I am signing off today after 7 1/2 years as editor of the Episcopal Café. I think I have learned a few things in that time, or maybe I have just developed a few opinions. Whatever the case, I wanted to share a few parting thoughts with you.
So here is what I think I know:
• That the people of the church must seek out their neighbors in ways that may be uncomfortable to them, and that they must find ways to draw these neighbors into conversation, preferably by listening before we speak. We cannot be Christ to people whom we do not know, or with whom we have only superficial relationships.
• That the church lacks the human and financial resources to do much of the work it wants to do. We lack capacity at every level from parishes through dioceses up to the church center staff. We need to acknowledge this reality, acknowledge that it is no one’s fault, and set to work doing something about it. Combing dioceses and merging parishes would cut overhead. Making lay training at the grassroots level the top priority of diocesan staff members would increase our skill levels. We are able to ignore this widespread reality in part because some of our parishes and dioceses are immune from it. We can’t succeed as the Consortium of Affluent Episcopal Parishes—but that is the direction in which we are heading.
• That diocesan bishops in their local role are, at the moment, the people most strategically placed individuals in the church. Bishops and the rectors of large parishes are among the few people in our system who have the resources to make significant changes in the way that the church does business. But the rectors of large parishes often preside over communities that are flourishing and have little impetus to change. Not so for bishops. They know that in most dioceses a handful of parishes are thriving, another handful or two are holding their own, and the remainder are struggling. Bishops have both the resources, relatively speaking, and the sense of urgency to make changes. (Now, if we would only reward more candidates with the courage to articulate a strategic vision when they stand for election as bishops.)
• That the leaders of the church must trust the people of the church to do the work of the church. The amount of commentary on social media about the things that lay people do wrong—from taking too long with church announcement, to liking the wrong kind of music, to allowing their children to play youth sports on Sundays, to putting their Christmas decorations up too early and taking them down too late—suggests but an unwillingness to trust lay people in small largely personal matters, let alone in the leadership of the church.
• That lay people must a) get past the notion that the church exists primarily as an oasis in their hectic lives; b) understand that excellence in a particular ministry (liturgy, music, buildings and grounds, even outreach) is as likely to be a product of a congregation’s budget as of its fidelity; c) stop treating clergy with either absolute deference or profound suspicion; d) similarly, accept that a gifted bishop or rector is not personally the answer to all that ails your church, and that much of this burden is yours to bear.
• That church communities have an understandable desire to avoid conflict, especially if this involves challenging established authority, but that this creates a climate (from the 815 Second Avenue, to the smallest parish, to social media) in which bullying is tolerated. In this, I think we are all—at times—complicit.
• That sorting wheat from chaff on the issue of young people and their relationship to the church is among the toughest jobs in Christendom.
• That tens of thousands of great many gifted, loving, God-hungry people have dedicated their lives, or slivers of their lives, to this church because they believe that it is the truest expression of the faith to which God calls us.
• That I’d be lost without it.
I will be back to say some thanks before signing off later this evening.