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.|
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.|
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.
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?|
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.