Simple Church

I’ve been thinking for a while now, dreaming actually, of a way to go forward in the midst of The Episcopal Church’s continued decline. I can either continue to bemoan all the controversy, the bad management, the weird developing theologies, etc., and all that comes with the “diminishment.”
More broadly, we face the decline of Christianity in the U.S. and must consider how to live effectively in an increasingly post-Christian culture. Honestly, I don’t care that we are in an era that is increasingly post-Christian. It is much easier to identify those who truly desire relationship with God, reconciliation, and new life. Most of the rational behind the Culture Wars is about certain groups trying to rescue Christendom, and it will not happen without autocratic force.
In the face of diminishment, however, comes opportunity for thinking of different ways of doing all this stuff. So, perhaps I need to refocus on what’s next… After all, it is the ethos of Anglicanism that is important to me, and if the structures cannot hold together then there isn’t much I can do other than keep the ethos. I’m not yet vested in the Pension Fund, so what the heck.
For example, at present, approximately 45% of all Episcopal Churches cannot afford a full-time priest or lay employee. If things continue on as they probably will, that percentage will only increase. Add to that percentage another 15% of all congregations and we have a second group of parishes that can only barely keep a full-time priest. What can be done about this? All kinds of things, actually, but…
As I’ve said over and over again, Anglicanism is strategically situated to the condition of and characteristics of the younger generations, if only leveraged well. (We aren’t doing very well, however.)
Ancient-Future, Simple Church, simple living.
The “Simple Church” movement, also known by the name House Church movement, part of the Emergent Conversation, and on and on – is a way of being the Body of Christ in ways that resonate with an increasing number of people and is possible where money is in short supply. In the context of liturgical and sacramental Anglicanism, this can be very interesting way of doing the ministry. I can imagine that those of the Oxford Movement, if present today, would be all over it. New Monasticism, too.
For those clergy and lay people who desire “intentional community,” we can live together and go out into the world for ministry – lay people into the working-world where clergy rarely go, for clergy into all those parishes and missions that cannot afford a priest. Simple living, intentional living, meeting with the faithful and those seeking. Being there. Nothing new, really, but a very old model in a very new time.
This is want we want to do in Red Hook, except the authorities-that-be say our parish cannot hire a second priest (me) – politics. And, I’m warn-out and tired of being bi-vocational. My best energy and time is taken up doing things I don’t want to do, yet the job enables me to be at St. Paul’s, possibly in Red Hook, in this City.
Imagine The General Theological Seminary in this kind of context. Benedictine spirituality, living in intentional community on the Close. Going out into all of The City being the representatives, the hands, the mouths of God in all levels of society. A place of excellence in learning, in worship, in encouragement and challenge. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) From this City, the influence will reach all over the world. No one can convince me that this kind of vision (not my own, but becoming my own realized through the lives and experiences of many others), no one can convince me that this kind of formation for priests and laity alike will not appeal to and enliven 150 people from around the world that want to participate in such a place. No one can convince me that there isn’t money and people will be parted from their money to see such a thing happen. It takes people with strong vision and determined conviction to give up their own lives and allow God to be present in and through them. It takes leadership.
Why not? Why not? It is hard for people living in the fog of diminishment to see clearly opportunities. It is easier to fight over what’s left, even as it all slips through their fingers.
More later…

Assemblies of God

Gov. Sarah Palin spent a good deal of time in the Assemblies of God, just about the largest Pentecostal denomination around the world. This is the denomination I started attending during my senior year in college, and with whom I spent the next 8 years working as a campus pastor in their campus ministries.
I departed this Christian expression in1992 for Anglicanism in 1992 1994 – I saw what was coming in the politicization of American-Evangelicalism. I’m glad I grew up Pentecostal – my developmental years where spent in The Foursquare Church, which being based in Los Angeles is a little more laid back and, well, “hip” I guess – the A/G is based in the Springfield, Missouri in the Ozarks. Hillbilly vs. Southern California. I am so glad I am not there, now!
A lot of people find it very easy to dismiss the Assemblies of God. That is a mistake. In Anglican Land, we brag about being the third largest expression of Christianity in the world with our 38 autonomous provinces and 77 million adherents.
Um, consider this:

“An Assemblies of God study from 2006 found 60 million adherents in more than 300,000 churches worldwide. About 2.8 million of these are in the U.S.”

