RuskinThe Mediæval religion of Consolation perished in false comfort; in remission of sins given lyingly. It was the selling of absolution that ended the Mediæval faith; and I can tell you more, it is the selling of absolution which, to the end of time, will mark false Christianity. Pure Christianity gives her remission of sins only by ending them; but false Christianity gets her remission of sins by compounding for them. And there are many ways of compounding for them. We [Anglicans] have beautiful little quiet ways of buying absolution, whether in low Church or high, far more cunning than any of Tetzel’s trading.

—John Ruskin

Discuss.

church_society_logo_140_sans_strapAt the recent conference for Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church, there was much discussion of lay ministry (see this post). An ordinand in the Church of England, Chris Edwards, makes a great contribution to that subject on the Church Society blog:

When we say “the church’s ministry depends on volunteers” we are making a sub-biblical distinction between the church on the one hand and her people on the other. We restrict what we mean by ‘the church’s ministry’ to the corporate projects in which her leaders decide to engage. And our best expectation for everyone else – the ‘volunteers’ – is that they will wholeheartedly throw themselves into the leaders’ plan. The distinction is subtle, but it is a dangerous one, because it makes the church a two-tier place. Yes, of course there must be leadership – and, indeed, submission to leadership. And I am not meaning to undermine the notion of ordination. But drawing a distinction between ‘church’ and ‘volunteers’ does not help people marvel at the wonder of what it means to belong – fully – to the Body of Christ.

Check it out here.

A common word heard a generation or two ago was, “The pew cannot rise higher than the pulpit.” The idea that the herald of the gospel must be soaked in a regular regimen of study and prayer in order to present the congregation mature in the sight of God is easily lost in the weekly pressures of parish ministry. Just as preparing a balanced, nutritious sermon takes forethought and space for the word to work first on the preacher’s heart and then be able to be conveyed with authenticity, so the spiritual life of leaders is not like the turning on or off of a light switch, but is something rather to be cultivated.

Author Ruth Haley Barton is a practitioner of wisdom and spiritual discernment. Several years ago her book Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups caught my attention. I was feeling a sense that our parish leadership wasn’t going into the depths. I lamented that I couldn’t address this very well out of my own reservoir, shallow as it so often was. But, just as Jesus summoned the early disciples to put out into the deep, it felt that we were much too content with fishing the shallows. And I was with them, although I knew that deeper water summoned.

The question was: were we content with our vestry being a board of directors or, in some fashion, were we being called to a place of spiritual eldership? In our case, we had already committed to becoming a learning community. That is to say, we would take the first forty-five minutes of our monthly meetings to discuss an article or a chapter from a book that we were reading together and apply it to our church, Saint Gabriel’s. These discussions were often fruitful, and I would take the ideas back to the staff or work on them in my mind over the coming month. And yet, it also seemed as if this, too, was artificial and that we could either take it or leave it. In other words, there wasn’t yet a collective conviction that we were operating as a Spirit-led community with certain non-negotiable assumptions about being spiritual elders.

Barton asks whether our approach to decision making is different in the church from secular models. Is there more to becoming a church with a biblical eldership than “the perfunctory prayers that bookend the meeting”? Does our community life mean something, does it have its own integrity, independent of the financial statements, ministry reports, and “arguing over the cost of sharpening the lawnmower blades,” as one my clergy colleagues memorably put it?  If so, how do we become that kind of community?

One thing we know is that becoming a community of spiritual discernment differs dramatically from throwing on a light switch. Further, we also know that corporate leadership discernment around God’s will presumes that each person who is called to be a spiritual elder carries the potential—and responsibility—in his or her individual life to cultivate a receptivity to the Spirit of the Lord.

In other words, if corporate leadership is “the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God as a leadership group relative to the issues we are facing,“ (italics, Barton original) it is what happens in the in-between time, the ordinary time, in individual hearts that make up the corporate body, that allows discernment to be, truly, corporate. The practices, the rules of life, the habits of the heart—the prayer, daily office, sustained Bible study, times of meditation or centering prayer—these practices till the soil of the individual in such a way that when we come together, we can practice corporate leadership discernment and fulfill our calling as spiritual elders for our congregation.
At Saint Gabriel’s we are novice step-takers, to be sure. We do not always hold up well, necessarily, as a model. But now we have the conviction that unless we do this as a body of leaders, the pew cannot rise higher than the board room. If we rest content with the shallows, the potential of Christ’s calling in us will remain just that, potential.

