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To restructure the church, restructure yourself

To restructure the church, restructure yourself

The Rev Alex Dyer has some thoughts about the kinds of thinking that the Episcopal Church needs to cultivate as it contemplates restructuring. Writing for Episcopal News Service, he says:

We need to let go of our self-aggrandizing goals and seek to build a truly new church that responds to the needs of the world, with word and action. To most of my non-church attending friends, the Episcopal Church, like most churches, appears to care about the world most when it suits our own needs or makes us look good. Our ineffectiveness has not gone unnoticed by those outside the church. The Episcopal Church I know is a different church where great work is being done, and I think we are capable of much more.

A huge part of change is engaging in a process of self-sacrifice and owning our own accountability in the system. If you are concerned with, for example, ministry to Spanish-speaking people or university chaplaincies (or whatever), then stop looking just to your diocese or the Episcopal Church Center to solve the problem. We need to start claiming our own authority to solve problems for our own ministry contexts. Claiming our own local authority balanced with our recognition of our mutual interdependence will help us forge a new path that others will want to join.

Speaking of our own authority, let’s not sit around idly and wait for a restructuring committee to give us all the answers we need. This transformation needs to start at the parish level or diocesan level while the restructuring committee does the work that it needs to do on the largest levels of our church.

What else needs restructuring besides our administration and governance? What about parish life? Seminary education? The role of a diocese? What else?


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It is interesting to combine the two comments above. I don’t think seminaries teach disdain for lay people. Rather, clergy come out of seminary excited to share what they have learned, and discover that often in-depth Adult Education offerings are so poorly attended. Survey lay people and they say they want a course — do the work to prepare and offer it and they don’t show up.

Sunny Hallanan (added by ~ed.)

Bill Dilworth

I wish we would restructure adult education in church. In parishes with which I am familiar, the general patterns of AE are what’s sometimes called “the rector’s forum” or something similar, and the short-term class. The first often has no focus other than that brought up by the participants, and as the name suggests is run by the rector. The second is about some specific topic, may be facilitated by a lay-person, but may last only one or a few sessions.

I found much to be admired in my parents’ experience of adult Sunday School classes in their Methodist congregation. There were different groupings to choose from rather than a one-size-fits-all seminar, they were lay-led rather than clergy-driven, they allowed class members to relate more closely to other congregants than was possible during services or coffee hour, and they could be used for long-term, in-depth exploration of a topic than is usually afforded in AE. They began about an hour before services, and then stopped so that the classes could come together as a congregation.

I don’t have much optimism for the prospects of instituting such a thing in the Episcopal Church, of course. Most Churchpeople can’t seem to find time for one hour of services on Sunday morning, much less adding another hour for education. And the bias against certain types of “enthusiasm” that opposed Wesley hasn’t died out completely – even committed Churchpeople may be suspicious of “too much” interest in religion. I think it’s a pity, because I think it could do the Episcopal Church much good to have a more stable, in-depth venue for AE.

Wendy Dackson

We also have to really re-think the way future ordained leaders are trained to relate to lay people in the seminaries. I’ve come across too many instances (especially conversations with clergy and pastoral theology teachers) where it’s evident to me that clergy are trained to regard lay people as a bad joke, an enemy, a problem to be solved. What other institution on earth would keep expensive training facilities where future leaders are taught to blow off the people they want to reach? When I hear clergy speak of lay people as a problem, I’m not surprised that lay people solve that problem. By leaving.

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