I believe it. This one denomination (with cooperative agreements in many nations with indigenous churches that came out of their missionary endeavors) is just about as large as the whole Anglican Communion! It is larger than The Episcopal Church in the U.S.

I’m just tired, really I am…

You know, I’m just tired. I’m tired of 20 plus years of the Culture Wars. I’m tired of the disunity and the false accusation against the neighbor and the manipulation of Truth that comes along with war. I’m tired of having explain that being a follow of Jesus Christ is not the same as being a follower of the Religious Right. I’m tired of identity-politics and political-correctness that deceive us into not being honest and that produces no real solutions. I’m tired of moral busybodies who can’t face up to their own dysfunction and so insist on imposing themselves into the lives of everyone else.
I’m tired of being embarrassed by the foreign policy of this present administration. I’m tired to our hubris and the hegemonic insistence of Neo-Con’s who want empire. I’m tired that the moral force for the welfare of humanity (despite our international screw-ups) that this country held in the imaginations of people all over the world has been squandered.
I’m tired of being embarrassed by my government and my culture.
I’m tired of modern day Pharacies Pharisees that would rather destroy than compromise. I’m tired of ecclesiastical battles where I find not a lot in common with either of the antagonists. I’m tired of trying to champion this wonderful thing I found called Anglicanism and all I see is leadership tearing apart this jewel for their own end. Where is sacrifice of self? Where is humility? Where is consideration for your brother or sister more than your consideration for yourself? Where is a hunger for the Gospel of Jesus Christ that goes beyond the next political or social theory or trendy dysfunction that rampages through the culture?
It is so easy to become overwhelmed by negativity and angst and frustration while trying to discover and trying to call people to something more, something stronger, something lasting far longer than the last 30 years – a whisper in time. I’m just tired, and I well understand why some people simply want to get out and be apart of something that is positive, forward looking and understanding without having to jettison all that came before. For a change. I’m tired of wondering whether there will come a point when I will need to “jump ship” or will be pushed out. I’m tired of wondering why nothing works out the way it is supposed to work, at least that is my life experience.
I certain understand when people say, “I just want to get on with things and end all this distraction.”
There has always been a part of me that loves the politics, loves the battle, and would be very good in all that. There is part of me that knows that if I had gone into politics or the foreign service or stayed within American-Evangelicalism that I could have gone far, could have had a huge church if I wanted to be a pastor – I’m gifted in those ways. I also know myself well enough to realize that pride and arrogance are just under the surface. I’m tired to wondering, “When is my life going to begin?” My life, most everything has been “temporary,” not knowing from year-to-year what I will be doing next. There is a bit of excitement in that, but I’m tired of it.
I’m tired of waking up at 3:30 in the morning and having all this stuff running through my head. I’m tired of my compulsion to try to find solutions. I’m physically just exhausted, too. I’m tired of my own erratic thoughts, lack of discipline, and lack of time to focus on the things I want to. I’m tired of having to function in a left-brained job when I’m a right-brained person. I’m tired of being bi-vocational.
I’m tired of not knowing where I fit. I’m too independent and rebellious to give myself over to a “party.” I’m bored too easily. But, I’m tired of not fitting and trying to force myself into the shape that others expect. I’m tired of not being too forceful or leaderly because I’m trying to be sensitive and respectful. I’m tired of the rejection because I don’t play “correctly.” How easy it would be to be just like an American-Evangelical entrepreneur and go off and do my own thing. I would succeed. But, I took vows!
I’m tired of defeatists. I’m tired of egomaniacs.
I’m tired of watching my seminary being run into financial ruin and being brought from the only Anglican seminary in the Northern Hemisphere offering a ThD. program (Oxford on the Hudson) to becoming some sort of “community college” for people interested in religiousy stuff because of an ill conceived “vision” of the present administrator.
You know, the seminary Dean and the U.S. President have one thing in common – they both cannot recognize or admit that the policies they purse have failed and are continuing to fail.
I’m tired of the greed, the hypocrisy, and what is developing into a real Social Darwinism.
I want to be a part of making things better. How far do I go? At want point is it legitimate to just throw up your hands and say, “I give up?” Sometimes, situations and institutions are beyond saving.
As Betty Butterfield says, “I just want to sit in a pew and do it the normal way!”