Friday, December 27, 2013

Christian Moderate Optimism for 2014


            An attitude is fundamentally a mental position towards what reality has been, is, and is about to be. It is the inner disposition of the mind as it is shaped by our feelings and thoughts about life and how to respond to life. All the choices, actions and consequences of our lives are shaped by our attitudes. Furthermore, all attitudes towards life are either positive or negative, or in other words, all attitudes are about whether the cup is half full or half empty.

 I am concerned at the beginning of 2014 about our basic Christian attitudes to life and God’s creation. In terms of the cup being half filled or half empty, God has not created us to be “the cup is half empty” people. If we truly understand the meaning of the incarnation at the beginning and the end of the day, we are “the cup is half filled” people. The perception of life as always being half full is what I mean by an “attitude of rational and emotional moderate optimism”

            A Christian attitude of moderate optimism means that we should see the cup of life as always being a little better than just half filled. We should see the cup of life as always being moderately filled in all the events and situations of life.

I found it most interesting to learn that the cancer victims who have the best chance of recovery approach their treatment with a moderate level of optimism. Facing the problems and suffering of life with an attitude of moderate optimism makes a lot of sense. Just because a person is an optimist does not mean that one cannot at the same time have common sense. A false high level of optimism is to have no doubt whatsoever that a cure will happen.

At the other extreme is the negative skeptic who doubts that anything will work. The moderate optimist believes that if they remain positive and make a sincere effort to work with the treatment, then God will take care of them. The point is that a Christian lives as a moderate optimist in all situations. Jesus came so that we might know that God offers a life where He wants us to know happiness and face life always with moderate optimism. The Psalmist teaches, “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” The Psalmist doesn’t say that I will be happy tomorrow if this and this happens. No matter what is going on in our life, we must face life as a moderate optimist.

            I read recently a study from the University of Pennsylvania conducted by neuroscientists who were studying how Americans perceive God. The study gave me reason to ponder rather seriously the perception of God in our society, and I began to realize that there is a need for a discovery of the authentic Jesus of the Gospel. Approximately 34% percent of Americans perceive God as an authoritarian who is a God who prefers to demand and punish. He is a God who also intervenes in this life to punish the wicked and save the believer. This authoritarian God allows a satanic force to move throughout the world and attack the non-believer. Twenty five percent believe in a critical God who makes heavy moral and faith demands on people but does not really engage in supportive loving relationships with people. It is as if the critical God rules from afar by sending us critical and negative emails. Third, 12% believe in God as being a type of distant cosmic force that we cannot know personally, and this God does not intervene directly in our lives. Finally, it is only 23% who believe in a loving, benevolent and non- judgmental God who wishes for us to be happy and live a life of moderate optimism The remaining percentage are hard-core atheists who have no interest in the question of God whatsoever.

             It is no wonder that we have so much division and problems in America. The problems of the nation and individuals living with negative attitudes come from a belief in the authoritarian, critical and distant God. No, in 2014 we must pray for the awareness and understanding of a benevolent God guiding our Episcopal community and our personal lives on a journey of moderate optimism.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Where Will You Meet God this Christmas?

            There was once a little boy who wanted to meet God.  He knew it was a long trip to where God lived, so he filled his backpack with cookies and some cans of Coke and started on his journey.

            When he’d gone half a mile or so he met an old woman.  She was sitting in the park just staring at the pigeons.  The boy sat down next to her and unzipped his backpack.  He was about to take a drink from one of his cans of Coke when he noticed the old lady looked hungry, so he offered her some cookies.  She gratefully accepted and smiled at him.  Her smile lit up her who face.
            It was so lovely, the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered one of his cans of Coke.  One again she smiled at him.  The boy was delighted!
            They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word.  As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he’d gone more than a few steps, he turned round, ran back to the old woman and gave her a hug.  She gave him her biggest smile ever.
            When the boy opened the door to his own house a short time later, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face.  She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” He replied, “I had lunch with God.”  And before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what? She’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”
            Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home.  Her son was stunned by the look of peace on her face and he asked, “Mother, what did you do today that made you so happy?”  She replied, ‘I ate cookies in the park with God.”  And before her son could respond, she added, “You know, he’s much younger than I expected.
            Is it strange to think of seeing God as a young boy?  Is it strange to think of seeing God as an old woman?  If you said “yes” to these questions then it will be especially difficult to think of God as a baby!  Yet that is what Christmas is all about.  About, God taking human flesh as a baby. 
            So where this Christmas will you look to see God?  In the face of the old or the young?  In the face of the powerful or in the eyes of a baby – far too young to even smile?  Will you see God in the Liturgy, the scripture, the music, the art, the decorations?  The shepherds, poor uneducated folk, saw God.  The Magi, educated rich folk, saw God.  
          What about you?  Where will you meet God this Christmas?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Blogs You Like the Most

Each Tuesday morning we bloggers and other priests gather for breakfast.  Most of us are retired and some have been retired for more than ten years.  Others are still active in parish ministry and two are on a diocesan staff.  One of us is a retired Bishop and another of us is a Canon to the Ordinary.  Together we have hundreds of years of collective experience.  We discuss whatever is on our minds and we are pastoral with each other if one of us is hurting.  It is a true community of faith that gathers to celebrate our vocations to the priesthood and to share in Celtic-like soul friendships.  Of course we also "solve" all the problems in the church and the world.  It takes us two to three hours to get this done.

During breakfast a couple of weeks ago it was mentioned that I should report to you, our readers, which blogs you read the most and those issues you seem to be the most interested in.  Therefore, here are the top ten blogs that you read ranked from one to ten.

Where have all the Rectors gone?

Rectors (Pastors):  The Odds are Against You.

Rectors - Resign, Get Fired, Retire.

Rector (Pastor): You're Fired.

Clergy Divorce.

The Bishop Speaks of a Punctuation Mark.

