June 16, 2016

God Mission And The Church’s Organization

A title like this should go with a longer, more comprehensive and sufficiently nuanced piece, or perhaps a book. Be forewarned: this is not that contribution. It isn’t even close.

Here’s what I want to share: St. George’s in Valley Lee, Maryland just adopted a Collaborative Ministry Covenant with our neighbor congregation, Church of the Ascension in Lexington Park, Maryland. Both are congregations of approximately the same size, only a few miles away from each other in St. Mary’s County, a growing, fascinating and rapidly changing place to do ministry. St. George’s and I have been talking for a long, long time about serious, significant and intentional institutional collaboration with neighbor Episcopal congregations. The trends aren’t pleasant, the long-term challenges even less so, but the opportunities for ministry could be pretty abundant. Seven years ago, together with our Diocese of Washington, congregations in our region started talking about “The Episcopal Church in Southern Maryland, 10 Years Out,” even as the official timer on that ‘10 Year’ clock never began. We didn’t pull off a grand collaborative vision on a regional scale, but it is growing in pockets – the four-year long process between St. George’s and Ascension which has gotten us to this point being one such sign.

The Covenant is a broad statement which, now, enables two separate congregations to figure out the details, together: how to work together, call one shared rector, empower greater degrees of lay ministry, and more fully serve our immediate community, let alone God’s Kingdom. The Covenant isn’t a ‘contract’, and all the business-stuff is yet to come.

Which brings me to the point where I should end this post, or at least this part of this post.

For we should discuss the best ways to set up a functioning, operational, reasonably healthy and well-endowed congregation. The opportunity for Ascension and St. George’s, I think, is that everything, for the first time in a long time, is on the table.

But at some point there needs to be a shift in our language, a change in our focus, a movement from “What’s in it for us?” to “What more can we be and do?” I love the little village of Valley Lee and the bigger ‘village’ of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, but St. George’s isn’t ‘my’ church; it’s Christ’s Church, it’s ‘the’ church – the living, breathing, potentially powerful Body of Christ in the world. We’re not there, yet, not at St. George’s nor in The Episcopal Church, but one of my joys is drawing closer those two things that on the surface seem so very different and separate – how institutions are organized and raise up and expend resources, and how, on the other hand, the Kingdom of God calls us into a new creation.

This past Sunday, a member of our vestry explained to St. George’s congregation the significant step that is represented in approving this Covenant. It is a very significant, very important step forward. But we were barely aware, certainly at the early morning service, that at that same hour mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, siblings, and friends were being confronted with the awful news that someone they love was killed in a brutal, terrorizing display of hatred and violence in Orlando. Terrorism. Gun Violence. Homophobia. None of those are localized in any unique way to central Florida. They are symptoms of a profoundly deep brokenness, and a sick, hurting world. They cry out for the voice and the resources and the presence of the church, the living, breathing, potentially powerful Body of Christ.

I know, believe me I know it’s not an easy shift – going from “What’s in it for me?” to “What more can we be and do?” – but if we don’t go about this shift at our most basic congregational level, how effectively can The Episcopal Church boldly proclaim, and indeed be living images of God’s mission of reconciliation?

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