Leaders of the Episcopal Church are gathering for General Convention. I am retired , but this does not mean that I am not engaged with this special time in the life of the Church. There are many important items before this gathering from TREC’s call to restructuring, the debate on changes in the Marriage Canon, to funding of the Church’s Mission for the next three years. No matter how important these matters are, I am writing from the fringe to remind us of some important ecclesiastical and theological issues before us. I write to remind us all:
1. That the Church (especially Anglicanism in North America) is broken. It is divided, fractured, and in serious decline. We are unable to fix this situation on our own power and attempts to restructure the Church and General Convention of our own efforts will fail.
To acknowledge this truth is not to say that there is nothing good in TEC or that significant ministry and mission is not happening, there are plenty of signs of health and vitality. The centers of health and vitality should be models and examples for all of us to follow.
The need some leaders to affirm TEC unabashedly or any other way to state that the present fracture and decline does not mean the Church is dying (but is in transformation) and that there is plenty that is good and godly is helpful and hopeful. Hope is after all one of the three Theological Virtues. Where such affirmations bring hope, they are good. Where such affirmations feed denial and reinforce the status quo of brokenness and out dated structures and forms, they are not helpful.
The path before us must begin by acknowledging our current situation. Blaming others for our condition and claiming a self-assured rightness, theologically called “self-righteousness” are both sides of the same coin of dysfunction. The cure for this condition is repentance and reconciliation. We should make reconciliation a priority in all that we do and in how we treat one another, even those who have left TEC.
2. That there are three important questions we must answer at this time
We must reaffirm who we are or more importantly “whose we are” or “to whom we belong.” The historical teaching and metaphors are significant. The Church is the Body of Christ, the household of God, Christ’s creation by water and the Spirit, the Community of the Resurrection, the incarnation of the reign of God, or my favorite, The Community of the King.
As this community, we acknowledge that we have both the Great Commandment to love one another and the Great Commission to make disciples as our core values. These call us to mission and the second question is simply “What is our mission at this time?”
This leads us, as TREC has so rightly pointed out, to the question of “How we are to organize and structure our present community to accomplish this mission?” Although, IMHO, TREC has too quickly assumed that the wider Church has really engaged these primary questions of identity and mission. They are right that forms must follow and flow from the first two questions; who are we, and what is our present mission?
The over-arching consensus that has emerged among those who have seriously engaged these questions is that this mission should focus on having our structures and methods serve the local congregations, ministries, organizations, institutions, and Dioceses, and that our corporate entities (such as General Convention, Executive Council, and the Office of Presiding Bishop are primarily to serve these local communities and ministries.
It does seem that many of the recommendations to restructure our corporate entities are caught up in too many details and that one General Convention cannot fix this and can easily be caught up in debate on details that are not that significant when it comes to the three main questions. For example, who can really say whether a bi-cameral or unicameral legislative body best serves our current mission? This work can only begin now with some clear guidelines to direct us, and it will take the new Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council to guide significant change and evaluate efforts at restructuring with on-going feedback from these local communities.
Historically, Anglicans and Episcopalians have believed that Scripture, Tradition, and Reason are our authorities in ordering our life as a community. We should affirm and trust that as these values have guided us in the past. They can guide us in the future. May those at General Convention remember these values as they seek God’s direction for our community at the critical moment in our life.