Let's Get Rid of the Rector:  A Priest's Nightmare.

The Bishop Speaks from the Heart.

10 Things You Should Know About Fasting.

Episcopal Chaos.

Five of these blogs are concerned with a parish priest's job security.  One of them, clergy divorce, is concerned about this very intimate and personal issue which, when it happens, is a personal and parish tragedy.  Two blogs are about Episcopal authority and another is about Lenten discipline.  The most popular blogs that didn't make it into the top ten are about the decline in The Episcopal Church, how it impacts clergy mission and ministry, and Celtic Christianity as a way to renew and reform the Anglican Church of today.  One could safely then draw the conclusion that most of our readers are Episcopal bishops and priests and they justifiably are concerned with issues that pertain to their parish and diocesan ministries.

It is fascinating to me and other bloggers that you are consistently reading older blogs on a regular basis, even when they didn't make it into the top ten.  We are grateful that readership is continuing quite stable and even rising at times.  While I don't know any statistics about numbers of readers of religious blogs in the United States, Episcopal Journey of Hope does appear to me to be pretty popular.  We have been read in 87 countries.  And there have been over 50,000 pages views, which is more than we could have imaged when we started this little endeavor.

Thanks for continuing to read our blogs.  If there is any subject that you would like us to address, please let us know in the comment sections of the blogs.  Maranatha.  Come Lord Jesus.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Bishop Speaks What Are We Thinking Clergy

How did we arrive at this hope stuff? Sometimes I think of this and conclude we do not have a real understanding of the basic issue. If one is in the hope business it is a sign that all is not well. Therefore we must work on that.

The work then becomes the center of our thinking. It is natural to try to fix something and hence we have plans and studies and trials and arguments and fights and votes and meetings and prayers and new books and better songs and search for the “right” people and look for more money and get some committes and work very hard and get mad and sad and tired and wornout and loose track of who and what we are and the church becomes smaller and people drift away and we pretend things are well and try to hang on to what we believe without really knowing what we believe.

How did it begin? Well, most of us were introduced to a religion and we tend to stay there. This religion tends to be what ever is available in a region/community/nation where we live. We are indoctrinated into a religion and it is reinforced all around us. People often acquire a religion without giving a lot of thought to what they are saying they believe.

Religion is reinforced throughout our lives by clergy, civic leaders and families. We believe this is what keeps families together. People learn that certain ideas, ideologies and practices are to be treated as vital to our lives and are not to be questioned, but rather accepted.

Then we have the issues of death, heaven and hell. We are given answers for all of these things. We accept them without questioning.

It is like the old song:
You better watch out,
You better not cry,
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He's making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out
Who's naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you're sleeping.
He knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!
Oh, you better watch out!
You better not cry.
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

Then it happens. Santa is not really coming, but the message lives inside of us and we remember it. Then we might begin to wonder if following the good and bad rules will determine our salvation. Must we be good and follow the rules? If things could have been fixed this way, all would have been taken care of 20 minutes after Moses came down off the mountain with the 10 commandments. Law is holy, just and true, but law alone is not an instrument of salvation.

Our gospel assures us that the whole salvation work has already been done, once and for all, by the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have the story, we are saved. But, there is more than having the story and telling the story. We need to start living the story. The Kingdom of God is at hand. It is here and it is for you.

I fear our worship has become our religion. Throughout the church year our worship tells the story over and over without much thought about how we live our lives, how we live in the Kingdom of God.

We say we gather to praise God, but in truth we gather to tell the story, over and over. Our praise of God is in our lives.

Ask yourself this question. “How does a person who believes this story live and praise God?”

Relax. You are saved. Everyone has been saved. The Jesus work has been done.

Now, all you need to do is live in the Kingdom.

Think about it. Then, rethink hope.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Small Size Parish Homes and the Episcopal Future

A Method

            This blog is the result of an in-depth analysis of a small Episcopal congregation identity using a cognitive consensus mapping methodology known as metaphor elicitation. The method is grounded on the findings of neuropsychology and linguistics, “Metaphors stimulate the workings of the human mind. By one estimate, we use almost six metaphors per minute of spoken language… For example, although both halves of the human brain enable literal and figurative language (which includes metaphor), the right half is more strongly associated with metaphoric language.” (Zaltman, Gerald, How Customers Think, p. 37-38)

                According to most estimates, about 95% of thought, emotions, feeling and learning occur in the unconscious mind. Most studies of denominational attitudes towards church selection and congregational worship, educational and formational needs are based on information gathered through verbal protocols (telephone calls, group meetings, verbal focus groups and questionnaires) that rely on self- reflection and self-awareness. These methods, even if conducted extremely well, only open up 5% of thoughts, emotions and feelings about people towards religious and spiritual issues.

                Therefore, advanced methods of cognitive consensus maps are the single most important way of eliciting individual and collective attitudes about just why people are attracted to the Episcopal denomination or a particular parish. Furthermore, it is especially necessary when exploring the nature of such a right brain issue as religious preference to use the methodology of metaphor elicitation.

The Study

                This study was conducted in a small Episcopal parish with a dwindling weekly attendance of between 50 to 60 members with a statistical mode age of 70 years. The statistical mode age is used rather than the mean or median because it is more descriptive of the aging sketch of the congregation. The congregation had been at one time  an established pastoral congregation from the fifties, but it began to decline rapidly in the nineties.  It was located in an urban middle class neighborhood that had slowly become a working lower class community. After experiencing a series of deaths of members, it appeared that the parish would soon close. There was a final effort made to stabilize the situation with an interim and then a new rector. Although the parish was aging, it had an extremely youthful spirit. Under the guidance of the interim, the new rector and vestry, a courageous plan for stabilization was designed.