“One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”—Psalm 27:5

Christopher Ditzenberger, Rector, Saint Gabriel the Archangel Episcopal Church
Cherry Hills Village, Colorado

The recent conference called ‘Evangelion II’ (see posts below) was a great success. Fifteen TEC dioceses were represented, as well as observers from Canada, and everyone seemed encouraged. The plenary speakers, Justyn Terry, David Collum and Justin Holcomb, were all filmed, and the results should be online in about three weeks. Watch this space for more information. I look forward to seeing them—when you’re one of the organisers, you only catch bits here and there, but those who were able to attend to them whole spoke highly of them.

What I was able to participate in fully were the discussions, ‘How We Got Here’ and ‘Where Do We Go From Here’, which weren’t filmed, so I’ll say a bit about them in this and the next post respectively.

After an outline of the history of the evangelical movement in TEC since the founding of Trinity Seminary, we began to talk about what we could learn from this history. The main themes were that the switch from being a teaching ministry for the Episcopal Church to being a political party within the Church had been wholly negative, and that the movement had been too clericalist. During the 1980s and early 1990s, several evangelical parishes had highly successful teaching ministries, sending out sermon and teaching tapes across the country by the hundred, but in the mid 1990s this seemed suddenly to be abandoned in favor of a political approach centered on General Convention rather than the diocese. There was much speculation about how different the history might have been had we stuck to the teaching.

A comment about the emphasis on recruiting evangelical clergy rather than building up evangelical laity sparked an enthusiastic response by the lay people present, expressed in terms which came as a shock to some of the clergy present. But when people have been under-appreciated for too long, it’s natural to vent a bit when the opportunity to do so finally comes. It was agreed by all that there was room for improvement, and I personally look forward to seeing improvement as future work is discussed and planned.

These were by no means the only subjects discussed under the heading of learning from our past, but this is enough for one post. I hope the discussion can continue here—just click on the link at the top of this post and type your heart out!

5x7_evangelion_flyer revised

5x7_evangelion_flyer revised p 2

David CollumEvangelicals in the Episcopal Church are invited to Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, April 28-30, for the second national gathering of Anglican Evangelicals, under the title Evangelion.

This year’s theme is Expressing Evangelical Identity in the Episcopal Church, and the speakers will be David Collum, Archdeacon of Albany Diocese, Justyn Terry, Dean of TSM, and Justin Holcomb, Canon for Vocations in the Diocese of Central Florida.Justyn Terry

There will also be opportunity for discussion on the more genJustin Holcomberal subject of evangelical witness in and to the Episcopal Church. More details will be posted at http://www.evangeliontec.org/conference-2016.html and on this blog as they become available. Save the dates!

The recent statement by the Anglican Primates is slightly more than I hoped for, and if the statements by Episcopal dignitaries and the comments on Episcopal blogs are worse than I feared, more fool me, I suppose. The Primates confirmed that ‘the traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture’ (is it my imagination or there a faint tinge of regret discernible in the wording there?) ‘upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union.’ Since that is the teaching of Scripture, albeit not in those words, Evangelicals will be pleased that these leading churchmen are willing to say so, and would apologise on behalf of the Episcopal Church for all the vitriolic comments being directed their way.

The statement also asks the Episcopal Church to limit its participation in some aspects of the Anglican Communion, and hopes for the appointment of a Task Group ‘to maintain conversation among ourselves [the Primates, presumably] with the intention of restoration of relationship’ etc. Restoration of relationships with the rest of the Communion presumably depends on a return to the Biblical view of marriage, and unlikely as that it is to happen, Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church must assume that God expects us to lift up our voices in support of that return.

Perhaps this is the place to begin discussing how we might do that, and how to be faithful in a church that seems less tolerant of us than ever. Perhaps there will be some time at the Evangelion II conference scheduled for May 28–30 in Ambridge, PA for further discussion.

I could certainly use a little encouragement…

 

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