“We’re on a mission from God,” proclaimed the famous sages, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, as they proceeded to put on cool shades and fedoras, visit a memorable nun, track down the old band members, put Aretha Franklin in a very bad mood, and lead the Chicago police on a wild, wild ride.
Fortunately for them, Aykroyd and Belushi seemed to have a much clearer understanding of their mission than we Episcopalians do. “The heartbeat of the church is mission … mission … mission,” said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in her sermon at General Convention in 2009. As I listened to her sermon, I was inspired (though I might argue that the heartbeat of the church is actually the living Christ). But I also found myself puzzled: what does she mean by “mission”?
Chief Operating Officer Stacy Sauls, who presumably shares the PB’s outlook on mission, clarified their view of mission in his sample “restructuring” resolution for the coming General Convention. He called for a plan to “facilitate this Church’s faithful engagement in Christ’s mission to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18).” Reading that mission statement from the gospel of Luke broadly, one could say that the mission of the church is to do social justice work.
But what about the other gospels? What about other statements even within Luke’s gospel? What about the whole witness of scripture?
After discussing the pros and cons of the current proposals, Snook offers her long term solutions:
Do you see a common theme running through all these critiques? I do. We need a plan. We need a plan that brings in the voices of laypeople, deacons, priests and bishops. We need a plan that concentrates on particular ministry areas and particular administrative issues. We need a plan that points us toward change for the 21st century.
Here is what I think such a plan should involve:1. A steering group of not more than 12 complete outsiders to church structures. By outsiders, I mean dedicated Episcopalians, entrepreneurial thinkers and doers, who are not involved in Church Center work or high-level churchwide politics or standing commissions. If you’re standing on the carpet, you can’t make the carpet fly. These need to be people who love the church, understand the mission, but are not personally invested in current structures.
2. This steering group would have the power to appoint several blue-ribbon panels:
> A panel of real estate experts who would make recommendations about what to do about 815 (the building), including looking at options of selling it, leasing it, and other creative possibilities I don’t know about. In the hopes that something could be done about this behemoth before the next General Convention, we need to make sure that Executive Council has the power to act on any offers that might come in, and understands that the will of Convention is that we should divest ourselves of this building. There should be no more argument about this. We are not going to be a New York corporate hierarchical-model church any more. We are going to be a mission-focused church.
> A group of investigators that looks at options for relocating the churchwide structure, including cost, accessibility to airports, closeness to important power structures for our church, and available resources. How about using vacant space at Washington National Cathedral? How about using vacant space at Seabury Western Seminary? And so on. (I cite those two examples having no idea whether they are practical ideas, but offering them as the kind of options we should be considering.) Again, Executive Council should be empowered to make a move on this recommendation as soon as 815 is disposed of.
> A panel of human resources and other experts who would look at the churchwide staff structure and recommend options for streamlining, outsourcing, and closing unnecessary offices. In addition, this panel would carefully delineate those functions – such as, say, ecumenical relations – that absolutely must be carried out by the churchwide office, and would recommend the staffing and other resources needed to carry out those functions. Executive Council should be empowered to make an immediate move.
> A panel of people who look at our churchwide governing structures and make recommendations for different ways of operating, including possibilities of reducing standing commissions, using more electronic meetings and communications, considering the size of deputations and frequency of meetings, etc. Constitutional changes would be required if any changes are made, so these recommendations would need to be considered by Convention. Bishop Sauls tells me that the Diocese of San Diego has put forth an interesting resolution (which I haven't seen) that would make this possible in 3 years rather than 6.
3. Now, back to the steering group. What are they doing? They are leading a churchwide visioning process. They are holding out the Anglican Marks of Mission as a reasonable summary of mission in our church, and they are training facilitators to lead a visioning process for how to achieve this mission. Why a churchwide visioning process? Because without broad-based buy-in at every level of the church, any proposals for change would not truly cause change. They would be defeated or sabotaged. This is the lesson of Rabbi Edwin Friedman's concept of homeostasis.
a. The visioning process would be open to any group that wants to participate – interest groups around particular ministry areas, dioceses, provinces, local parishes, seminaries, etc.
b. Trained facilitators would lead the interest groups in a spiritually-focused discernment process that begins with significant, in-depth, inductive Bible study and prayer around mission-focused passages (with the caveat that no one Bible passage encompasses the full scope of God’s commission to us, so multiple passages must be considered).
c. The visioning process would continue with a carefully designed (by the steering group) set of questions and exercises. The purpose would be to discern answers to how God is leading us to achieve our mission. What do we dream of? What do we hope for? Where are we now? What would it take to get where we want to be? What kind of support do we need from diocesan, provincial, and churchwide structures? How much money, personnel, and physical structures will it require?
d. The facilitators would bring reports back to the steering group, which would assimilate the feedback and undergo a similar visioning process of its own. The steering group would make a report to the wider church. That report would include recommendations for:
> The “panel of expert” recommendations, above.
> The best structure for mission in each of the defined Marks of Mission areas.
> Ways to flatten the current hierarchical structure so that the Church Center does not control, but rather empowers, ministry at all levels of the church.
> Criteria for funding ministry being done by local parishes, by dioceses, by provinces and by networks within the church. A Mission Fund would be established, using a very high percentage of revenues collected from the dioceses and from the endowment, and empowered to give grants for ministry (carried out by local groups or churchwide independent networks) that meet carefully defined Marks of Mission criteria.
> A better budget process that would give the church time and leadership necessary to create a mission-focused budget, and would not demand that PB&F be the de facto determiner of all churchwide mission by its last-minute Convention decisions about what to fund or not to fund. Asking this of PB&F is not fair to them, or to the church.
> A strategic fundraising plan, not the “how” of fundraising (which would be the work of a Development Office), but the “what for.” What are our strategic priorities? How much will they cost? How can we express them as a dream that others will want to participate in? The Development Office will need a menu of dreams to present to potential donors.
> Possibly: recommendations for leadership training. How are we going to recruit, train, and equip the kind of young entrepreneurial leaders who will be needed for the new church we are creating?
This report would be available by summer 2014, and ready for the entire church to discuss and assimilate for a full year before General Convention 2015. In 2015, we vote – and may the best plan win. That is to say – God’s plan. Because we're on a mission from God.