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What the PB and Bishop Sauls misunderstand about mission

What the PB and Bishop Sauls misunderstand about mission

One of the more thoughtful critiques of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bishop Stacy Sauls’ plan for restructuring the Episcopal Church in ways that would vest more authority in the offices they currently hold, was written by Tobias Haller. He is particularly good on the two bishops’ faulty understanding of mission, a word they use as a weapon against those who think it is worth spending money to include clergy and lay people in the decision making bodies of the church.

First and foremost, the idea of organizing the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society was not to found a centrally based or governed mission agency, but on the contrary precisely to empower every member of the church as a missionary in person. I have never thought of General Convention as “missionary” — any more than I would think of Congress as “military” — General Convention is there to govern the church, and to direct and serve the mission; as is the staff at 815 (what PB John Maury Allin called and modeled as a “service center”); and all those interim bodies are there to do the same. But the mission is primarily carried out by the members of the church working as individuals and in coordination with others in their parishes and dioceses. (Just as the army carries out the policies of the government but is distinct from the government.)

Second, we need to be very clear about what we mean by mission. The BCP has a definition of mission is summed up in three questions and answers on page 855.

Q. What is the mission of the Church?

A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?

A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?

A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

These answers do a number of things. The first places mission in a theological as well as a human context. That is, it is about people, but it is also about God. The second prevents us thinking that worship and proclamation are not just as much mission as the soup kitchen is. The third makes it clear that all of the members of the church are called and equipped to carry forward this mission.

It seems, therefore, odd to talk, as the presentation does, primarily about the national budget, while ignoring the billions of dollars raised and spent by the parishes — only alluded to in the presentation — when talking about the proportion of money spent on mission. The proportion of our “Gross Episcopal Product” spent on mission is substantial — as we have to include the salaries of the missioners, the maintenance of the places in which we worship, and so on. It is deadly dangerous, and verges on a kind of missionary gnosticism, to forget that the cost of running a parish is a crucial part of its mission. Seek economies, by all means, but let us not say to the foot, I have no need of you!

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David Perkins

The tone of this blog post raises questions for me about the intent of the blogger.

"He is particularly good on the two bishops' faulty understanding of mission, a word they use as a weapon against those who think it is worth spending money to include clergy and lay people in the decision making bodies of the church."

This tone feels objectionable at several levels. First, the blogger assumes a superior tone about mission and a motivation that feels contradictory to what I understand of the Presiding Bishop and Bishop Sauls.

Second, to deal in personalities and to impute motives subverts the potential for a win-win dialogue and converts it into a win-lose contest. The accusation of abuse of power turns on the accuser.

A discussion, free of heat and invective, about mission can only benefit us. It can only enlarge our vision of mission as we inform one another and receive one another's truth.

We do not do mission by extension; rather, we do mission by participation. God does mission 24/7 in every realm. Ours is to discern where God is at work at the local, diocesan, national, and international levels and join in that mission.

To set governance over against mission creates a false dichotomy. Governance serves mission. Mission trumps all else; thus governance indeed is missional.

Are we saying that we do not have $100,000 to fund this venture? Are we saying that we want to dump this task onto an already overloaded General Convention agenda rather than creating a milieu devoted entirely to a discussion of mission and structure? Are we saying that we do not welcome the outside voices and fresh eyes of people on a commission who otherwise would be tangential to the discussion?

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Gary Paul Gilbert

Thank you, Michael, for insulting baby boomers, of which I am one.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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Jim Naughton

Hang on a sec. I didn't call the PB and Bishop Sauls the names you suggest. Nothing of the sort. And I don't think it is useful to equate sharply worded criticism with mudslinging and name-calling--especially when you are the one putting the names in my mouth.

I have managed to have this conversation without questioning your character in any way. You haven't been able to show me the same courtesy. Now you are distorting what I have said. So, I think we're done here.

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Fr Mitch Bojarski

@Jim Naughton,

I thank you for your candor in saying that you are using EpiscopalCafe to advocate for your position and not objectively reporting on the issue and that your tone has grown "edgier". I do understand and accept that the EpiscopalCafe does not claim to be purely informational without commentary or editorial. You have every right to post like this on this forum but I think you're part of the problem and not part of the solution.

We obviously disagree on this point and I hope that I'm wrong. I hope that the mudslinging and name-calling can help the church move toward a more collegial future. I don't see how it will, but you seem convinced that you're in the right.

My original post was concerned with the "edgier" tone. Now that I see you seem to think the PB and COO are "snakes" and "vipers" and your “opponents” rather than colleagues in ministry I think I understand better. Once we see those with whom we disagree as opponents then it is fine to call them snakes and vipers and know that you're not in the wrong. You have certainly done a fine job of self-justification in that regard.

I wish everyone (the holy ones and the snakes and vipers) would be less concerned with being right and more concerned with doing right.

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Fr Mitch Bojarski

@gary,

The characterizations I made in my post reflect the positions I hear from people in my church. I really do believe that the bishops and the deputies (including their leadership) think they are acting in the best interest of the church. I don't think a majority of the folks in my pews are as convinced and they don't see much of a difference between the two houses. There's a sense that the leadership has lost touch and are too worried about their own reputations and/or power to do what's in the best interest of those in the churches.

I also don't believe that older members of the church are more likely to fight, per se. But it is Baby-Boomers with all the power in the church right now and they are the ones doing the fighting.

-Mitch Bojarski

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