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Turning Outwards

Turning Outwards

Susan Snook has some concerns about the way the conversation on restructuring the Episcopal Church is headed.

Imaging what someone from outer space might think of the claims that the Episcopal Church wants to refocus itself outwardly towards mission she writes:

“Our Martian friends would, however, discover lots of inward focus.  Clearly they would detect right away that our mission includes maintaining a headquarters in Manhattan, housing a large staff.  Quite likely they would conclude that our mission includes maintaining a great number of costly and beautiful buildings, which are lightly occupied for one hour a week.  And most of all, I think they would conclude that our mission was to argue with each other. 

Snook wonders if restructuring will be another time of conflict. Her whole post is here.


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Susan Snook

Eric, good point – the powerful get entrenched and protect their power, indeed see it as essential compared to the needs of the powerless – like children and youth, seminarians, lay employees, and so on. But you could see this as an insider perspective also – powerful insiders protecting their interests at the expense of the folks who are not in the inner circle. You are right to point us to the fact that looking outward could mean caring for people who are officially inside the church, but not inside the power structures. And it is a shame when pastoral care is not offered adequately.


Hi Susan. Thanks for your participation–I am an avid reader of your blog.

One differing view I’d offer, though, is around our care for “insiders.” Specifically, I’m amazed at how spotty our pastoral care can be, and have a number of friends who are greatly put off by the fact that the church repeatedly has not been there for them in times of need.

Unfortunately, the spector of pastoral neglect now appears to be rearing its head at the national level. Indeed, the Martians might conclude that the vast machine we have built that provides endless committees, meetings, and fora in which to argue increasingly ignores seminarians, youth, lay employees and others in need of our care and resources, as it demands that needed to keep the great cogs and wheels grinding in endless circles, generating noise and heat but little else.

Eric Bonetti

Susan Snook

Tobias, I agree that there should be a balance – certainly you don’t forget about doing worship, pastoral care and fellowship in favor of doing ONLY evangelism and service. But I don’t think our churches need anyone to urge them to take care of the insiders. We’re pretty good at that, for the most part. What we need is a constant reminder to look outside. And if all our energy is consumed by conflict (an internal matter), especially on items that should be opportunities for teamwork (like restructuring), then we will never look outside. We can’t forget to look outwards – if we do, we will slowly fade away, by simple attrition.

tobias haller

Susan, I think my problem is that the “Five Marks of Mission” are not necessarily “gospel” and we need to go back to the Catechism. There it is clear that worship IS mission — not merely an undergirding. And yes, overemphasizing the inside over the outside is a mistake, but so is the opposite. Many churches lose those who are “in” in their effort to reach those who are “out.” The goal is to get everyone on board…

Susan Snook

Let me try again, because I don’t think my point came across well. I am not arguing that the conflicts of the past were not worth having – I am glad that the conflicts over women, gays and lesbians are moving toward resolution in a direction I agree with. What I am saying is that the challenge of restructuring is not the same kind of conflict, and we shouldn’t treat it the same. It would be very easy for a system, winding down from a major conflict, to not know what to do with that extra energy, and to treat all issues that come before it in the same way as it is used to doing. I hope that does not happen. Restructuring is a conversation that needs to happen, but I hope that it can happen in a prayerful and grace-filled way. I see a danger of us all pointing fingers at each other, when I think we need to be working together on this one – focusing outward instead of inward.

I definitely don’t think that Mission is all about service. In fact, I think that the Anglican Marks of Mission do a reasonably good job of talking about mission, and arguably four of the five are externally focused rather than internally focused. Those Marks are:

> To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

> To teach, baptize and nurture new believers

> To respond to human need by loving service

>To seek to transform unjust structures of society

> To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Only the second Mark is purely focused on people who are already in the church. That’s what I mean by mission being (mostly) externally focused. If we concentrate on arguing with each other, we run the danger of forgetting about those external components of mission. And yes, I agree with Tobias that worship undergirds and supports all the mission we do.

Susan Snook

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