A Memorial to the Church

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A group of General Convention deputies who came together as “The Acts 8 Moment” have created a “memorial”– a cross between a petition and a manifesto–inspired by TREC calling for the church to act decisively on what they see as a unique moment for a renewed and revitalized Church.

Acts 8 Moment:

A group of General Convention deputies, bishops, and others have released A Memorial to the Church, calling for The Episcopal Church to “act with boldness to proclaim the gospel.” One member of the group, the Rev. Adam Trambley, deputy from the Northwest Pennsylvania said, “We hope this letter to the church will jumpstart significant action both at General Convention and among Episcopalians across the church.”

Inspired by the conversation begun by the Task Force to Reimagine the Episcopal Church, the memorial calls for the church “to recommit itself to the spiritual disciplines at the core of our common life, to go into our neighborhoods boldly with church planters and church revitalizers, and to restructure our church for the mission God is laying before us today.”

General Convention typically considers resolutions, but The Episcopal Church’s canons and rules of order also provide for memorials, which are written in the form of letters to the church. The Muhlenberg Memorial of 1853 is perhaps the most famous of the the memorials, and while its immediate effect was slight, it changed the conversation inside the church in a way that later led to liturgical change and other shifts to meet the needs of that time. The hope is that this memorial will lead to change within our church to promote evangelism and discipleship.

In addition to the Memorial, the group has proposed nine resolutions.

The Rev. Susan Brown Snook, deputy from Arizona, said, “In addition to the memorial, our group is offering several resolutions to enable the call to discipleship and transformation.” She added that signers to the memorial do not necessarily support any or all of the nine resolutions.

The package of resolutions includes action
— Encouraging a significant commitment to church planting
— Promoting revitalization of existing congregations
— Amending the Constitution & Canons to permit more structural flexibility
— Clarifying roles of churchwide officers
— Creating a task force to look at episcopal elections
— Eliminating the provincial structure within The Episcopal Church

Here is a portion of the Memorial:

In the eighth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, the newly formed church of disciples of the risen Savior found itself in a new situation. No longer could Christians depend on traditional ways of following Jesus and traditional places in which to do it. Driven out of their comfortable existence praying in the Temple in Jerusalem and waiting for the kingdom to come, they found themselves in new and unexpected neighborhoods, developing new ways of proclaiming the Word. Yet they found that the crowds were eager to hear the Good News of Christ and welcomed it with joy. The very loss of the old ways of being the church gave them opportunities to expand and multiply the reach of Christ’s loving embrace.

Our beloved Episcopal Church is in a similar situation. We must find new ways of proclaiming the gospel in varied and ever changing neighborhoods. Old ways of being the church no longer apply. We can no longer settle for complacency and comfort. We can no longer claim to dominate the political and social landscape. We can no longer wait inside our sanctuaries to welcome those who want to become Episcopalian.

We have a choice before us. We can continue, valiantly and tragically, to try to save all the rights and privileges we have previously enjoyed. We can continue to watch our church dwindle until it someday becomes an endowed museum to the faith of our forebears. We can continue business as usual until we lose our common life entirely.

Or we can lose our life for Jesus’ sake so that we might save it.

Read the rest here.

The proposed resolution may be found here.

Tom Ferguson, aka Crusty Old Dean, one of the framers of the memorial, writes:

Crusty finds it timely that it is released this week, when some of the flutter in the twitterblogofacesphere has been on a new report from the Pew Research Forum….

…For anyone who’s been following the work of sociologists of North American religion, there shouldn’t be anything new in the latest Pew report.  The percentage of people affiliating with Christianity is declining, and it declining even more rapidly among younger Americans….As much as we like to lament that the church doesn’t change, we also need to realize it does, and often does so rapidly.  Bishops showed up at the Council of Nicaea in 325, paid for by an emperor who had legalized and openly favored Christianity, showing the scars of a brutal persecution they had lived through.  Bishops who had been exiled to the salt mines in the 310s were now guests of the emperor in the 320s.  Anglican clergy in the 1770s in Virginia enjoyed a church supported by taxation and by the 1780s had seen the church disestablished, huge tracts of church land taken away, and the church beginning to dwindle almost to irrelevance.  We could go on.

We are in a similar process, probably have been for decades.

According to the groups media release the memorial and the resolutions were written by a drafting committee consisting of Trambley and Brown Snook, along with the Rev. Tom Ferguson; the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, deputy from Southern Ohio; the Rev. Canon Frank Logue, deputy from Georgia; Mr. Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, deputy from Indianapolis; and the Rev. Steve Pankey, deputy from Central Gulf Coast.

The Memorial provides a space for Bishops, Convention Deputies, and clergy and laity from around the Church to add their signatures.

 

Posted by Andrew Gerns

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Lionel Deimel
Guest

The Episcopal Ressurection group put their memorial and resolutions in a single PDF file. I have enhanced this file to make it easier to use. You can download the file from http://deimel.org/commentary/b_pages/memorial+resolutions.pdf.

