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A theology of abundance. What exactly is that?

A theology of abundance. What exactly is that?

I have worked in the church for more than 10 years now, so you’d think I would understand the terms that church people use. But sometimes I don’t.

Take for instance the frequently-stated sentiment that the church must “transform a theology of scarcity into a theology of abundance.”

I have no idea what this means, and the recent article on this topic at Faith Street didn’t help me.

Who can help me?


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tobias haller

On an unrelated note, I’m getting a little weary of how much “theology” is getting tossed around. Just because an issue has a religious or ecclesiastical aspect doesn’t make it “theological.”

Rod Gillis

Re John Chilton, somewhat similar experience in the colonial period up here in Nova Scotia, where the church was a missionary area over seen after a sort from England, congregations came first, and a resident bishop later, the first being a former Tory from New York who had to leave after the War of Independence. The congregational bent here is more pronounced than in some other Canadian jurisdictions.Interestingly, the founding of the Diocesan Synod here was in part a response to the arrival of a resident bishop.

On the lean state of the modern Diocese, a somewhat different picture here locally i.e., not so lean. The cost to parishes is an issue, and some down sizing seems to be finally a serious proposition. This diocese has seen a steady decline in population, an increase in church closures and amalgamations over wider geography, and a significant use of non-stipendiary clergy. Rural communities have been especially impacted, and the majority of parishes are in rural small town communities. Which brings us back to the starting point. The scarcity abundance thing

has been part of the diocesan stewardship lingo, but not utilized in the context of church as a partner in community economic development.

Context is everything I suppose.

John B. Chilton

Yes and no on whether congregations came first during the colonial period. There were no local bishops, only bishops located across the pond. Clergy were made across the pond and sent to the colonies. In English colonies, like Virginia, the church was the state church and was supported by taxes on members and non-members alike, and glebe land.

What we inherited from the colonial period of lack of oversight was a congregational bent (and, to some degree, vestries who told clergy where to get off).

From my anecdotally informed (and self-serving) view the dioceses I have experienced run a (too) lean bureaucracy — partly because parishes aren’t willing to support the diocese in doing things like subsidizing parishes in under-served areas.

“A theology of abundance” I infer has to do with those that have not being generous to those that don’t.

Rod Gillis

Re John Chilton “Where I see a drain on resources is in neighborhoods that are overserved with Episcopal churches, … being unable to support congregations in underserved areas.”

Agreed. Clearly an issue,for example, with parishes built during the baby boom, and where the populations they initially served have long since collapsed.

However, one needs to undertake a critical evaluation of the role of bureaucracies in a given structure, including the church. A centralized bureaucracy that is funded from the ground up does not necessarily guarantee that resources will be re-distributed to areas of local need. As likely as not they will be gobbled up by the workings of the bureaucracy and its prioritizes. Local is usually defined within Anglicanism as the diocese; but even there, I’m not convinced that the best expression of diocesan church is to be found in a diocesan bureaucracy.

The parish can be an effective partner with other community groups if its has the resources to do so, and if it does not function in a silo. We often hear the mantra that we must find news ways of being the church. For some parishes this often means increasing cuts. By contrast, a new way of being church for the diocese or national office often means looking for funds to maintain or expand staff.

Its interesting that in North America,historically, parishes and local clergy came before bishops and central administration, and not the other way around.

My memory is sketchy, but was it not J.K. Galbraith (New Industrial State) who talked about the role of bureaucracies in all modern economic systems whether of the left or right?

John B. Chilton

Rod gives an example that we do live a world of scarcity afterall, just as economists say. That’s what economics is about: the study of how we are using our limited resources. (The name economics comes from the Greek for management of a household: οἰκονομία (oikonomia)

In Rod’s example, he is weighing the cost of our central government against resources to keep the doors open in struggling parishes in poorer neighborhoods.

But I’m sure whether Rod is saying we should spend less on General Convention or less on 815.

And let’s not forget that we are not a congregational denomination. There are limits to downsizing our central governance structures.

Where I see a drain on resources is in neighborhoods that are overserved with Episcopal churches, and all are just meeting their expenses and thus put themselves in the position of being unable to support congregations in underserved areas.

There’s a need for some letting go, folks. And under our governance structure we control the creation of parishes, but not their closing.

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