                Before this study could begin, it was necessary to spend two years attracting some new members. It was decided to target baby boomers 55 plus who were, for various reasons, looking for a church. It was necessary to make radical changes in liturgy, music and educational programs to achieve this immediate goal. After some new members had become active in the parish, the new vestry decided that it was time to ask three questions in order to grow: 1) How do we perceive ourselves? 2) How does our local community perceive us? 3) How do we want to be perceived?

                In order to answer this question, the parish began a study in metaphor elicitation and consensus mapping. A representative sample of members was asked to become participants in the study.  Each member was instructed as to how to gather visual images over the period of a couple of weeks about their likes and dislikes for choosing a spiritual and worshipping community. Then in a one to one metaphor elicitation technique session each participant engaged in a one hour to two hour image description probe. The purpose was to gather data on shared parish archetypes and core metaphors that allow for the development of a shared deeply felt parish spiritual identity.


                The study is presently in stage two where we are connecting the lines between core metaphors by means of participant construction of collages. In stage three, we will then load these collages into digital program and present the findings to the congregation. We will then begin to construct the congregational narrative and target-seeker strategy. I am not able in this very short blog to outline the various core metaphors and narratives findings, but I will offer a few emerging findings.

1)      It became apparent in the study that people find it easier to communicate what they dislike when selecting a particular Christian community and style of worship.

2)      The most predominant core metaphor that has appeared is personal friendship. It appears that in a small parish the meaningful glue was the metaphor of the TV show Cheers, especially the phrase “Hi Norm.” New people are attracted to the parish because they sense the gentle presence of soul friends, as one participant found in the lyrics to the Cheers song, “Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”

3)      If there is a metaphor that expresses how the congregation does not perceive itself, it is the church with the huge stage, electronic screen and over bearing electronic music. However, there were other metaphors that expressed delightful openness to more mellow modes of contemporary music. It appears that this congregation and the new members it is attracting are somewhat counter-cultural when it comes to electronic approaches to worship.

4)      Several of the participants offered, what we named, “In Your Face” metaphors. There was a strong dislike for a congregational atmosphere that is overbearing with controversial issues either on the left or right of theological, ethical or social issues. Yet, there were many metaphors that stressed the need for the parish to reach out to the needy, especially persons and situations within the local community where the congregation is located. These were metaphors of a loving, compassionate touching of those in need.

5)       It has become apparent during this study that there is most often a critical disconnect between the traditional theological language of the church and the unconscious longings of the soul for an inspiring and metaphoric language of the deep structures of the human mind where we hear the whispers of the soul in a small, spiritually intimate community.

6)      Finally, I suggest a certain triangulation between this study and the study by C. Kirk Hadaway, Director of Research, The Episcopal Church Center, “Congregation Size and Church Growth in the Episcopal Church.”.This study is a must read, but it demands a careful read. He clears up several misconceptions about what size of Episcopal churches grow and where we find promise for the future. Good analytical triangulation happens when we find touch points between qualitative and quantitative analysis. Hadaway’s work is highly reliable because it is an excellent work in descriptive statistics based on sound categorization. The conclusions seem to verify that there is a unique identity and promise in small congregations, “In general, the larger the congregation, the less likely to grow-except for the largest churches (those over 800 in average Sunday attendance). These very large churches have added substantially to the growth the Episcopal Church since 1995, but because they are very few in numbers they do not add as many attendees as churches with ASA of 100 or less…even though small churches are more likely to grow than larger churches, not all small churches are likely to grow. Small rural churches are most likely to decline and newer small churches are most likely to grow (especially those in new suburban areas). The typical Episcopal congregation has average Sunday attendance of 80 persons. It is the typical Episcopal Church that has been our primary source of growth during the last decade.”


 This study indicates that there is something in the Episcopal cultural DNA that forms into small church growth. Perhaps it is the energy of the Cheers metaphor? Perhaps our tag line and brand identity is the metaphor of a spiritual home something like Ernest Kurtz describes it, “Home is ultimately, that place where we find the peace and harmony that comes from learning to accept the imperfections of others. Such a place, such a home, can exist in various settings, but its ultimate foundation rests jointly within self and within some group of trusted others. Some places are more conducive to this experience than others. But wherever and whenever we do attain that sense of being at home we experience a falling away of tensions, a degree of balance between the pushing and pulling forces of our lives.” (Kurtz, Ernest, The Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 232)


 In conclusion, we might say, “The parish home is where the heart is.”



Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hope On the Horizon Now

The Reformation isn’t over. But Protestantism is, or should be.  From The End of Protestantism by Peter J. Leithart , November 8, 2013
It is a good thing I no longer have to have hope within the Episcopal Church. My hope has gone or lead me to see a different horizon. And that hope is about an essence of Anglicanism. It is the spirit of the historic, active soul which infused the Episcopal Church with spiritual energy.
Around 1996, when I was rector of St. James Church in Wichita,I began to realize that the authentic authority in the Episcopal Church had radically declined.  I had experienced bullying for the first time by lay people. As a result, I had to learn about institutionalized systemic pathology.  For instance, the  St. James vestry organizational chart of 1986 had the vestry as the CEO and the Rector below in line with the Sexton. While I had fully corrected this nonsense by 1997, I knew I had to begin to explore the possibility there was no longer an Episcopal Church as I had known it for nearly 40 years. With the help of my associate and a very learned lay person, I discovered a once thriving form of  catholic Christianity among the Celts in Ireland and other nearby regions.  I discovered a form of Church organization and spiritual life that was not at all dependent on the Latin, European matrix of central organization with orders of ministry in a hierarchy. This was a whole new experience for me.  What struck me was how much I had essentially felt this Celtic soul of Anglicanism from my childhood on. (The reader may go back to early blog essays where I delineate my understanding of the Celtic qualities and differences I had discovered.)
Two small groups of people with me created two different educational organizations.  In the late 90’s, The St. Columba Center for Congregational Development and The Journey of  Soul were designed and tested to help fellow Episcopal Church leaders learn from and take on the necessary theology and systemic changes to reconfigure the Church for adaptation to a new spiritual and organizational journey.  After testing our idea locally, in other parts of the country and in Canada, we failed.  It failed because our Church  had already twisted itself into ways and means to coerce a false dialogue. The Church was attempting to achieve an impossible ideological conformity around social and ecclesiastical issues and programs while using the language of inclusion and social justice, clouding its intent to gather waning money, power and social influence.
As readers of this blog know, all the studies and data collections we have cited, indicate the  decline of  institutional western Christianity.  I believe we, who are so motivated, should start to move on and embrace a new order of reform that benefits from the lessons of an historic Celtic Christian spirit that: 1. Does not need our four orders of ministry to be in a hierarchy with a bishop “on top” 2. A sacramentality may once again be focused in proclamation and no longer reduced into ritual/ceremonial conformity to the dying old static hierarchical matrix 3. Where possible, a rapid consolidation of as many assets and resources, becoming networks of mission and ministry as locally organized with bishops facilitating and no longer directing regulatory conformity 4. Of a willingness to work with any and all other local faithful and morally sensitive people who can see their work as venturesome and purposefully discovering the Christ in daily life and work 5. Accepting an awareness, knowledge and understanding of a rapidly digitizing life in networks of communication.
From now on, we should be allocating fewer resources into  the dioceses which have become increasingly top heavy and dysfunctional. Everywhere and everyone is becoming the centers of Christ in this world. We need to develop models of  whole networked global/local models which together unify to become an expanding helical,healing force of spiritual energy and growth, “a noosphere” or a globally connected consciousness, as Teilhard de Chardin described nearly a century ago, a virtual DNA of the Holy Spirit-- Divine Numinous Activity-- toward the fulfillment of God’s creation in each of its billions of human centers.  We need to become Christ in this world so as to become fully and together the spiritual creatures we are drawn to become, surrounding each other in love, justice and adoration where we are finally drawn into full communion with God,”lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God's presence.”-- BCP Catechism on Prayer and Worship

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Veterans Day Tribute

It was 1945 on Iwo Jima, the battle was still continuing, and Chaplain, Lieutenant, Ronald Gittelsohn, a Rabbi, dedicated a Cemetery for the 5th Marine Division with these words:

Here before us lie the bodies of comrades and friends, men who until yesterday or last week, laughed with us, trained with us, men who were on the same ships with us, and went over the side with us as we prepared to hit the beaches of this island.  Some of us have buried our closest friends here. We saw these men killed before our very eyes.  Any one of us might have died in their place.  Indeed some of us are alive and breathing at this very moment only because men who lie here beneath us had the courage and strength to give their lives for ours.
These men have done their job well.  They have paid the ghastly price of freedom.  Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors, generations ago, helped in her founding because they themselves, or their own fathers, escaped from oppression to her blessed shores.  Here lie officers and men, negroes and whites, rich men and poor—together.  Theirs is the highest and purest democracy. Any man among us, the living, who fails to understand that will thereby betray those who lie here dead.
God’s Peace to them and to you.
Chaplain, Colonel, Gary Gilbertson, USAF (Ret.)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Bullying – a Growing Problem in the Church

This Blog held up the issue of bullying back on April 19th of this year under the title: “Terrorists are Bullies and Bullies are Terrorists.”  In short, both are the improper use or threatened use of force or violence, physical or verbal, against persons or groups, to intimidate or coerce. This week the sports community is aghast at the bullying of professional football players in the NFL.  If even 300 pound athletes can be bullied, there is no doubt that Rectors can be bullied by parishioners and equally true be bullied by Bishops and Diocesan Staff persons.  (The April 19th article is still available.)

Currently this author is collecting illustrations of bullying in the Church.  The material will be used in an upcoming publication and may well be included in one of the presentations at the Annual Episcopal Journey of Hope Conference.
Send materials to Be assured that non-attribution and confidentiality will be respected and protected.  It is time the Church faced up to this major issue!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Reflections on the Episcopacy

Several responses to our recent blogs about reducing bishops and dioceses made the assumption that Episcopal Journey of Hope authors are against bishops.  Bishop Daniel Martins defended the "esse" of bishops by misquoting Ignatius of Antioch when he wrote, "where the Bishop is, there is the Church.  Actually, a more precise translation of Ignatius is this:  "Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather.  Just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."

This translation, which is more accurate than Bishop Martin's, leaves the traditional Ignatian teaching less precise and more open.  It introduces a more spiritual approach to the development of the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons.  For Ignatius, the authority of church officers is not derived from a chain of teaching chairs (Irenaeus) or from a succession of ordinations (Augustine) but from the fact that their offices are the earthly representation of a heavenly pattern.  This does not negate the fact that we Anglicans have inherited the Augustinian tradition and therefore, as Anglicans, we follow the Roman teaching.  At Episcopal Journey of Hope we are aware of this and we subscribe to the fact that bishops are essential to the life of the church.  We may question the number of bishops we have in TEC, but we do not deny the fact that Episcope is of the essential to the life of Anglicanism.

Recently I found a set of preliminary papers for the last Lambeth Conference, 2008, that were written by Anglican theologians throughout the world. In one of the papers, "The Significance of the Episcopal Office for the Communion of the Church, Inter Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, October 2007," presented ten theses with explanations on the theology of the Episcopate.  I give the these to you without the theological comments.  You can find the entire text if you "google" theology of the episcopate.  It goes without saying that these theses were written for bishops and therefore present a bias in this regard.

Thesis One:  The Bishop serves the koinonia of the gospel into which the baptised are incorporated by God the Holy Spirit.

Thesis Two:  The bishop's evangelical office of proclamation and witness is a fundamental means by which those who hear the call of God become one in Christ.

