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Good bye, part one: What I think I’ve learned

Good bye, part one: What I think I’ve learned

Dear friends,

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.


Jim Naughton


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Jonathan Jennings

Oh boy; where to start? Just, thanks.

We met a couple of times in Washington DC at the height of all of the difficulty over Gene and Rowan and ever since then I’ve followed the work you’ve done with considerable admiration and respect.

Although the communications, political and theological contexts in which we both worked differed widely across our churches, we soon came to understand that both suffer from exactly the same problem. Communications gets treated as a distinct division of responsibility – left to those ‘who like that sort of thing’ – and kept far enough away from the ‘real work, whatever the ‘real’ happens to be; policy, doctrine, theology, practical, administrative and so on. Until of course, stuff starts hitting the fan, by which time it is too late.

I’ve wondered often how it might be if the whole communications thing became an aspect of how the church acts; integral to the processes, changing and developing in real time the ways in which the church at large understands how it is seen as the church at large and feeding back into decisions and processes.

Creative, slightly left-of-field people have been the counter to this – initiatives like the Café and, on our side of the pond, Thinking Anglicans both served as the kinds of forums that contributed corrective to this, but, as I contemplate over 35 years in this field I have to reflect that we are not really a great deal further forward than we were in the late 70s.

Where we are further forward is that within this field there have been some enormous contributions from these kinds of individuals; and Jim, you should be extremely proud to be one of them.

Jim Naughton

Thank you, everyone. It has been a blast.

Elizabeth Kaeton

I am simply filled with gratitude for offering an “insiders outside view” of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

My prayer for you is from the words of Dag Hammarskjöld who famously said:

“For all that has been,

Thank you.

For all that is to come,


Paige Baker

Jim–I want to thank you for your service to the Episcopal Church, for your passion for our particular expression of the faith, and for your integrity. I am proud to say I knew you when, and I am grateful to have shared part of this incredible journey with you. Blessings to you on the next stage of your journey along The Way.


Paige Baker

Murdoch Matthew

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.

Ah, General Theological Seminary anyone?

Really ought to just thank Jim Naughton for years of reasonable, pragmatic information about the Anglican monster. His point about conflict avoidance was too timely to ignore. The Anglican ethos is to find unity in common worship, and to pass over individual, or partisan, differences. But this makes it almost impossible to take a stand. Where is the church’s influence on civil rights, for instance? In individual action. The institution includes people with all opinions, so presses for none.

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