Saturday, August 11, 2012

"To Live in an Evolutionary Spirit"

At the end of the CREDO 2006 report on clergy wellness, there is a quote from Erich Jantsch, an astrophysicist:  To live in an evolutionary spirit means to engage with full ambition and without any reserve in the structure of the present, and yet to let go and flow into a new structure when the right time has come."

The right time has come for serious restructuring of our National and Diocesan entities, who by their very nature due to constitutional, canonical and functional characteristics, are almost moribund when it comes to an evolutionary movement into something new and different.  They have engaged the present, stay in the present, and form a committee to discuss the matter.  If the Episcopal ecclesiastical systems are to change, some kind of flow from that which is into the potential of what could be needs to be addressed.  However, we've been so stuck in the past and the present that we cannot begin to imagine evolving and flowing into a new structure.

If the church engaged with full ambition the structure of the present, it would have already figured out that novelty is the key to recognizing our decline, taking steps to reverse it and making it evolve into something new.  The church must pay attention to the reality that it lacks people, resources, positive and energizing age demographics and pitiful church attendance.  Some of our leaders claim to understand the present situation, but only a few are making any real attempt to engage this on the Diocesan or Parish level. 

Recently I received the information about my Diocesan Convention and I found absolutely nothing different in terms of engaging in a systematic newness that would move the Diocese into a more dynamic evolutionary entity.  Sure, there will be discussion groups.  Haven't we had enough of these already? The Diocese will pay full attention merely to only the present.  Homeostasis will reign now and forever amen.  The preaching will be designed to provoke a decision of some sort of another, will be listened to respectfully, and then business as usual.

Perhaps something new will come about by a lack of money.  It has already happened in Western Kansas where the Bishop is a Rector.  Downsizing trends may happen in larger Dioceses in the years to come.  Yet most Dioceses continue to function the same old way.  This may continue until lack of money creates the political will in the clergy and people, then there will be a demand that will move the Diocese forward into that which is new.  Thus the change will be by default rather than a Spirit filled evolution from that which is into that which is something new, different, exciting and challenging.  Perhaps lack of money is the only novelty left that will sparked the Diocese to flow into a new structure when the right time has come.  In my view, the right time has already come and maybe even gone.


  1. Yes,Bob; money is and will always be the way to measure our situation. Interestingly in the last twenty or more years, the Church has intentionally retreated from stewardship as leadership and turned off the tap to what made us the leader of North America in the 1980's in per unit giving. So we in fact began to force our own decline. While we could not control many of the demographic problems that we have, we could have continued to be a leader in money giving and mission finance. Instead we have spiritualized stewardship and refer to percentage giving and tithing only in the abstract because leaders are not willing to talk about their own personal giving. By leaders I mean bishops, prominent priests, deacons and lay persons. So we made decisions at least two decades ago to downsize regardless of other factors. The evolutionary spirit is the force of the Holy Spirit to make us small enough to fit through the eye of the needle, or so it seems.

  2. How often have we heard, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing?” So why is it so difficult for the Church to move, as Bob asks, from the past and present into the future? Two answers come to mind. First our National/Diocesan leaders do not know what the main thing is. J. Russell Crabtree in his book "The Fly In The Ointment" spells it out: “The sole, strategic thrust of regional associations (the diocese) is the enterprise of developing healthy, vital congregations.” Repeat – the main (sole) thing is developing healthy, vital congregations. It is not the perpetuation of their individual diocese or their personal Episcopal office. It might well be added that even those leaders who have a suspicion of our main thing have allowed others to drag them in to their main thing. Look at how bishops spend their time and you know their thing. Thinking that funneling the responsibility off to staff doesn’t get the job done either.

  3. As a church we have failed to look at the mission opportunities in our diocese such as the hispanic population. I have been assigned to St. Paul's in KC, Ks and realized I was not equipped to minister to the Hispanics who have been there for over 12 years. St. Paul's is doing wonderful outreach with other congregations assisting, but the Latino community has been sorely neglected and I am afraid it will be too late to reach this community. We need some young adults with our help to form a visible community that actually lives in the parish house there and opens its door to the Latinos. They do not ultilize the pantry or Saturday morning breakfast. I disagree that money is the only way to measure the success of our denomination. I still believe that when a faith community concentrates on the mission of the church and sinks itself into providing spiritual enrichment to the congregation, growth will happen. Our diocese is more concerned with putting up buildings or planting new communities south of the metro. This is my deaconal perspective on this. All Christians need to come together to build the Body of Christ.