Thesis Three:  The bishop is a teacher and defender of the apostolic faith that binds believers into one body.

Thesis Four:  The Bishop has oversight (episcope) of the household of God for the good order of the Church.

Thesis Five:  The bishop is called to coordinate the gifts of the people of God for the building up of the faithful for the furtherance of God's mission.

Thesis Six:  The bishop serves the koinonia of the gospel through care, encouragement and discipline of the pastors of the Church.

Thesis Seven:  The bishop serves the koinonia of the gospel through a ministry of mediation to recall the broken and conflicted body of Christ to its reconciled life in him.

Thesis Eight:  The catholicity of the episcopal office connects the baptised across boundaries of culture, class, gender, race and lands and enables the church to realize its oneness in Christ.

Thesis Nine:  The bishops serves the collegial life of the Church through the nurture of strong bonds with bishops of the Anglican Communion and those who share episcope in other Christian traditions.

Thesis Ten:  A diocesan bishop is given responsibility to episcope in the particular place where the bishop is the principal pastor.

While realizing that these theses represent the traditional Roman and Anglican nature of the Episcopacy, I personally reserve judgment on their theological significance.  There merely reflect the theology inherent in the Episcopal Ordination service. What is significant for Episcopal Journey of Hope is that they do not give a detailed format about how Episcopacy should function in modern society.  For us the hope for the church of the future is that at least in TEC we can reorganize our diocesan structures in such a way as to reflect the reality of our size.

For further information go to the Lambeth webpage:  Click on documents and scroll down to Section G:  Anglican Bishops, Anglican Identity, Section 104, The Service we Offer as Bishops.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Bishop Speaks of Finding Hope

Parsifal is the legendary knight who sought the Holy Grail. The Grail was the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper, and for Parsifal it symbolized a contact with the holy, with spiritual reality. His quest for the Grail was a quest for the truth about life and immortality.

Now, the secret of the Grail was held by an old king, but this king was suffering from a mysterious illness, and his whole kingdom was cast under this same spell. The palace and its gardens were in decay, the springs of the kingdom were drying up, trees would not bear fruit, and even the animals were no longer bearing young.

Knights from all over the realm arrived every day seeking news of the king's health. Then one day Parsifal arrived – poor and unknown. He paid no attention to courtly custom and politeness, but made straight for the king's chamber, and without greeting or inquiry about the king's health, said: “Where is the Grail?” As if to say, “Where do I find the Holy? . . . Where is the truth about the meaning of life?”

The king said: “It is here.”

In that instant, everything was transformed. The king rose from his bed and was well. Springs brought forth water, vegetation began to grow, animals were with young, and the castle was restored. Parsifal's question regenerated the whole land.

It seems to me that this parable applys today to many institutions. They are perishing because there are few seekers of truth, few adventurers. It is enough, you see, simply to raise the central questions, to pose the problems, to become a seeker, for life to return.

For a congregation (or diocese) to begin to ask questions inevitably leads to seeking answers, which leads to thinking, which leads to vision.

I have long thought that too many church leaders (mostly clergy including bishops) operate with answers, which are theirs, which makes for starting at the wrong place. They do not operate with the knowledge that they are the newcomers. They must listen to the people most of whom have not been invited to speak.

Parsifal is a model which dares us to take the chance of offering hope to the people by listening to them.

Hope is not something we capture. It must always be sought. It will hide or be hidden again and again.

Where is hope? It is there to be discovered. The rest is up to us.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Habit of Hope

                “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” is from the musical, “My Fair Lady”. It was taken from the novel Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The musical starred Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. Harrison played Professor Henry Higgins (the phonetics professor) and Hepburn was Eliza Doolittle. It was about the relationship between a cultural elitist and a slum girl. Eventually, despite extraordinary differences, they begin to form a deep bond. When the relationship is threatened, Higgins cries out, “I’ve grown accustomed to her face. She almost makes the day begin…her ups and downs are second nature to me now, like breathing out and breathing in, I was serenely independent and content before we met, surely I could always be that way again, and yet… I’ve grown accustomed to her voice, accustomed to her face.”

                 Here we have the core of the human mystery; it is that we find lasting spiritual meaning in life to the extent that we develop the “habits of the heart.” We read in Proverbs 3: “My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you. Do not let your loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart…trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” We have the teaching of spiritual formation by means of spiritual and virtuous habits. It is really about the formation of allowing our soul to express itself by means of the habits of the heart.

                 Habit is when a practice or a way of living becomes “second nature to us now, like breathing out and breathing in.” Habit is defined by Aristotle as a second nature of embodied knowledge; it is the overcoming our lack of control by pursuing the habit of practicing virtue until it becomes “second nature” to us. We learn what is right and wrong, but head knowledge must be turned into heart knowledge by means of practice. Habits of the heart are a metaphor for embodied practical reasoning. It runs into our very bones. Knowledge of God must be by means of habit translated into knowledge of the heart. “My commandments…bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Proverbs 3)

                 Habit is driven by the energy of the soul that moves the intellect and the will from abstract reasoning to practical reason which means that our will is driven by the loving and enlightened heart. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” Rationality is deceiving and the will gets weary and lazy; therefore habits of the heart (practical reasoning) are essential to the spiritual life. Habits are difficult to change; they make us content and successful in our action.  In the spiritual life, we choose between habits of vice or virtue. It is not within the nature of a person to remain morally neutral. Spirituality is a call to a life of virtuous habits.

                 For Thomas Aquinas in his book on Ethics, a habit is a relatively permanent acquired modification of a person that enables the person when provoked by relevant stimulus, to act consistently and with ease with respect to the objective. We cannot replace a habit of vice by means of intellect and the will; rather, habits of vice are only replaced by habits of virtue. Habit is the mediator between our behavior and the intellect and will. Aquinas insists that habits are different from instincts because habits are responsive to reason. By reason, he means the power of decision making and personal strategizing that changes character. Habit is unlike disposition in that habits are not easily lost. Habit is not an instinct; it is far more than a hunch or an insight, a feeling, an urge, a mystical awareness or therapeutic clarity. It is more than an attitude or a disposition that easily changes.

                Habits have their great persuasive force over our character because our spiritual and moral habits are founded on our beliefs. What is a religious belief? “First, it is something we are aware of; second, it appeases the irritation of doubt; and third, it involves the establishment in our nature of a rule of action, or, for short, a habit…the essence of belief is the establishment of a habit, and different beliefs are distinguished by different modes of action to which they give rise.” (Pierce Charles Sanders, The Essential Pierce, Vol.1, p.129).

                Habit defines the indispensable nature of Christian spirituality and the living of a spiritual and moral life. The Christian life is not an intellectual enterprise. It is not the acquisition and sharing of spiritual and humanistic insights. Living a Christian life is a matter of living in a personal and communal lifestyle of spiritual habits, such as the habit of worship, of prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, personal and communal interpretation of scripture, establishing and sharing in intimate Christian friendships, examination of conscience and acts of loving compassion. 

Based on the norm of habit in Christian formation we might ask some easy questions.

 Question: What is the best worship service we ever went to?

 Answer: The one we didn’t feel like going to.

Question: When do we pray best?

Answer: When we don’t feel like it.

Question: What are the most effective acts of charity we ever performed?

Answer: The ones we did not feel like doing.

Question: When was our commitment to the church the most pleasing to God?

Answer: When we were feeling empty and discouraged.

The point is that life as a journey of hope is not about the feeling of hope, or an intellectual insight into the nature of hope; rather, it is about developing the spiritual and moral habit of hope.



Saturday, October 12, 2013

Episcopal Church Achieves Boutique Status

Preliminary membership numbers released last week by the Episcopal Church confirm another year of decline.  Last year, 2012, the Church experienced a 4.15% membership loss.  This now reduces the Episcopal Church to 1.8 million members – a 13% drop in the five years since 2007 and a 50% loss in the last 50 years.  Average Sunday Attendance (ASA), often hailed as the best indicator of active membership, also nose-dived last year by 4.9% which was called “staggering” by one reporter.
The Episcopal Church is no longer a part of America’s religious narrative, according to one commentator.  That bears repeating: “The Episcopal Church is no longer a part of America’s religious narrative.  That is to say, we are no longer a meaningful part of the future religious story of America; even the National Missionary Baptists are bigger than we are and how often do you hear about them? The best the Episcopal Church can hope for is a place in the “boutique” culture – joining boutique shops, boutique hotels, and boutique medical practices.  Boutiques in any endeavor are upscale, trendy, expensive, exclusive, snobby, and cater to an elite clientele.  Boutiques do not worry about reaching the masses; a few well-healed patrons and they can survive.
Consider the recent House of Bishops meeting with the theme of “Transforming Loss into New Possibilities.”  The 148 bishops in attendance considered re-imagining the Episcopal Church but it is nowhere reported that those same bishops addressed the fact that they, themselves, will cost the Church over 22 million dollars this year just for stipend and benefits; their staffs easily triple that number to a cost of $700,000,000 or more in the next 10 years – pricy even by boutique numbers. 
The bishops heard Dr. Elaine Heath, Perkins School of Theology, challenge them “…to go into neighborhoods and engage people where they are, where they live.”  Let’s be fair; scores of good men and good women have been bishops over the last 50 years and they have all understood what Dr. Heath advocates and even after spending over a billion dollars for bishops and staffs – our membership is down 50%.
We can play Monday morning quarterback and wish we had dramatically avoided all the dumb stuff of the last fifty years and instead shrunk the number of dioceses, reduced the number of bishops, kept multi-millions in assessment dollars in parish treasuries, and refused ordaining late-vocation, non-seminary graduates – would our declining situation be different?  Perhaps, but we’ll never know.
We do know that nothing we have done in the last 50 years has stopped the hemorrhage.  Time to bind up our wounds and actively plan to be the best boutique church on the block. 


Monday, October 7, 2013

The Final Resort: To Hope for Hope

In the Faith section of the Saturday Kansas City Star, two articles caught my attention. The one article was about the growing number of part time and unpaid clergy positions, featuring a number of those in the Episcopal Church including Mark Marmon, a fly-fishing instructor and unpaid Episcopal priest (or nearly so),Hitchcock, TX of All Saints’ Church.  The other article was about the growing phenomenon of “culture” rather than faith practicing Jews. “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” by the Pew Research Center indicates that 62% of U.S, Jews surveyed found their Jewishness in cultural values and 15% about religious belief. And then on the same page, a far smaller few lines was on endearing quotes from Pope Francis, ones of solid, humble Christian faith witness. On the next page over, the number of advertisements for religious service occupied 15 to 20% of the printed areas whereas when I first moved here in 2001, probably 75% of the page was ads, if not more. . .

The landscape of the national and global religious environment has been shifting in my life time since the 1960’s, but the last ten years has been “fast forward.”  In my own Diocese of Kansas, we just have inaugurated a seminary in Topeka serving these very same part timers for all of Kansas, West Missouri and  Nebraska for occasional and monthly courses, much like what has been happening in Texas for some time. Of course just about all Christian denominations are facing the part time ministry phenomenon because many of our and all denominations’ lay persons are more or less part time themselves, just trailing the Jews and Europeans in general but moving down the same decline. And now occasionally we see the once stellar mega churches folding, as we have locally, as their slice of the lay pie was always based on numbers of folk whose commitments were never really very long term and where no work was ever much done to create reserve trusts or endowments for those inevitable “lean years.”  And many established, endowed congregations have withered their reserves for “keeping up appearances” as Mrs.Bucket used to do on her British tv series. My former parish of St. James in Wichita had a trust that I did much to protect of about $1.8million when I left in ‘01 and now has something over $400,000, but that loss is hardly unique among many congregations, dioceses and adjudicatory bodies. General Seminary and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC are commercializing good size chunks of their land to hold out for “better times,” as 815 2nd Ave. rents out about ¾’s of its space. Many years ago, I was talking with  a major fund raising company about St. John the Divine whose research profile of it indicated that by the 1980’s much of the new money they got for projects came from Jews,not Episcopalians, who understood the cultural importance of that institution while wealthy Episcopalians had grown weary of various social tirades coming from the Cathedral location. What an interesting turn of social identity, secular Jews supporting our institutional grandeur. Well, better that than nothing to say the least. . .

