Sunday, May 17, 2015

Nine Resolutions That Won't Rescue the Church

The day after last week's Ascension Day release of "A Memorial to the Church" on the web site, the Rev. Jonathan Grieser wrote about why he won't be adding his name to the list of the memorial's endorsers:
I want to spend my time and energy in following where the spirit is blowing, into new ways of being church, new ways of encountering Jesus, and new ways of connecting with those who are seeking spiritual meaning. If the institutional church can be transformed to do those things, fine, but I’m not going to be fighting that battle. There’s too much else at stake.
Though I am one of the co-authors of the memorial and resolutions ("editor" or "suggester" may be more accurate terms than "co-author", in my case), I can't begrudge Grieser his position one bit. He writes about the work his church has been doing on the ground in his city, partnering with others both religious and secular to organize against yet another judicial failure in yet another police killing of an unarmed black man. In the face of matters of such import, what's the point of worrying about the institutional church?

While I don't think that means he shouldn't sign on to the memorial, I think the thrust of Grieser's argument is mostly right. In Salt Lake City in June and July, about a thousand lay and clergy Episcopalians will sit in conference rooms and exhibit halls, taking three days longer than it took God to create the world to take a good hard look at The Episcopal Church. But with the exception of the conversations we'll be having around the report from the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, little of what happens there will mean much to church congregations.

That includes these resolutions: even the one on church planting, even the one on congregational revitalization.

That doesn't mean these resolutions aren't worth passing. I wholeheartedly believe they are. Focusing resources on planting churches offers the opportunity for future graduating classes at some of our seminaries to relearn a skill mostly lost in our denomination. Focusing resources on congregational revitalization can expand the exciting work started by the Mission Enterprise Zone grants over the last triennium. But even with the millions of dollars the resolutions suggest deploying for such efforts, they will take many years to bear fruit.

The other resolutions are a lot more technical in nature but in brief they clarify a variety of church governance issues in a way that increases transparency and accountability in our governance, and eliminate one of our church's most opaque governance structures, the provinces. These too are worth passing because they impact the way we as a denomination act collectively. Good governance is part of good stewardship, and it's worth phasing out or reforming practices and structures that no longer serve the church or that engender confusion and distrust.

But the fact is that no piece of legislation, no matter how finely crafted, will save the church. Nor will any memorial or open letter save it, no matter how persuasively its authors make their points. Fortunately we Christians believe that the work of salvation has already been taken care of. Instead our task is to respond as a redeemed people, that is, in the words of the memorial, to:
  • Recommit to reading scripture, praying daily, gathering weekly for corporate worship, and giving for the spread of the Kingdom, knowing that engaging in these practices brings personal and corporate transformation;
  • Share the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and deed, including learning how to tell the story of how Jesus makes a difference in our lives, even and especially to those who have not experienced true transformation;
  • Pray and fast for the Holy Spirit to add day by day to those who come within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace;
  • Encounter Jesus Christ through loving service to those in need and through seeking justice and peace among all people.
This is the hard work of discipleship. At the very best the work of General Convention will clear a few obstacles, maybe offer a few new tools - and it should do those things! But the practices the memorial enumerates...General Convention can't make any of those things happen. These are the works of a people with hearts aflame, continuing in the apostles' teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and the prayers, with God's help.

Oh, by the way! It's not too late to sign your name to the memorial. Just send your name to Please indicate whether you are a bishop, deputy, alternate, member of the official youth presence, or, best of all, an interested Episcopalian.

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