The time has come! The Resolutions Review Committee of Diocesan Council is charged with bringing the many resolutions from General Convention, Diocesan Convention, Diocesan Council, and Executive Council to our Household that we may be informed and act in response. At General Convention last summer, the deputies and bishops addressed over 300 resolutions during our two weeks in Salt Lake City. After the dust of Convention settles, the Secretary and staff are left with the work of transcribing the approved wording of everything we did and disseminating the final documents to each diocese for action, information and consideration. And, now, the document has arrived! This means that over the course of the next 18 months, we will be bringing you some of this work to share with your congregation and deanery. It’s our hope that some of these topics will inspire you to create new endeavors in your community or to get involved with existing work being done. I decided to begin this process with a resolution which, to me, seems appropriate as we prepare to observe a Holy Lent. This resolution speaks to recommitting ourselves to the spiritual practices that draw use closer to our God and enable us to live out God’s mission for the world. So here we go…
There were so many interesting discussion at General Convention, for sure, but one that particularly spoke to me was the work done by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church. I will admit up front that I did not agree with all of their ideas and I addressed these in the hearings for the resolutions at General Convention but I was intrigued by the possibility of new ways to engage our communities while recognizing the changes we experience in the dominant culture. Back in 2012, a group of deputies, clergy and bishops were also inspired to explore how renewal might begin in the Episcopal Church and came together to form the “Acts 8 Movement.” Their vision statement reads: “Proclaiming resurrection in the Episcopal Church” and they write that they are guided by the following principles:
- We follow Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, grounded in prayer, scripture, and worship.
- We challenge The Episcopal Church to proclaim the good news of Jesus in effective ways.
- We encourage and equip local missionary communities.
- We carry out our work with hope, optimism, and good humor.
- We consistently and transparently communicate to achieve dialogue across the church.
Prior to the 2015 General Convention, Acts 8 Movement created a “memorial” – a cross between a petition and a manifesto – that the Church might “recommit itself to the spiritual disciplines at the core of our common life, to go into our neighborhoods boldly with church planters and church revitalizers, and to restructure our church for the mission God is laying before us today.” They brought this Memorial to Convention with a resolution that was approved:
A179: Commending Memorial V to The Episcopal Church: A Call to Action
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention commend Memorial V, presented to this Convention, especially its call to “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”; and be it further
Resolved, That this General Convention encourage Deputies and Bishops to circulate Memorial V in their communities, congregations and dioceses for study and reflection.
A Memorial to the Church
To the Deputies and Bishops of The Episcopal Church assembled at the 78th General Convention:
Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did. So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:4-6,8
In the eighth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, the newly formed church of disciples of the risen Savior found itself in a new situation. No longer could Christians depend on traditional ways of following Jesus and traditional places in which to do it. Driven out of their comfortable existence praying in the Temple in Jerusalem and waiting for the kingdom to come, they found themselves in new and unexpected neighborhoods, developing new ways of proclaiming the Word. Yet they found that the crowds were eager to hear the Good News of Christ and welcomed it with joy. The very loss of the old ways of being the church gave them opportunities to expand and multiply the reach of Christ’s loving embrace.
Our beloved Episcopal Church is in a similar situation. We must find new ways of proclaiming the gospel in varied and ever changing neighborhoods. Old ways of being the church no longer apply. We can no longer settle for complacency and comfort. We can no longer claim to dominate the political and social landscape. We can no longer wait inside our sanctuaries to welcome those who want to become Episcopalian.
We have a choice before us. We can continue, valiantly and tragically, to try to save all the rights and privileges we have previously enjoyed. We can continue to watch our church dwindle until it someday becomes an endowed museum to the faith of our forebears. We can continue business as usual until we lose our common life entirely.
Or we can lose our life for Jesus’ sake so that we might save it.
We, the undersigned, hold dear the Episcopal Church and believe passionately in the gift this church offers. Washed in the waters of Baptism and nourished from the deep springs of word and sacrament, we experience the power of God’s presence as we open the Scriptures and celebrate the Eucharist. We stand in awe of the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the power of the triune God to love, to forgive, to make whole. We know the joy of serving God through serving others. We long for a world with every unjust structure toppled. We love this church enough to yearn for it to be transformed.
We recognize the importance of this present moment. We join the Task Force for Reimagining the Church in calling for the church to follow Jesus into the neighborhood, traveling lightly. Our deepest hopes and aspirations are not dependent upon any particular act of this Convention. Many essential steps are found in the daily walk of discipleship undertaken by congregations and individuals throughout the church, and we commend the work of many who are helping the church adopt these discipleship practices. This Convention, however, has the opportunity to act on a number of matters that can support God’s faithful people, our parishes and missions, and our dioceses in living out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
Specifically, we call upon the people of the Episcopal Church 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.
And we call upon those bishops and deputies gathered for Convention to the following actions as specific ways we may enter this time of transition in a spirit of exploration, discovering the gifts that the Holy Spirit has for us in this moment:
- Engage creatively, openly, and prayerfully in reading the signs of the times and discerning the particular ways God is speaking to the Episcopal Church now;
- Pray, read the scriptures, and listen deeply for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in electing a new Presiding Bishop and other leaders, in entering into creative initiatives for the spread of the kingdom, and in restructuring the church for mission;
- Fund evangelism initiatives extravagantly: training laborers to go into the harvest to revitalize existing congregations and plant new ones; forming networks and educational offerings to train and deploy church planters and revitalizers who will follow Jesus into all kinds of neighborhoods; and creating training opportunities for bilingual and bi-cultural ministry;
- Release our hold on buildings, structures, comfortable habits, egos, and conflicts that do not serve the church well;
- Remove obstacles embedded in current structures, however formerly useful or well-meaning, that hinder new and creative mission and evangelism initiatives;
- Refocus our energies from building up a large, centralized, expensive, hierarchical church-wide structure, to networking and supporting mission at the local level, where we all may learn how to follow Jesus into all of our neighborhoods.
Like those early followers of Christ, we find ourselves being scattered out of familiar and comfortable places and ways of being the church. Rather than be ruled by memory and consumed by fear, we can embrace this crisis, trusting that the Lord of Life will give us everything we need to spread the Gospel, proclaim the kingdom, and share the love of God. May God grant great joy in every city and neighborhood into which we go.
There’s a lot for us in these words and I like to imagine what the world would look like if we all took these seriously because they are rooted in our Baptismal Covenant and our desire to live into the 5 Marks of Mission. What a difference this might make!
Now that I shared this with all of you, my responsibility as committee chair is complete on this one. But…my responsibility – and yours, too – to act on these words has only begun. I know some of you have asked for actions that you can take in response to the resolutions and, while none are specifically suggested here, I’ve carried around an idea for a few years.
Back in 2008, the Very Rev. Tracey Lind, Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, spoke at our Becoming the Household of God Conference. I don’t recall the exact title of her message but I do remember her words. She challenged us to see our churches as a “piazza,” a gathering place where everyone feels welcome to come and sit a spell, meet their friends and neighbors, share a cup of coffee and truly get to know one another. She shared stories of sitting at a coffee shop with a small sign on her table that read: “Share your God story” and how people responded to that invitation. Because we all have “God stories.” We just need listening ears. I’ve wanted to experience this ever since then but somehow haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe it’s time now.
How about you? Have you been waiting to reach out to others in new ways? Share your ideas and stories with us, please. Will you help to make this “Memorial to the Church” a living document?
Let us pray –
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
~ The Rev. Deacon Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee