Thursday, May 14, 2015

Memorialize This: Calling for Resurrection

Crusty again takes a break from being on deadline for his church history book (stayed tuned for more!) to bring everyone's attention in Crustyland to a Memorial that he helped to craft.  You can find a link to it here: http://www.episcopalresurrection.org/memorial/.


This memorial was drafted several weeks ago, and we had always planned to release it on Ascension Day (not Ascension Thursday, since Ascension is always on a Thursday, that's a department of
Always love the images of them staring at his feet.
redudancy department situation).  Yet Crusty finds it timely that it is released this week, when some of the flutter in the twitterblogofacesphere has been on a new report from the Pew Research Forum, which can be found here: http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/.

For anyone who's been following the work of sociologists of North American religion, there shouldn't be anything new in the latest Pew report.  The percentage of people affiliating with Christianity is declining, and it declining even more rapidly among younger Americans.  Crusty has opined on this situation several times before in this blog, and for once [I know, I'm always scared when I'm actually being sincere] is being sincere when he says we need to see how God is speaking to the church to be present in our new realities.  A theme of this blog, and an organizing theme in my upcoming book on church history, is that when society and the culture goes through massive change, the church does as
Emperor presiding instead of persecuting.
well.  As much as we like to lament that the church doesn't change, we also need to realize it does, and often does so rapidly.  Bishops showed up at the Council of Nicaea in 325, paid for by an emperor who had legalized and openly favored Christianity, showing the scars of a brutal persecution they had lived through.  Bishops who had been exiled to the salt mines in the 310s were now guests of the emperor in the 320s.  Anglican clergy in the 1770s in Virginia enjoyed a church supported by taxation and by the 1780s had seen the church disestablished, huge tracts of church land taken away, and the church beginning to dwindle almost to irrelevance.  We could go on.

We are in a similar process, probably have been for decades.  When students sometimes wonder what it must have been like to live through the Reformation in the 1500s, or be an Anglican during the turbulent 1770s and 1780s, I respond: You don't have to.  You're living through your own version of that.  Christians in 2200 will say, Gosh, I wonder what it must have been like to be a Christian in 2000.  Theologians, sociologists, historians, bishops, pastors, faithful lay people, and many more can testify to all the things that are part of our change: post-Christendom; globalization; the digital revolution; the demographic shift in Christianity towards Africa and Asia; and so on.  There's lots of levels of change we are going through, and some aspects of Christianity will look very different in 2200, while some will not.

The Memorial is an effort to call the church to that task of Resurrection.  This is why COD was not a fan of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) initially using Lazarus as an image in one of its reports.  Jesus' work with Lazarus was resuscitating something that will die again.  Resurrection is transformation into a new way of being.

We need to keep in mind Resurrection means some things will die.  When Crusty attended the TREC gathering last fall at the Cathedral in Washington, DC, this was at the core of the question he asked.  COD asked what we are considering letting go, letting die, so that new things might be birthed.  Change in the church has always involved leaving some things behind so that we might be transformed by embracing others.

The Memorial calls us to several things as part of this process:

  • 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.
The group that met and drafted the Memorial also drafted some suggested resolution to begin the conversation around how we might live into this call of Resurrection.  COD didn't sign on or endorse any of the draft resolutions, in part because he's not a Deputy, and in part because the conversation is so much broader than what Convention may say or do.  There are some things Crusty believes we are called to do that Convention can do nothing about; there are, however, some places where our governance can make a difference, and COD will trust in the Holy Spirit guiding the church.

As a historian, too, Crusty must admit he is chary of memorials, in part because they often have not accomplished much.  The most well known, perhaps, is the Muhleneberg Memorial.  Its primary drafter was William Augustus Muhleneberg (GPE, greatest presbyter ever) who did insane things like
C'mon, would you disagree with this guy?
put flowers on the altar and didn't rent pews but thought church should be, you know, free.  He also thought the Episcopal Church was missing out on the opportunities for mission and evangelism in a rapidly expanding and rapidly urbanizing United States, at a time when the Episcopal Church had a clergy shortage for even the congregations it already had, let alone finding people wanting to go on the frontier or into inner cities.  He presented Memorial, signed by others, to the 1853 General Convention, asking the church to consider ways to better adapt to the new mission context in which the church found itself.

