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New Structure, New Church, Same Jesus

Last week, before I left on retreat (Beautiful Authority Conference, which was amazing) I received in the mail a book from the President of the House of Deputies.

Now, I love to read, and I love books, and so I am disinclined to question when free books start appearing in my mailbox.  But this book was an actual, physical BOOK #1, and #2, it was explaining to me the glorious history of the governance structures of The Episcopal Church, and how it makes us who we are.
And, it does.  But the problem is, who we currently are, in all its vast complexity, is not all we ought to be.
Like I said last time (or the time before the Trinity Break), currently, we’re doing an excellent job pretending to be some odd corporation.  Occasionally, on smaller scales, we like also to be a country club.  And, at points in our history, we have also tried to be a full-on kingdom.
We aren’t good at any of those things, nor are we called to be any of those things.
We’re called to be a church. The embodiment of Christ at this time and place on the earth.  We are called to be turned outward, and serving the world in Christ’s name, like chaplains to the world.
In almost no way are we currently set up to do that.  We’re set up to form committees, and to issue recommendations, or build stuff, or argue.  (We are fantastically good at arguing.)
But as far as dealing with a world that is not predominantly Christian, and not so inclined to listen to our recommendations, learn our language, or venture into our amazing buildings, we are not set up for that.
We need to build a servant structure: and not just servant in terms of “serving the mission of the church”, but servant in terms of serving the world.
And (brace yourselves) but the first thing we need to do is combine the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.
Each diocese gets their active bishops, two clergy, and two lay votes.  I didn’t come up with this brilliant plan; Tom Ferguson+ and others explain it quite well. (We can keep the Presiding Bishop to play with the other primates, for however long we get to stay in the Anglican Communion, and to organize annual Bishops’ Gatherings.  Otherwise, the presiding officer of the new Joint House should be elected from any order of ministry, for the term of the General Convention, banging the gavel and whatnot.)
There are several practical advantages to this plan: it decreases the cost of General Convention dramatically, it lessens the financial pressure on individual dioceses, it decreases the silo effect between House of Bishops and House of Deputies.
Also, it forces us to put our money where our mouth is with regards to ministry of all the baptized.  Since the 1979 BCP came out, we’ve worked hard to establish that you do not receive special powers when you are ordained.  However, neither do you lose your baptismal powers and obligations when you are ordained.  I am bound to respect the dignity of my fellow human beings just as much now as I was prior to donning the plastic collar, if not more so.  When we say everyone is equal before God, then everyone really does need to be equal in the eyes of the church’s structure, and that should include being in the same room to hash out how we’re going to be church together.  And if you’re too intimidated by your bishop to vote a different way, then may haps you, and your bishop, need another lesson in baptismal theology.
So now that everyone’s in one room together, we really no longer need doubles of the committees.  Hooray!
And, we’re going to impose two new rules to guide the work of said committees:
1. Don’t Say it, Do it.
2. Everyone is 3 years old.
Rule #1: Don’t Say it, Do it. 
The first rule is stolen gleefully from Scott Gunn+.  In essence, we need to get out of the mindset that we still run the world, in the manner of Coca-Cola, or Constantine, and that, via efficacious speech, the world will bend to our righteous will.
The Korean Peninsula will not reunify just because we pass a resolution saying we are in favor of that.  The Cuba embargo will not be lifted either.  Nor will a two state solution be reached in Israel/Palestine through the power of our paperwork, EVEN IF we send a copy to the president.
What we should do instead is ACTUALLY DO THINGS.  Want a two-state solution?  Disinvest in Caterpillar, Motorola, and companies that do business in the Occupied Territories.  (This worked to end South African apartheid.)  Want to help heal the planet?  Ask churches to convert to those swirly lightbulbs, and give them incentives to do so.  Ask them to investigate solar panels, and give them incentives.
We can’t just state what we think about things any more and assume people care.  We need to do things, and then explain why we are doing them.  Any committee that can’t fulfill its mandate in actionable steps needs to reconsider its mission.
Speaking of that:  Rule #2!  Everyone is 3 years old.
 We need to explain why.  All the time. Why do we care about global poverty, and universal healthcare?  Why do we care if everyone is included in the church?  Why do we care about transparency in the budget?  Why?  Why? Why?
We need to pretend that the entire world is populated by extremely cute and lovable toddlers who keep asking us, “Why?”
We cannot assume that people understand the connection between Jesus and taking care of the poor.  We cannot assume that people understand the connection between Jesus and loving your neighbor.  We cannot assume that people understand who in the world Jesus Christ, as portrayed in the gospels and as we know him, actually is.  We need to remember that for many, many years now, there has been a concerted effort to use the name of Jesus to bash people who are different, and to justify all manner of hateful actions.  To begin to undo that is perhaps one of the most powerful acts of mission we can engage in.
Last night on the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert had on his show both Sr. Simone Campbell, who heads NETWORK*, and Martin Sheen.  Both are devout Roman Catholics, and both have been noted for their activism on behalf of peace and poverty issues.  (It was an awesome Roman Catholic grand slam.)  What struck me is the audience response.  When Stephen Colbert (who teaches Sunday School at his church, mind you) asked Sr. Simone why nuns were such ‘radical feminists’, and spent so much time serving the poor and sick, she came right back at him.  “That’s the gospel. That’s what Jesus taught us to do.” The crowd burst into sustained applause.
Ditto when Martin Sheen came out.  “Why are you such a liberal commie-type?” queried Colbert, “Well, it pretty much is about that gospel that the sister was talking about.  I’m following Jesus and this is what Jesus taught me.”  Again, the crowd went nuts.
In a period of less than ten minutes, an actor and a nun evangelized a non-churchy audience much better than most Episcopal churches ever do.  Why are we doing this?
Because of Jesus.
Ultimately, the structure we need is answered in that.  Make a structure that serves the world, and invites the question, so that everything we say, do, and are is answered by, “Because of Jesus.”
*NETWORK is an progressive Catholic group which “educates, lobbies and organizes for economic and social transformation.”
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About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