I am certain some sort question must be arising in the mind of the reader concerning toward what the writer is pointing. The writer is not certain either. . . Some days this author’s very human feelings are so confused by the many turns of events not only of the Church but of the many levels of American governments that seem hell bent to self destruction, of mindless but sober drivers looking at their phones swerving in front of me in full daylight, of my own issues about aging leading toward those concerns around my own “last days.” I just wonder, pray and do what may at last be the final resort of a spiritual journey. . . surrender myself to the will and grace of God as I have tried to understand it through the Christian witness of my beloved Episcopal Church. .  . I hope to find hope. And you?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Diocese as the Fundamental Unit of the Church?

I first heard the notion of the diocese as the fundamental unit of the church back in the 1980s from my bishop.  But I never heard a reasonable theology that supported his claim.  Practically, I recoiled at this absurd idea thrust upon the church by the bishops who had, under this rubric, either lost touch with reality or suffered form significant amnesia.  Anybody with any sense knows that the fundamental unit of the church is the local congregation.  The local parish is the place where the people are, and as we all know, the baptized faithful are the church.

I tried to find a theology that justified the Bishop's idea.  I "googled" theology of diocese" and came up with nothing.  But I do believe that I remember correctly that the notion that the diocese is the fundamental unit of the church arose accidentally from the 4th century Roman political organizational system.  After Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, the church continued to flourish and grow, and therefore, needed to organize itself to fit the growth.  The church thus adopted the Roman form of administrative organization which was the diocese.  An early definition of the word diocese means to dwell, occupy, manage, derivative of oikos house.

In the New Testament the first churches were house churches, relatively small, probably attended by no more than 50 people.  Think about that when we consider that an early definition of the diocese was a derivative of the word "house."  Jewish Christians also met in synagogues.  As the church grew, they used bigger houses and some of them were donated by wealthy Roman citizens who were Christians.  This made them "churches" in the modern sense of a public building set aside for worship.

The early church in the British Isles had no diocesan system.  Celtic Christianity was organized around a monastic tradition where the Abbot was more powerful than the bishop.  This was a spiritual community united through a communion of friendships and alliances between spiritual leaders and their monasteries.  The diocese as an administrative principle in British Christianity was not adopted until after Augustine of Canterbury arrived on British soil in 597 A.D., establishing sees at Rochester in Kent and East Saxon (London).

Parish priests and their people know that the local parish is the fundamental unit of the church.  This is where the baptized faithful assemble for worship, prayer, discipleship and ministry.  Our catechism puts it this way:  The Church is described as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and all baptized persons are members.  It is called the People of God, the New Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and the pillar and ground of truth.  This basic statement says nothing about organizational and administrative structure, but to me implies that the local assembly is the organizing principle of the body.

While the diocese is the traditional judicatory style of Anglican and Roman Catholics, there is no practical or theological justification for the notion that it is the fundamental unit.  Ecumenically it doesn't hold water either.  The Methodist are organized in conferences.  The Lutherans have their Synods.  Ecumenical charity demands that we recognize these and other Christian organizational structures as just as valid as the diocese.

What planet are the bishops who believe this living on?  The local parish has always been the fundamental unit of the church.  This is where the action is.  If the local parish did not exist, there would be no diocese.  The diocese depends on us, not we on them.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Bishop Speaks from the heart

Long ago (1992) and far away (Arizona), I became bishop of a diocese with 65 congregations and a lot of issues. I worked very hard and visited all of the congregations in one year as was expected of me. This required me to have more than one visit each weekend. Sometimes I had one visit, sometimes I had two visits and sometimes I had five visits. I was in congregations on Saturday and Sunday. I did confirmation in each of the congregations.

After that year, I was exhausted. I did it another year. After that year, I was exhausted and I did not like confirmation any longer. I would go to some churches and confirm 20 people, 50 people, 8 people, and sometimes 1 person. I thought there has to be a better way.

We began to do things which had not been done elsewhere. We reduced the size of the diocesan staff to 1 bishop, 1 Canon to the Ordinary, 1 archdeacon (a deacon), 1 secretary, 1 finance person, 1 communication person and 2 general staff persons to take care of the phones and assist others as needed. We eliminated 5 staff positions. I believed we were not responsible for doing things which congregations could do for themselves. We were there to serve the congregations.

We became stewards of the finances. I declared at the diocesan convention that we were going to tithe the diocesan budget. We were going to return 10% of all of the diocesan assessments back to the congregations. Most people thought it would never happen. I was determined that it would happen. We looked at some of the things we were doing as a diocese which could be done easily by congregations and we stopped doing them. There is more to this story, but for the sake of blog I will tell you that at the diocesan convention the next year we presented an envelope to each congregation at the offertory (we did not take an offering) which was 10% of what they had given to the diocese as assessment. We returned $140,000 and these people were stunned. The smallest check was $38 and the largest was $18,000.

From that moment on we were about the business of being different from any other diocese. It was not a competition. It was about freedom and excitement. It was about believing that anything we could dream, we could do. And we did it. If there is interest, I can share more in future blogs.

