At Kanuga, House of Bishops meeting rolls along

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Virtually unnoticed by many over the past few days – perhaps happily so by its oft-overburdened, purple-shirted participants – is the meeting of the House of Bishops at Kanuga Conferences.


Mild tidbits here and there have sprinkled themselves over blogs and Twitter, but it sounds like listening to the sound of one’s heartbeat and walking in the spring rains of North Carolina can be just as much of a tonic as any post-Sunday-service potluck pie.

Of yesterday, Arizona’s Kirk Smith notes:

The theme for today was “Reaching Young Adults with the Gospel.” We got the background on generational differences from Lisa Kimball, who teaches at Virginia Seminary. I realized again what a bad job the Episcopal Church has done in this area, but there are signs of hope. Key for me was understanding that we don’t do ministry for young adults we do it with them, and that means spending more time listening to their needs; where they are instead of trying to impose our programs and conceptions on them. Much of what was discussed the clergy of the Diocese of Arizona heard at our recent youth summit, but it was nice to learn about some best practices from the larger church. In the afternoon we heard about two projects involving young people, the Episcopal Service Corps which now has about 20 sites around the country where young interns are giving service to the church while living in community, and the Relational Evangelism project which trains 20-30 year olds to engage in conversations about God with their peers–they receive a stipend for this and it seems to be very effective. So, already I have lots of new ideas to try out at home!

[To this point, Scott Gunn gently reminds the House that some youth-gettin’ strategies are better than others.]

Here’s how the Office of Public Affairs traced Saturday’s content:

The topics and focus for the day was Proclamation of the Gospel to/with Young Adults: How can we be church in the 21st Century. Presenters were Lisa Kimball of Virginia Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Arrington Chambliss and Jason Long from the Diocese of Massachusetts.

Lisa shared personal vignettes which illustrated work needed to be done with the Episcopal Church and young adults. Defining “young adults” is very complex and depends on context, but she focused on 19 -35 years old. She shared stats and facts about this age group.

Lisa presented discussion questions for the bishops: What are the challenges facing the young adults you know? What are their strengths? To what extent is the Church in your diocese reaching people like this? The bishops shared reactions and comments.

Lisa noted: there is a deep need in the church for faith formation in the home; “sadly” young adults are missing from our worship service; and those in 20s and 30s want to be in relation with the Episcopal Church.

We ask, because we want to know: Is this perhaps the formation of a lament over a fact that’s now firmly established and is causing anger and resignation in the face of futility; or is it the beginnings of something new pouring forth? Certainly, from Brian Maclaren and others, we have heard of how The Episcopal Church is uniquely situated to be something great for the next generations of Christians if it can only turn itself enough to see its own assets.

Bishop Greg Rickel of Olympia went back to his laptop and turned all this conversation into some pertinent questions for persons ages 19-35.

1. What are some of your interests?

2. What do you do with your free time?

3. To what extent do you consider yourself a spiritual person?

4. Did you grow up in a religiously observant family?

a. If so, what if any spiritual practices do you maintain?

5. What makes you angry?

6. Where do you find hope?

7. What advice would you give the Church today?

Friday’s summation is brought to you by Minnesota’s bishop, Brian Prior.

The Presiding Bishop addressed the assembly, talking about the connections between the HOB meeting schedule and the announced topics: Proclamation of the Gospel to Young Adults, Islam and Christianity, The Proposed Anglican Covenant, Recruiting and Preparing Young People for Church Leadership. She focused on leadership in a changing world, urging the Church to raise up leaders to be agents of change for the sake of God’s mission.

HOB Vice President Bishop Dean Wolfe of Kansas talked about the seven core values of HOB. Following that, there were discussions about the use of Facebook, texting and tweeting during the HOB meetings, and a consensus was reached among the members. [We’re guessing no? -ed.]

During a Town Hall meeting, the bishops discussed various topics of interest.

Also tweeting in concert with the conversation, but not necessarily about it (whatever DID they decide about that as a group?), was Texas’ bishop, C. Andrew Doyle, who asked,

So #Episcopal tech friends under 45: what is/was the most transformative, spiritual, or worshipful experience that drew you into the church?

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"We ask, because we want to know: Is this perhaps the formation of a lament over a fact that's now firmly established and is causing anger and resignation in the face of futility; or is it the beginnings of something new pouring forth?"