And the church did nothing.  The Memorial was referred to a committee, whose main suggestion (by and large) was not to require that Litany, Morning Prayer, and the Communion service be said sequentially, but to allow for churches to use either Morning Prayer or the Communion service.  That's it, in response to Muhleneberg's call for massive change, the Convention made a couple of tweaks to the liturgy. 

So on the one hand, history has taught Crusty that memorials don't always change the world.  On the other hand, history has also taught Crusty that change has come from people gathering together.  The Oxford Movement began as a bunch of disgruntled Oxford professors getting together and deciding to publish some pamphlets, and it eventually transformed global Anglicanism.  The American episcopate was born by some ticked off Connecticut clergy electing one of the unlikeliest people to take on a seeming impossible mission -- and it worked. May we be faithful, as generations of Christians have, to discern how God is speaking to us in our time and place.  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.


11 comments:

  1. The title of this memorial makes you sound like whackos who regularly send resolutions to say we believe in the Resurrection. How are the ideas different from what has already been done by TREC and Structure and previous GCs?

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  2. It's meant to continue the same conversation begun in TREC and by previous GCs, not in any kind of opposition. Unlike the resolutions by "whackos" to convention, it's not meant to divide or be a litmus test of any kind.

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  3. The difference is also that the text of the Memorial is backed by resolutions which make the text real. The Memorial in and of itself is an idea, a good idea, but just a vision. The resolutions take that further in some specific way to build on TREC's work in detail. Whether this group of resolutions gets passed as is or not at all, if they foster debate and then lead to decisions that move us in similar concrete ways, then this will be much more than simply a resolution stating what any Christian could be charitably thought to hold.

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  4. The real difference between this memorial and the TREC report and recommendations is that this is a new vision of mission for the church, whereas what TREC produced is management reorganization. A friend has characterized the Memorial as an attempt to design a new ship for new seas; what TREC produced is a plan for rearranging the deck chairs on the old ship. I have signed onto this as an alternate deputy sponsor; I cannot support the TREC material.

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  5. Hey there, COD.

    I've got a lot to say, apparently. I don't want to blog on this and call attention to it to have it perceived as a "challenge" or "confrontational" in any way. I want to offer my honest reaction/response to this Memorial. Because of the restrictions on this, I'm going to post this in two parts.

    First, thank you for this. It's thoughtful and clear. I hear you. I agree, at least in spirit, with much of what is written here. Some of it even makes me excited. I will point out the irony, however, of calling out the TREC resolutions and then submitting your own boatload of resolutions. Mind you, it makes sense to do that, but it is not without irony. And, there are many, many people who share your passion about re-imaging the church. That's not always clear from the tone of your Memorial, despite the invitation to sign onto it without necessarily signing onto the resolutions.

    That said, I confess it makes me nervous and not just because I'm a "woman of a certain age". Boomers have been slammed by GenXers. Ad nauseum. Quite frankly, I'm really tired of being bashed. It's decidedly un Christian and most unpleasant. I try hard not to gloat when I hear Millennials bashing Gen-Xers. Frankly I think it's all a journalistic device to talk in "shorthand" that has gotten out of control and has more importance prescribed to it than it deserves. Add to that the fact that many GenXers blame LGBT and Progressive Boomers for the "inclusivity wars" in the church which, they say, has either "killed" the church or left it moribund. (See: Lazarus reference in TREC and Resurrection motif in this Memorial).

    I don't feel "paranoid" or even "overly sensitive" but, given my experience, please understand my sensitivity to death and resurrection motifs - especially when I, as a Boomer and a lesbian have been blamed for "killing" the church or leaving it moribund. Frankly, I simply don't see the church as either dead or moribund. I see transformation already taking place. Like you, I want more of it. The old ways are already giving way to new ways, new understanding of being church vs. doing church. All of that is wonderful and vital and creative. What's "dead" or "dying" is not the church but our understanding of how to be church. I think you have an appreciation for that but it sounds really doom and gloom and condemning of the whole church - everywhere in every place. That's just not my experience. YMMV.

