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What business is your congregation in?

What business is your congregation in?

Unitarian minister Andy Pakula writes that once upon a time there was something know as the ice harvesting business. Then came refrigeration, and those who saw there business as carving up frozen ponds floundered, while those who saw their business as providing ice to homes and businesses prospered. Seeking a lesson for the contemporary church he asks:

What business is your congregation in?

Many congregations would produce answers to this question that reflect what they do today – such things as sermons and hymns, committee meetings, church buildings, members, pledges, organ music. They have been so resistant to change that I can only guess that they firmly believe these ways of doing things to be their “business.”

What business is your congregation in?

Is it not in the “life transformation” business? The “meaning-making and purpose-finding” business? The “gratitude-building, connection-revealing, justice-seeking” business?

If we come to these kinds of answers and we begin to think beyond our equivalent of the ice business, how then do we do things differently?

Does Pakula’s analogy hold? If so, how thoroughly do Episcopalians have to rethink the nature of our “business”? Is the liturgy up for grabs? Musical styles? The focus on Sunday morning as our primary “hours of operation”? Or are there certain foundations which ought not be shaken?


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Donna McNiel

With Dr. Christopher Duraisingh, I think our vocation is to be a part of the God Movement in the World. That is, to participate in the missio Dei wherever we see it, and to encourage others to do the same. That may happen inside our church buildings, but then has to send us out into the world – whether helping with clean up in Joplin, or working for MDG’s, or proclaiming peace to a world that can’t see past violence. The key aspect is it’s God’s movement, not the churches, and sometimes we get in our own way. Each community has to discern for itself how is participates in and encourages the missio Dei – with the kind of courage and creativity that you suggest, Jim.

Donna McNiel

Cynthia Katsarelis

I agree very much with jmwhite1. Transformation has to happen at the individual as well as communal level, to fuel and sustain transformative efforts in the world. I do ministry in Haiti, and I know that the liturgy back home nurtures me and enables me to function in that environment. Inspiring music and sermons, the rich symbolism of our particular Anglo-Catholic heritage, as well as excellent companions on the journey feed me deeply, and nurture and sustain me to do my work, and to experience and to share the transformative message of God’s love. The BCP is rich in the wisdom of the ages, transformative wisdom. For me, there’s nothing transformative about crappy liturgy and music. It’s not worth getting out of bed for. That said, there is a way to keep the wisdom of the ages and expressing it in inclusive language, much of which is available in the Bible! Sharing the message that everyone is a child of God has transformative potential. So put me down in support of transformation, but put me down in support of magnificent richly symbolic liturgy, mind blowing sermons, awesome music, and loving community. For me, that is the stuff of transformation.


First, let me say that though I appreciate it as an analogy, I am uncomfortable with talking about church as a business. That aside, we do exist, I believe, for the transformation of individuals and human society. Worship, education, service, evangelism; all these exist as means to the end of our transformative mission. It is too easy to see these means as the end and lots of congregations fall into this, focusing overly on social justice or creating the ‘perfect’ worship experience, or young adult group, etc. That said, much of the tradition we have inherited is full of riches and we should be wary of tossing them out in our hunt for relevance. Rather we need to examine how what we do fulfills our call to be transformative. Sunday morning liturgies from the BCP are NOT barriers to those seeking to walk with Jesus.

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