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Congregational builder

Something is happening in the Episcopal Church.  It started as a restlessness some of us began to notice that doing and being the church was not the way it used to be.  For some it was the plight of a small congregation worried about being able to continue to afford a full time priest.  For others it was an awareness that we Episcopalians had gotten old, that our own children were not a part of the church we love.  For another group it was an awareness of how our world, locally and globally, has and is changing.  As a church we are becoming uncomfortable; it is an anxious restlessness.  It is exactly the kind of discomfort that often leads to a change of behaviour. 

That restlessness began to be addressed.  The restlessness became focused in a goal of radically growing the Episcopal Church.  The General Convention in Denver in 2000 adopted a resolution that became known as "20/20- Doubling the Episcopal Church by the year 2020." That resolution asked for a task force to be appointed to create a plan for realising that goal.  The task force reported to Executive Council in October 2001.  That report was not so much a plan as it was a vision of the Episcopal Church seriously engaged in mission, God's Mission of restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.  It is a healthy and robust vision, faithful to God's calling of us to be engaged in God's mission, work and purpose for the world.  Our Presiding Bishop has helped us understand the mission is God's, not the church's.  It has been said that it is not that the church has a mission, it is that God's Mission has a church. 

So, a restlessness became a goal that requested a plan that became a vision.  Vision always challenges the present.  Vision calls us to that which is better and truer.  But vision comes in a present moment which is connected to the past.  Vision does not deny where we are and where we have been.  Vision asks us to examine our calls, our work, our ministries in light of the vision.  Vision asks us to make our own plans in the light of the truth that the vision evokes in us.  When I look at where we are as a church and where we have been, I am able to see progress.  It has never been as quick as I wanted, and it often takes decades to see it.  When one looks at some of the issues we Episcopalians have been concerned about in the last twenty-five or thirty years, three stand out:

Outreach to the poor
Inclusion of diversity
Personal faith and spirituality.

Recent research shows that 97% of the congregations in the Episcopal Church are engaged in a feeding program of some description.  That is a dramatic contrast to the situation when I was ordained in 1968.  When the outreach ministries of the Episcopal Church are examined in light of the missional vision of 20/20, some are asking why we kept those we fed safely at a distance? Why did we not offer them the Gospel food that truly nourishes? What if we offered those we feed and shelter a place in a faith community?  Over half of our dioceses are using demographic data to receive a truer picture of the people in our geographic communities.  What we are discovering is that we live in dynamically diverse communities.  We are expanding our definitions of diversity to include racial/ethnic, gender, age, sexual orientation, and socio-economic diversity.  What does it mean to reach out in mission to all people? What would our congregations look like if they looked like the communities in which they are located?

Personal faith and spirituality are a high priority for us.  We have learned to pray, we have sought out spiritual directors, we have tended ourselves as spiritual beings.  In a world where increasing numbers of people do not know how to name God and do not know Jesus Christ, perhaps our inner work now has an outward focus.  Is it time to learn how to share our personal faith with others- even with our children, even with strangers?  While we are open to new visions when we are somewhat dissatisfied, while visions challenge what we know and are comfortable with, ultimately visions give us hope, energy, and direction.  The Episcopal Church In Mission: 20/20 is such a vision.

Communion in Mission 2006
Builder Newsletter Archived Articles, January 2002