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Brendan O'Sullivan-Hale
Guest

Thanks for doing this, Lionel!

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Eric Bonetti
Member
Eric Bonetti

One of the amazing and sad things to me is TEC's ability to ignore incovenient realities, to kick the can down the road, and to resent those who warn us of impending trouble.

I hope folks will read the Memorial for what it is, which is an attempt to deal directly with the issues confronting the church.

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John Chilton
Editor
John Chilton

There's lots to like.

And, yes, the quicker we drop the provincial system the better. There has got to be a better way.

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Sarah Lawton
Guest
Sarah Lawton

I love the the concept of following Jesus out into our neighborhoods. A million times yes.

I wrote this on the Deputies/Bishops list yesterday, but will repeat here:

My biggest question is about what is missing in the action points in the memorial. Further up the document, there is a statement that we must embody the commitment to "encountering Jesus Christ through loving service ... and seeking justice and peace" as a core principle of our evangelism and church-building. That's important. I can't imagine planting or revitalizing churches in new or changing neighborhoods without engaging social mission, and I'm sure many here, including the original authors of the memorial, feel the same. It is precisely through engaging with the immediate concerns of our neighbors - with issues of violence (gang and/or police) affecting our youth, the local public school's need for volunteers and funding, our immigrant neighbors' need for legal assistance, the concerns of an aging population in declining small towns or cities - or whatever the need/opportunity is for our local contexts - that we will even be in conversation and, ultimately, relationship.

Evangelism and social mission go hand in hand, yes? And I agree -so much- with funding evangelism extravagantly, but I don't see the language that includes social mission in our neighborhoods in the the specific action section of the memorial. I would like to see it articulated, because it is precisely part of the "how" we will go about making church vital, living and telling the Good News, on the local level.

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Michael Russell
Guest

Church planting and congregational revitalization? Really? If we are engaging people where they are why would we bother with existing forms of church planting or congregational revitalization? The overall plan in the Memorial and in the Resolutions is for some "We" to provide resources to some "Them". But the problem is that the current collection of "We" has not yet sparked any of the sorts of presences that seem to be exciting emergent living non-traditional communities.
While they commend local initiatives in the Memorial that commendation does not extend far enough to be adoption and dissemination of those local forms. Instead there still must be some central "We" out there who will inspire "Them."
"We" are just rearranging verbiage. Much like the algorithms that fuel the New Age Verbiage Generator http://bit.ly/1qkLjUt this is a rehash of well worn themes. With all the attention paid at the last GC to "emergence" and "entrepreneurial" and "nimble" neither the TREC folks nor this Memorial & Resolutions contain anything that I can see as cutting edge.
Most of the creative work in our Church has happened at the grassroots, from midnight Compline in Seattle to J2A in North Carolina to the San Diego Bishop's Office settling in the midst of a distressed community. Yet there is hardly a nod in either report to grassroots work that has caught fire and could be exemplary for other communities. One cannot see even a partial fingerprint of the locally energizing programs in these reports.
Sadder still, despite saying we need a clear message, we have yet to see it articulated. As we move towards Pentecost, where is the Word set aflame that might fall upon today's peoples?
What we can say is that local parishes distressed or not have managed to keep on with little or no inspiration from the perpetual "We". Perhaps its time to give "We" a rest and draw inspiration from our localities.
Finally, this effort does not come to terms with a very significant reality we face. Aging congregations full of loyal souls who hive ministered and given for long decades. We are morally responsible for providing pastoral and spiritual care to them in these last years of their life. Church planters and spiffy new "emergences" rarely take account of the obligation we have to our aging communities. But that is exactly were the rock is smacking the hard place in terms of shrinking congregations that have little chance of growth or revitalization (and frankly may be spiritually okay without either. What will "We" be doing to hold faith with our aging "Thems"?

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Philip Snyder
Guest
Philip Snyder

Michael - Actually, it is possible to plan new congregations while keeping faith with the old. Church of the Incarnation has started a congregation called "Uptown" that is more contemporary in terms of music and worship style. In the diocese of Dallas, we have averaged one new congregation plant every two years in the 21st Century - planting 8 new congregations since 2000 - 3 of which have achieved full parish status and one is even a small resource sized congregation.

We are working to revitalize our inner city congregations - spending resources to replant and revitalize them. Some have had to close, but many are growing. We have worked with our rural congregations to provide clergy support through training and ordaining older men and women who live in (or will move to) these communities and serve with little or no pay as these congregations can't afford a full time priest.

We can revitalize the Church - if we focus on Jesus and on proclaiming the call to reconciliation, repentance, and renewal. The great thing is that none of this came down from 815 and a lot of it came to the Bishop's office rather than from it.

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Susan Brown Snook
Guest
Susan Brown Snook

Just to be clear, we are a group of people who became friends through the Acts 8 Moment, but this Memorial is an independent effort. Acts 8 is about prayer and church renewal, and doesn't advocate for particular positions. This group is acting in a different capacity, related to our ministries as deputies to Convention. Thanks for the story!

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