Structure and Mission–Today’s ruminations

This evening, I will be making a presentation to a small group of interested Episcopalians on Mission, Structure, and Budget. We’re meeting on Tuesdays in May to talk about the key issues that will be discussed at this summer’s General Convention. This one promises to be a major focus, even though on the surface, it doesn’t seem particularly interesting.

So today, I’m preparing. I’ve got charts and graphs, lots of statistics (I won’t present very much budget detail). But I’m also reading a lot, re-reading the debate that’s been taking place at least since the fall of 2011, and reading other pieces. For example, Seaburynext offers a series of reflections on their “Great Awakening” conference that took place this past January. At it, Bishop Jeff Lee (of Chicago) invited participants to write for themselves permission slips. Bishop Lee, Diana Butler Bass, and others have been reflecting on what was written.

McLaren has this to say:

The same with structure. In the modern/colonial era, colonial structures competed for “religious market share” and each claimed greater legitimacy than the others. As we emerge from that “my structure is better than yours” mindset, we realize that any structure can become problematic … and that any structure (including episcopal ones!) can serve our essential message, meaning, and mission.

That’s why an Episcopal Church that uses organ, incense, and vestments can be more of an emerging church than one that uses a rock and roll band, blue jeans, and uber-casual style. If it’s focused on a missional understanding of the church derived from a Kingdom-of-God understanding of the gospel, it’s emerging from the old paradigms.

If we take those understandings as seriously as we should, we may see Episcopal Churches finding permission to experiment, explore, and evolve into new styles and structures. In that way, Episcopal identity may become more like the fair food or healthy eating movements (united by a common vision and values) and less like the old McDonald’s (united by the externals – the same menu, pricing, uniforms, and golden arches).

I’m struck by what Brian says, given the news we learned today that shows a lack of interest in revising The Hymnal 1982. Those under 30 were most opposed. To use his language, The Hymnal 1982 can be “missional” if it helps us proclaim the Gospel and if we are allowed to experiment and develop new styles alongside it.

Among the things for which people asked permission:

As I read what people wrote on their permission slips, I’m struck by how much we long for permission to turn loose of fear. “Permission to say where the church is failing,” one person requested. “I want permission to try radically new ways of “doing” and “being” (the) Church whether or not they succeed.  I want to be allowed the grace to fail,” wrote another. “Permission not to be afraid of failure,” another requested.

The seaburynext blog is here.

Meanwhile, Steven Ayers has some things to say about the role of the clergy in the Episcopal Church of the future.

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