    As a Boomer who is also a lesbian, the evangelical theology that under girds this Memorial - without a palpable appreciation for the catholicity of the church - makes me understandably nervous. I agree that Christianity needs to return to a Movement model and away from the Institutional model. Decentralization of the hierarchical structures holds a real attraction for me. I hate it when I look over diocesan budgets and see that the line item for maintenance of the diocesan building is more than the entire budgets of 1/2 the congregations in the diocese, or the bishops' travel and entertainment expense are more than the salary of half the clergy in their diocese.

    However, "supporting mission at the local level" as a major focus, while I support it in theory, makes me wonder about how we hold bishops accountable for, say, not ordaining women or allowing the blessing of the covenants made between two people of the same sex because it's not locally popular, despite what the canons say.

    Excuse me, again, for my sensitivity. One thing about living long enough is knowing how quickly things can change and the pendulum can swing the other way once you think all the struggles for justice are over. They are not.

    Just a little bit more to follow . . . .

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  6. Please don't make the mistake of falling into creating even the illusion of a hierarchy of justice needs. There's a term for that. It's called "brokering". It's what people in power do to people who are not in power. I know you don't mean or even want to do that. At the risk of sounding paranoid, I'm going to take the risk and say with all honesty from my heart that I'm wary of this being an unintentional set up for that.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I'd like to see more balance to this enthusiastically evangelical memorial. I'd like to see it more balanced with an appreciation for the catholicity of the church, and our connection - and responsibility and accountability - to something greater than ourselves spiritually and institutionally.

    Again, I do appreciate this more straightforward approach to re-imaging the church. I suppose the TREC report is what you get when you "think creatively by committee". I'm just hoping for more of a balance between the enthusiastic evangelical tone of this "Memorial" and an deeper appreciation for the catholicity of the church.

    And, I hope it's not ignored by the church the way previous Memorials have. It deserves serious consideration. I hope you sense that from my post.

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  7. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Elizabeth. I, too, have precious little patience for any of the generational bashing that is tossed about in the church.

    I'd like to note that I didn't take TREC to task for proposing resolutions per se, only about the resolutions they actually presented. If anything the irony is that a handful of people with no budget drew up these resolutions in a week instead of spending 18 months and $150,000.

    To expand a bit on the theology of the Memorial, I will only personally speak for myself in saying it's an effort to resurrect Muhleneberg's own self-designation as an evangelical catholic. The Memorial speaks of the centrality of the sacramental life of the church, but also as something we can share with the world. Muhleneberg himself had little patience for either the evangelical or Anglo-Catholic parties in the church, though he adapted and adopted many aspects of both. The Memorial was an effort to ground evangelism and outreach in the rich catholic heritage of our church.

    And, as a Memorial, it's fundamentally a starting point for further conversation, one that I hope continues to be as fruitful as the rich threads in to this blog post.

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  8. Thank you, Tom. I'm afraid I didn't feel that balance. Just my perspective. FWIW.

    Let me use this as an opportunity to proved a link to an initiative from the United Methodist Church called "Rethink Church." If a picture is worth 1,000 words, this one has both the report from TREC and, with all due respect, this Memorial, beat by a country mile. Give it a look. I think you'll be suitably impressed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTU6u96NYaM

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    1. BTW, in case you haven't noticed or someone hasn't pointed it out to you: There is only one women among the seven writers of the Memorial. And only one woman who is a bishop among the 17 listed. No women diocesan or suffragan bishops. FYI.

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    2. Hi Elizabeth, as the woman writer you mentioned, I just want to make it clear to all that there were four other women besides me in the initial group discussing these issues. All were invited to the "drafting party" in Ohio, but unfortunately I was the only one of the five who could make it work in my schedule and budget. The other four have been deeply involved before and afterwards, though, so thanks go to Nurya Love Parish, Holli Rickman Powell, Wendy Claire Barrie, and Megan Castellan. As for women bishops, well, you know the score on that one. A very sad and uneven score overall, and I think the signatures reflect the reality of the church at the episcopal level. Thanks for commenting!

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    3. Thanks for that explanation. Wish there might have been some creativity in using Skype or something so they might have been able to do some "distance work" and sign onto the final document. I don't know the race or ethnicity of the group but I don't have to tell you than inclusicity is an important manifestation of the Justice of the church. I know that opens me to be slammed as a Boomer perpetuating the "inclusivity wars" that some Gen-xers blame for the death or moribund status of the church, but I confess that lack of evidence of inclusion is a deep concern.

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