  4. To Wisdom, financial giving is required to inspire and finance mission. It breeds human resources by those who have plenty of money to give and those who have little to none.Whether you or I like it or not, success does breed more of the same. Re. St Paul's, good for you and St. Paul's, but keep in mind that there is little to no evidence that any Hispanic ministry in the Episcopal Church is self supporting.Check for yourself. If that is the case, as all evidence I know of indicates, then who is serving whom to satisfy what need? PS: My source for the information re.self supporting Hispanic mission was the Hispanic ministry officer for Province 7 about six years ago on site at St. Paul's who advised against the effort. As Vicar of St. Paul's, I made a strategic decision not to pursue a ministry that seemed doomed and not to use our few human and financial resources to no apparent end. Also if you check the actual demographics most Hispanics live too far south of St. Paul's to be interested and generally will either move in that south area or to the southeast or southwest KCK. I hope new evidence proves to be more positive; and if so, please prove me wrong. Finally in the actual zip codes directly around St. Paul's, you have the two poorest areas in Kansas.So if suddenly St. Paul's got a massive number of new regular worshipers from those zip codes and they gave at their probable ability to do so, it would still be a massive struggle to finance just the building costs. That is called reality.

  5. The comment from Wisdon illustrates the issue: the main (sole) task of the Diocese is the developing of healthy, vital congregations and the priest assigned to a particular parish sees Hispanic ministry as the future but is not skilled in that ethic ministry – that’s a disconnect! Wisdom surely wants to lead a healthy, vital congregation so why was that assignment made? Do the priest and bishop have differing “main things” concerning that parish? Looks like it.

  6. Once again and every week this blog names important questions for the church to engage.

    I wish the Credo report had quoted from an Episcopal spiritual leader rather than an astrophysicist. Who are our spiritual leaders in The Episcopal Church?

    I think TEC is suffering from a spiritual crisis. In a spiritual crisis people talk only about systems, new leadership, governance, better tools and so forth. But would it not be better if all of these suggestions emerged out of a communal discernment process that begins with humility about who we are as God's people doing God's mission.

    I am very hopeful in the spirit of congregations throughout the church that they will pull themselves together and find through worship and corporate prayer where they need to go. Concurrently I think the national church and the diocesan staffs will continue to dwindle to human size not due to a reorg but natural evolution of the future church.

    I see the future healthy Episcopal Church being revitalized from the bottom up and not from the top down. There are dioceses helping their congregations and I wish this their knowledge and vision would be shared across the church for the benefit of all, but we have never been organized in a way that lets good ideas flow in this way.

    The time is more ripe than ever before for grassroots efforts at province and congregational levels. We need to function more as interconnected communities of congregations and dioceses who discern and act out of humble love not out of need. All mainline churches are being led by the Holy Spirit to a more humble place with paradoxical ministerial and mission impact.

    So I agree with your post, but would suggest a different starting point. The challenges are too great now for the national church or dioceses to address alone. We need to work more effectively at the congregational and province level.

  7. Thanks to all those who have commented on this post. I am convinced that there needs to be a new Pentecost where the Church is once again filled with the Holy Spirit as it moves forward in proclaiming the Gospel to the world. The is the biblical message with the theology that goes along with it. Right now, as we are structured, congregations are the true places where the Divine and Human intersect for the proclammation. Structure is certainly not the beginning nor the end, but reforming that structure for proclammation in the 21st century is simply not happening on the National and Diocesan levels. Perhaps the novelty I mentioned should really be the whole church opened to the Power of the Divine Wind.

  8. "I am convinced that there needs to be a new Pentecost where the Church is once again filled with the Holy Spirit as it moves forward in proclaiming the Gospel to the world."

    Interesting. This is an amazing judgement on the current church and suggest theologically that the church is not filled with the Holy Spirit. Pure arrogance.

  9. Following World War II, there was a tremendous worldwide movement to deregulate economies. The result was an amazing economic boom. The boom was a bottom-up phenomenon, fueled by innovation at the grass roots. Not by inspiration from the top.

    If the Episcopal Church is to be revitalized, it will only come from the bottom. Not by some two or three year study by some super-committee at the top telling everyone how to do it. We need to deregulate, starting at the bottom and let congregations experiment with what works with the pewsitters. Halving the top-heavy bureaucracy and it’s historic heavy-handedness would be a start towards freeing the entrepreneurial spirit in the congregations.

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  11. R.J., at the very top we have never had a large top heavy bureaucracy. Perhaps at its largest, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society was around 275 or less, sorry I don't have he exact number in my mind but that was about right around 1990 when I worked there. The first major downsizing was September, 1991, which was right after I had the good fortune and sense to get out. About fifty people were let go while Bishop Browning made himself absent. I don't know what the number is right now but I suspect it is something well under 200. By next year, the number will go down by a significant percentage. (If anyone has hard figures, please note them for us.) The top heaviness is close to us all in many dioceses, the problem then being too many mini bureaucracies. The other problem has been for some time, mediocre leadership, about which I will writing in my end of the week posting.