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What is stopping you?

What is stopping you?

During General Convention I frequently heard people speak about the kind of church that they wanted to help bring into being. My question posed not as a challenge, but to gather information was: What is stopping you?

I am aware that some people feel our governing and administrative structures are too cumbersome and too costly. I don’t necessarily dispute that. But I am not sure that governance can do more that provide a small amount of the venture capital necessary to bring this new church into being.

Reducing the amount of money that the general church requests from dioceses each year from 19 percent to 15 percent, as a number of folks would like to do in 2016, might encourage experimentation at the local level. But only about half of our dioceses contribute more than 15 percent right now, so we shouldn’t labor under the illusion that a church-wide windfall is in the offing.

So, being honest about the limits of structural change and budgetary reform in the great project of re-imagining the church, where do we go from here? What do we need to do, and what is stopping us from doing it?

(If, as a ground rule for this conversation, we could stipulate that I understand that we, alone, can accomplish nothing, that it is God’s church not our church, and that fidelity rather than institutional success is the mark of a Christian, I would appreciate it.)


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Gary Paul Gilbert

Excellent, Jeffrey! Why indeed should liberal congregations be abandoned to traditionalist bishops? Congregations should be allowed to move on with equality for LGBTs.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

I know that this thread is now several days old and slipping off the bottom of the page, but it has taken several days for me to collect my thoughts on this. Let me start from the perspective that, just under a year ago, I accepted a “call” to come and provide musical support to what is hopefully a “reviving” former-Episcopal-Church-Now-Mission in the Dio of Arizona. I just spent my last Saturday in an event for congregational development as part of the assistance that Dio of AZ is offering us in this work, and the ideas of what we “need” to do our work have been very much in my mind for the last year. Although I retain my membership at our Cathedral (I think it bad to be a “member” of a parish where one works) where we have enjoyed a re-birth/revival, I have “thrown my lot in” with a group of dedicated people of multiple ages, races, ethnicities, socio-economic statuses who are trying very hard to “be the church” in a difficult time and place. So…

Three years ago, when we made our last steps towards full inclusion, this time with LGB (not yet T) persons in TEC, I was a bit impatient with the “Ok, already, lets get back to the REAL ministry of the church” voices. Somehow, that just came off to me as dismissive that what we were doing was NOT the real mission of the church. Today, I think I have different feelings.

What is sapping and draining my energy, acting as a block and getting in my way most, is the ongoing “effort” to “include” the reactionary and dying elements in the church who want nothing more than to use “dialogue” with progressive Christian people for their own publicity ends. Our church just did a “bold” thing, or tried to from our standpoint, in crafting a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex-persons now 30+ years from our initial commitments to act along those lines. Instead of celebrating this, we greeted it with respectful “silence” so that the “losers would not feel bad.” We didn’t get to express joy and gratitude for our “liberation” we had to be sad and solemn “out of respect.” What I am also not proud of is that, at the “last minute” the “legislation” and dialogue process granted full and equal status to bishops who not only want to act for their own conscience on these matters but want to control others and prevent them from moving forward with the rest of us. We did not grant them a “voice” at the table, we gave them POWER to continue their anti-progressive crusade and the funding and stamp of approval to do it. At the same time, we re-committed ourselves to “dialogue” with them – a dialogue that they might very much want, but not for the reasons that one would hope, but because it allows them to continue to exercise power and control over the processes of our church in hopes of “turning back the clock.”

In 2009, the Rt. Rev. Shelby Spong issued a “manifesto” in which he declared that he was finished with dialogue with bigotry. Just as he would no longer “dialogue” over the rights of women, persons of color or chattel slavery, he was not going to waste time/energy on more dialogue on the rights of LGBT people. To quote his own words, “I will no longer temper my understanding of truth in order to pretend that I have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles where the church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against blacks, Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is ‘high-sounding pious rhetoric.’ The day for that mentality has simply come to an end for me. I will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer. The world has moved on, leaving those elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves.”

After that long introduction, I think that I need to be a bit clear about what is “getting in my way.” As a person adopting more and more of a “new paradigm” way of being Christian, one thing that is “getting in my way” is “continuing the dialogue.” By doing so, we are continuing to give the persons who seek my/our destruction the pulpit/platform and the great gift of a debating partner in order to continue a dialogue that they have no intention of engaging in with any degree of sincerity. Outside TEC, we continue to scramble to engage voices such as those we heard in the WSJ and NYT this week with a flurry of defensive “responses.” I do not have enough energy to both get along with building/re-building a dying church (that died not from liberalism, IMHO, but from increasing irrelevance) and to re-engage in battles long past and whose conclusions are “over.” Frankly, it IS distracting us from the REAL dialogue that we need to be having-the dialogue not with the dying homophobic/prejudiced enclaves in our church, but with those OUTSIDE the church whose views of us continue to be polluted by pseudo-Christian voices who use our “tolerance” as a tool to undermine us and distort our image and message. Perhaps we need to appoint a small “rear guard” or “special ambassador” to these people in the event that the “heart of pharaoh” might someday soften and keep just enough of a door cracked open to allow a return if/when they ever want it, but it is time to get their names off the playbill and off the Marquis. What I need, is to “move on” and get about engaging in dialogue with persons who view the Church and religious life as, at best, a “ho-hum, whatever” and at worst (thanks largely to our “dialogue partners”) as the enclave of narrow minded bigots. As a person approaching rapidly the big “half century” mark, I begin to see that more of my life is behind me than before me. There is so much to do, and too laborers to accomplish the task. I have limited resources that need to be expanded. I would like to get on with doing so and stop getting pulled back by endless dialogue that goes nowhere and does nothing to forward the mission.

(Sorry for the frustrated tone, but that’s how I feel this week. Thanks for listening and “attack” away, if you like. I am sure that I have given detractors more-than-enough ammunition. Just to put Shelby Spong in a post is the equivalent these days of painting a “kick me” sign on your back!)

No offense, but I’m not interested in why some things cannot come to pass. Saying it in the negative just leads to more hand-wringing. If we have sufficient incentive and can move in our discernment to the place of action rather than talk, then we WILL do the things that need doing, and they will of necessity be relevant to the world around us: free lifetime health care for Episcopalians; intentional living in community to reduce cost and amp up people’s prayer lives; free seminary education; divestment of largely unused facilities with relocation to smaller, greener spaces or total revamping of existing spaces; genuine embrace of the pain of our neighbors so as to stem the tides of poverty, abuse, disease, etc. as Christ commands; massive diffusion of public and unapologetic knowledge of the Bible and its context; liturgy done well with the incorporation of many.

Or just pick one and concentrate. Whatever. Let’s just stop the worry and get going already.

Torey Lightcap

Lois Keen

What is stopping me? Nothing but the lack of money and the need to earn a living.

Only money, if I want to realize one of the dreams placed in me of a storefront sort of drop in center for spiritual development for all ages and faiths/non faiths that just happens to also offer daily worship.

Money and old ways of thinking about church, if the dream of some of the people I serve is to be realized of claiming what we have already become – a center for the community at large – and what we could become – a center for spiritual development for all people, ages, and faiths/non-faiths. Money to keep the building open. Money for a building manager. Money for running the center for spiritual development.

The question you asked, Jim, is the one to which I’m responding: “What is stopping you”. At the same time, the people I serve are exploring how to overcome the money part, and we may just have to live with the “old way of thinking” part. We may fail. So what?

From the wisdom of “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein, “There is no dishonor in losing the race…There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.” (page 277). “In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle… Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you. I know it’s true; racing doesn’t lie.” (page 83)

Derek Olsen

Not enough time in the day!

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