting on what we were doing in the context of the larger issues facing the church both nationally and locally. Such issues and the need for change were acknowledged–in Bishop Miller’s sermon last night and address to the convention today, and in Assistant for Congregational Development Peggy Bean’s report as well. Still, that need for change and for thinking about change was not reflected in the business of the day. We elected people to Executive Committee and Standing Committee (as well as other offices), debated resolutions, and passed the budget. It was very much like conventions I had attended in the previous two years in the Diocese of Milwaukee, and before that, in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina.

Two things struck me more than anything else. First of all, the age of those in attendance at the Eucharist yesterday evening. We were old, probably 90% of us over 50. Second, our Eucharist was celebrated in a church that was perhaps a symbol of the church that existed in the 19th and 20th century–a huge edifice, the nave constructed in 1866, capable of seating 400 or 500 people, in a downtown filled with boarded up buildings or, surprisingly, a lively nightlife, if the streets I drove through late in the evening were any indication. In other words, it was a building constructed in a different era, culture, and for a different church. They’re doing something remarkable and new, however, having begun a hospitality center for the homeless this past spring that has seen remarkable growth in the numbers of those involved both in volunteering and those seeking help.

Our conventions–the very notion of them–are a product of a different era, different culture, and different church. They are constructed on a legislative model, necessary of course, but are they capable of being the places in which creative thinking about ministry and mission might occur? We elect officers, debate resolutions and budgets, all the while the hard questions of what it might mean to be the Episcopal Church in the twenty-first century are not being discussed.

What would it look like if instead of debating minimum compensation packages, health insurance, and concealed carry, we had discussions about the future ministry and mission of the Episcopal Church in Madison, Racine, Richland Center, and the Diocese of Milwaukee?

For info on what we did today, here’s the website for Diocesan Convention.

Previous posts on the need for structural change in the Episcopal Church here, here, and here.

2 thoughts on “Reforming the structures–what about Diocesan conventions?

  1. I think the trick is going to be “not throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” That is, some of the things about the Episcopal Church that might seem old or outdated to some people are also some of the same things that draw others of us into the Episcopal Church.

    For example, you say that “our Eucharist was celebrated in a church that was perhaps a symbol of the church that existed in the 19th and 20th century–a huge edifice, the nave constructed in 1866.” I’m not exactly sure whether you think that is a good thing or a bad thing from the context. But I certainly think it is a good thing. So many church buildings that were constructed after my parents were born (1955) are so mundane and lifeless in their architecture. I find that it’s typically the old church buildings–like Grace, Luther Memorial, Holy Redeemer, St. James (just to use a few Madison examples) that really inspire and lift my spirits.

    Same with the worship style. There is a certain timelessness to the Episcopal Eucharist that is really neat. One of the troubles with “contemporary” worship services is–contemporary to whose generation? I have been to some “contemporary” services that really seem more like “aging hippie” services to me. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, for those who like it. But, I have a pretty strong appreciation for traditional worship and music and, as a 25 year old guy, I’d rather have either a traditional service or at least something that is contemporary to my generation. Walking into a “contemporary” service that is contemporary to my parents’ generation can be somewhat off-putting.

    The governance of many mainline churches may be a bit bureaucracy-heavy, but at the same time, having a national network of churches with many similarities in style, mindset, and mission is a very good thing. Perhaps the national administration of the Episcopal Church (and ELCA, UMC, UCC, etc.,) needs to reimagine itself less as an administrator or governor and more as a facilitator. This is one of the weaknesses of “the emerging church movement–” a top down hierarchy is maybe not the way to go, but a more visible “network” of churches would be helpful.

    Anyway, I decided to withdraw from the Catholic Church over the summer and have been visiting different churches in the downtown area over the past few weeks as I decide where to make my new spiritual home. I am planning on coming to Grace next Sunday and am looking forward to it. See you then.

    • Alex: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree wholeheartedly that we should not throw everything out that’s “traditional.” I am Episcopalian, after all. Still the question is what do we retain, what assists us in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, and what gets in the way. I happen to think the beauty of our worship and our worship spaces are among our chief assets; governance can also be. Democracy is messy and inefficient, but it sure beats the alternatives.

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