The agenda I would set for the next 25 years in the Episcopal Church would be the one I wish we had set all along. Namely, I would have us be “the servants of the servants of God”. For too long we ruled over peoples lives in an imperial style. We settled on power from fear (for example of Hell and Judgment) rather than on the stronger power which comes from respect and integrity.
We lacked humility in making up answers to the mysteries of God and now people are smart enough to have figured out that we don’t really know there are “pearly gates” or feathers on angels’ wings. Quite often we tried to convince people that we knew Christ’s will – and quite often his will sounded just like ours.
I would have us be humble and honest in our teaching and our service to God and people. It takes a great deal of security to admit “We don’t know but we believe…”. When people ask us to do something for them, our answer should usually be “yes” because we automatically assume it is the Spirit which has lead them to ask in the first place.
Our model should be Christ kneeling and washing the disciples’ feet not imperial power looking down on them. How many times, and in how many ways, did he try and teach us the highest shall be brought low and the lowest shall be raised up?
If we can show the world the genuine happiness that comes from humble service then they might once again respect our humility and integrity. If they once again come to respect our humility, wisdom, love, and holy integrity then they might want to join us in the joy of washing other peoples’ feet – which we believe is a way of washing God’s feet (“entertaining angels unawares”). In short, I would have us be a much more “intentional” community striving for quality rather than quantity.
Reading Shane’s response, I am moved and filled with hope: he is much younger than I am, and he makes me feel that the church is in good hands with his generation.
So many things are true, and I hope we emphasize them in future:
- Our relationships are more important than our opinions.
- The main thrust of our faith is love of God and love of neighbor. The rest in commentary.
- Care for the poor is not an option for some of us; it is a duty for all of us.
- Living in Christ every day is more important than being able to define Christ once and for all.
- God is a mystery. We’re not going to be able to understand God, and this is okay.
- This life is not all there is.
- People of faith can and do disagree about important things.
- Most people don’t want to fight our religious wars.
- The church doesn’t have to stay the same. It never has.
- The primary faith experience of most Christians happens in the local community.
Issues that I would hold vital for the church to explore and strengthen for the next 25 years would be the following and not necessarily in any order.
1. Evangelism and Mission. The church that is not committed to a proclamation of the gospel of Christ, in word and deed, is a church doomed. The bold proclamation of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus has to be central to our life and we need to recapture the power of the dreaded “E” word. I have seen church bulletins which state that “all people are welcome to this church and you are safe from any attempt on our part to convert you.” I say no. Nobody that walks into our church should be safe from an attempt at sharing Jesus in all his beauty with them, that they are compelled by him and drawn to him. We need to collaborate with people from other denominations and other faiths to fight injustice, and be engaged in dismantling structures that enable them. We need to be radically committed to sharing our resources sacrificially with those of lesser means around the globe.
2. Attract and keep young people in the church. We are a church that needs to find creative ways to make the church appealing to the young. We have to learn to question, adapt and innovate. We have to attract younger people to ministry–lay and ordained.
3. Teach scripture and the spiritual disciplines to our congregations. Our church is notoriously biblically illiterate. We need to teach our people to read, interpret and love God’s word for it changes lives. WE need to teach our people to pray, to study scripture, to practice generosity, to engage in solitude. We need to equip our congregations to develop its inner life so that its outward life is sustainable.
4. Celebrate our theological and liturgical diversity. We need more forums for discussions over the difficult issues of our times. We need to do this with openness and genuine respect for others beliefs. We need to recognize that we ALL have something to learn from people who differ from us and that when we engage in deep, non-judgmental listening, we grow and we create space for those who differ from us to feel welcomed. Our communion-wide internecine battles have to stop and we have to grow in humility and not allow our disproportionately higher wealth and power to dominate the little guys in our communion.