4 responses »

  1. I’ll leave thoughts about the structure of GC to folks like you and the COD who have more detailed understanding of such things. But I totally agree w/ you about the second half of your piece, and most especially the “we cannot assume” paragraph and the “everyone is 3 years old” rule. In discussions w/ the staff at the parish where I’m non-stipe, to try to get them to understand this, I’m always saying, “assume NOTHING.”

    Reply
  2. While I agree with many of your thoughts and certainly agree that we need to engage in deep discernment (why? why? why?) for the future (and present), I disagree that smaller deputations will be helpful in the long run. Of course, there is much talk about shrinking, down-sizing, and money-savings in TEC – as there is elsewhere in our nation. Smaller deputations would save money; I do not disagree with that.

    I do, however, believe that there will be negative and unintended consequences to such a move. I believe smaller deputations (2 lay/2 clergy) will result in fewer young deputies and fewer first time deputies. It is likely that pretty much every diocese has a person (or four) who has been elected for the past 5 – 10 GCs. They will continue to be elected; a larger percentage of the deputation will be decided before the vote is even held. A smaller deputation will likely further reinforce a legislative class within TEC.

    I contend we lose something very important if new deputies face even longer odds of election. I think a diverse and fluid HOD is worth the extra cost.

    Reply
    • megancastellan

      The concern about losing some diversity is definitely valid, I think. However, I don’t know that keeping a larger HoD is the answer. Already, several Prov IX dioceses can’t afford to send a full complement of deputies, so we lose their voices. I think if we want a better mix of ages, genders, orientations, life experiences, etc, then the answer lies more in our local diocesan cultures, than in the church wide structure. What are we doing locally to encourage lots of young people, lots of women, lots of people of color, etc to run? How accessible is our local process to everyone? If we make more of an effort on a diocesan level, then it will lessen the impact at Convention.

      Reply
  3. Hi, Megan. Thanks for your thoughts. I wonder, though, if there’s a flaw in the logic. If we engage in “Don’t Say It, Do It,” aren’t we then precluded from explaining “Why, Why, Why?” I’m not trying to be cute, it’s just that I think all those resolutions “fixing” the Palestinian question are our attempts to say “Why, Why, Why” already.

    Now, I share in your frustration with them. In our diocesan convention, we frequently pass resolutions that basically say we have voted that people shouldn’t be mean, and I usually go out to visit with friends at that point. But the impulse is to explain what a gathering of the followers of Jesus think about how we should live in the world.

    Reply

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