“The Call to Maximize Identity”
These are a couple of the phrases that were tossed around this week as I met with one of our diocesan committees. The name and work of the committee is not germane to this discussion as much as the topic that was discussed; it was the age-old lament of how to get more people interested in the work that our diocese is doing as a whole.
“Creeping Congregationalism” was named as both the symptom, root cause and result of the challenge to connect more people- each to each, and parish to parish- and “The Call to Maximize Identity” was the clarion call offered as means by which to draw us closer. It was suggested that the more we can identify ourselves with clarity and distinguish ourselves against other traditions, the greater chance we will have at getting those within our constituency to attach to us and resonate with the work that we are doing.
There are so many levels:
- Name the distinct identity of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition.
1a. name the distinct identity of our diocese in Central Pennsylvania
- Recognize that many members of our churches today have not always been Episcopalians and do not have a full picture of our polity
2a. create a means by which members coming into the Episcopal church are formed in all aspects of our tradition
2b. create the grounds for which this information is salient. (Why does this matter to a parishioner in the congregation?)
- Celebrate and Educate about the opportunities for diocesan support and unity.
Working together, we can often accomplish more than we can, individually.
There is a scriptural call to unity in the Body and collaboration among its many parts (Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12)
- Identify the Purpose of Structure: Advance the notion that the diocesan leadership exists to support, encourage and enable the individual parts of the Body (congregations) who are our participants in the Mission of God.
Much of my time is spent listening to and learning from our congregations about how they are gathered in their parishes.
They join to worship, to receive sacramental nurture, and to have a central place and Body from which to do mission. They come together to feel better and to be made whole. They gather to continue tradition. They come seeking an answer and remedy for the fractures in their lives. They come because they always have. They come to find a moral teaching ground for their children. They come to encounter the sacred. They come for the dignity and beauty of our worship. They come for a Good Word. They come for inspiration and direction. They come to be empowered and to find a way to be healers in this world.
They do not come, I would argue (for the most part)- to participate in Convocational, regional activities. They do not come to participate in a tradition that recognizes bishops as significant to their own spiritual journeys. They do not come with convention resolutions forming in their heads, or with hearts for the particularities of canon law.
These are not among the top reasons for “why I go to church…”
But… these things matter.
They matter because being an Episcopalian means that we recognize a Body larger than our own parish unit. They matter because this identification with a larger entity is not only practical for accomplishing more, but it points to the strength of witness and belonging to something much larger than we are, something that is greater than the sum of its parts- something that stretches across miles of cornfields and mountains and rivers and valleys and oceans and decades and centuries and ages. Connected to each other, we are connected to Christ and to the work of the Church through the ages. Now, some of that work has not been great. Some of it has been incredibly wounding and painful and damaging. Many have left the Church in order to seek a spiritual path to God that does not include institutions, structures or a painful past.
And, there are some of us who believe that in spite of our failings, and as a means of our own responsibility and repentance, we are called to a redeemed future that will build and equip healthy structures for doing God’s mission.
The diocesan mission is to advance the work of the mission of God. Nothing more, and nothing less. The mission of God is as close as the needs of our own personal healing and sustenance, as close as the concerns of the neighbors in our villages, and as far reaching as the needs of our brothers and sisters across the globe who, like us, need the loving power of God in their lives.
At the end of the day, it is all about sharing and spreading God’s love and healing. In our Episcopal Church, we choose to do that together, as One Body, connected in Christ.