I fit Lisa Kimball's definition of young adult (just barely--I am about to be 33). I am also the product of one of the oldest Episcopal Service Corps programs that Arrington+ and Jason discussed at the meeting, the Episcopal Urban Intern Program (EUIP) of Los Angeles (founded '91); and since being ordained in 2007, I've been the executive director of EUIP. I don't claim to be an expert, but almost all my energy and time since becoming an Episcopalian at 19 has been spent thinking about how our Church reaches (or doesn't reach) people in my age group. And lately, I've been thinking a lot about this question you ask of lament vs. hope for what's next.

Frankly, I'm tired of the moaning and sadness ("'sadly' young adults are missing from our worship service"). Its tedious and has led to numerous half-hearted yet desperate attempts (the "decade of evangelism," "Vision:20/20") to restore something I believe is lost forever. We are mourning the death of Christendom--the death of the happy 1950s suburban church, when every parish's Sunday School rolls had 400 children, we had so many teenaged acolytes that we had to process the flag in order for everyone to have something to do, and every church could afford a rector and a vicar.

Evangelism was easy in Christendom: the values of the church and the values of the culture were aligned (maybe not perfectly, maybe not all the time, but pretty close). So it was easy for people to come in--they found in the parish church the same kind of people, the same kind of values, that they encountered at work or in their social lives.

Christianity no longer has this hegemony in our culture. Christendom--maybe for the first time since the conversion of Constantine--is dead. We live in a dynamic, pluralistic, multicultural society now.

We have been mourning this death for a while now, and I do believe there is futility in that. And if we continue to mope and moan about what was but will no longer be, there is a chance we will fall into despair and never recover.

But lately I've begun to think--Hallelujah!--Christendom is dead. We need to rejoice that we are free of cultural hegemony, not devise useless strategies to try and get it back. We now have the opportunity to make an inspiring critique of the cultural values that surround us--just as Jesus did regarding the cultural values of Rome. "The Kingdom of God is at hand" is good news, but I don't think it made much sense when the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms/powers of this world were believed to be more or less the same. But suddenly this cry makes sense again: our values as Christians are different than the often death-dealing values of the powers of this world.

Our hope in Episcopal Service Corps is that by putting young adults in direct contact with the poor and oppressed they will be sensitized to the difference between Kingdom values and worldly values. We believe this equips them to go on and proclaim the values of God's Kingdom in their lives going forward.

Whether or not they will do this as Episcopalians is another matter. Some come to us as Episcopalians, but most come from other backgrounds. If its any consolation, every year in EUIP one or two non-Episcopalians choose to be confirmed--these are young adults who respond like Maclaren predicts to our church's openness and values.

Will TEC as an institution survive this shift? I think it will. But it will probably be smaller than it is even now (and other things, which we cannot yet even name, will grow larger). And only rarely will parishes operate like they did 50 years ago. But I hope leaders will emerge with the creativity and drive to provide new ways of gathering communities, of worshipping, and of being church together. House churches with vital worship. Lay-empowered formation. New ways of connecting. And probably fewer buildings and less work for paid ministers (as someone who is ordained, i realize I'm maybe writing my own pink slip here--we're going to have to get creative about how we support ordained leadership, both the clergy being supported and the people supporting them, if we decide ordained leadership continues to be vital).

Jason Cox+

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Neil Willard
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I’m grateful to my bishop, Brian Prior, for passing along to the rest of us a “daily account” of the House of Bishops meeting from the Episcopal Church’s Office of Public Affairs. However, I’m confused about the fact that these summaries aren’t available via Episcopal Life Online.

The “tweeting” bishops of the previous meeting opened doors and engaged many in their work for the first time. It seems odd to me that social media parameters were debated, leading to a consensus that was mentioned but not actually described in the first “daily account." Unfortunately, it reinforces the message of the cartoon shared on Scott Gunn’s blog – an interesting contrast to their agenda item about connecting with young people.

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Bill Carroll
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Bill Carroll

I'm very glad to see Lisa Kimball is at VTS and speaking with the HOB. She came and did a youth ministry workshop for us in Upper South Carolina, which has been foundational for a lot of the work I have subsequently done with youth and young adults. Her advise is sound for Christian ministry with all ages: "Show up, listen, and tell the truth."

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