Now, back to confirmation. I told our clergy and congregations I was exhausted by the schedule and I intended to try something new. I asked if they would help me. The response was positive and we began to do regional confirmations. We started on the Saturday after Easter and concluded on the Saturday before Pentecost. They were big celebrations with hundreds of people. They knew it was something important. They knew they were part of something larger than their parish. They knew the reception after the liturgy was for them and not the bishop. It was wonderful. We did it for another 10 years.

The point is this. It is quite easy for us to find reasons why we cannot do something. It is easy to keep our heads down and tread through life. It does not have to be that way.

My colleague, Gary, made a case for merging neighboring smaller dioceses under a single bishop. The first comment I heard was that it cannot be done because the bishop could not go to all of the churches in a year.

It is not a requirement that the bishop is in every church every year. It is not a requirement that the bishop do confirmation every week. If we want to be a little frisky, we could even ask the bishops to vote to turn confirmation over to the clergy.

I will speak only for myself. I would vote to put confirmation in the hands of the clergy because it is not necessary for the bishop to do this. It is not admission to anything which requires those hands. As a matter of fact, it makes more sense to me to recognize the laying on of hands of the priest at baptism of a child or adult as being “the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body, they Church and inheritors of the kingdom of God”. That is it.

This is no longer the entry into communion as is was in my life. We now say confirmation is a “sacramental rite” which is a mature commitment to Christ and the reception of “strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop”.

There is no reason for us to think the Holy Spirit is only available from the bishop. I know we have always done it like this and I know lots of bishops really feel the need to have something which only they can do, but I must say, it does not make any sense and it does not make a bishop.

I know I have a different perspective than many bishops. I saw my role as being Teacher, Preacher, Evangelist, and Sign of Unity. That is what I chose to do and I let that lead all of my actions. I was never thought of as a leader among the bishops. I was never invited to say a prayer or lead a worship in the House of Bishops.

I had a wonderful time being bishop in a wonderful place. I have many bishop friends. But for now, I am just a blog guy with a sense of hope.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Via Media Metaphysics

A. William McVey


In this postmodern culture, where more and more people describe themselves as spiritual as opposed to religious, I hear “something” statements like, “Well, there must be something there. There must be something that explains life. I mean there has to be something.” Usually, such statements are immediately followed by declarations that the person is definitely not religious. Furthermore, the same person seems to have a certain arrogant scorn for any previous religious formation.

It appears that very few seekers of the spiritual “something” are conscious that Western religious scholars have, since the time of Greek philosophers, been concerned about the nature of the “something” of the universe. The Greeks looked for a permanent and foundational reality to believe in. In other words, they were looking for the foundational something of the universe which they called “Being.”

                It was Aristotle who insisted the metaphysical quest for the divine comprehension of the universe is found only in grasping the essence of the universe. Knowledge of the divine “something” is known by means of understanding the workings (the causation) of the universe. Eventually, this metaphysical teaching of Aristotle, with the development of medieval philosophy, became the foundational truth for theology and spirituality; Thomas Aquinas calls it the analogy of being. Up to the present day, Martin Heidegger continues to reconstruct a modern approach to the issue of the “Something of the Universe” with a new methodology of Phenomenological Metaphysics in the classic work Being and Time. In this modern work, the thrust of Heidegger’s metaphysical inquiry is about the essence of Being as it is disclosed in time.

 The metaphysical has become in the age of modernity no longer the pursuit of the unchangeable nature of the universe; rather it is an inquiry into humanity’s divine destiny. The “Something” has become a question of what is the foundational truth that must drive the universe and human consciousness. For Christian philosophy, it is the Catholic expression of metaphysics that has been extremely important. Scholastic theology has, for example, relied on Christian metaphysics to prove certain truths called the preambula which are presupposed before revelation and can be considered reasonable and possible.

  I want to draw attention to the issue of a needed Anglican metaphysics because we do have our Catholic side.  I suggest in our Episcopal journey of hope in a postmodern culture that we give serious attention to philosophical theology and a neo-scholastic approach to metaphysics. My argument is based on two Episcopal basic philosophical and theological pillars of identity. First, we describe ourselves as a hermeneutical community who hold that God is revealed through a triad of scripture, tradition and reason. For this approach to revelation to have validity we must borrow from the Catholic scholastic philosophy. In other words, we must have an Anglo- Catholic foundational preambula if we are serious about the place of reason within the context of revelation.  Note I am using reason here in the sense of a methodical dialectical pursuit of a metaphysical foundation for theology, especially spiritual theology, in an age of radical postmodern skepticism of foundational truth. The second pillar of Episcopal inquiry into the nature of God’s continuing revelation is the path of the via media (the middle way). It is John Henry Newman as part of the Tractarian movement who coined the phrase Via Media. It was a concept used within the parameters of doctrinal theology that saw Anglicanism has the middle path between a Reformed and Roman Catholic doctrinal theology of revelation and ecclesial authority.

Anglo-Catholics have strongly assumed the via media identity not only in matters of doctrinal theology, but we seem to apply it to all controversial issues. Personally, I find continuing via media identity extremely promising for our Episcopal journey of hope.  Consequently, I am defining via media as a practice of more than live and let live, or we agree to disagree because this thinking is not an exercise of profound reasoning. Via Media might serve as the basis of an Anglo Catholic, neo-scholastic metaphysics that opens up new avenues of dialogue within the Catholic and Evangelical community, and simultaneously provides our Episcopal  theology with the real heft necessary in an age when the conversation once again is about the spiritual nature of Being (the Seeker Something).

I propose that there is the beginning of this philosophical theology in the American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce.  Some have called Pierce the American Aristotle, but I like to call him the American scientific scholastic.  His philosophy was tremendously influenced by scholastic realism, especially the works of John Dun Scotus. From this starting point, Pierce began a reconstruction of religious metaphysics to a scientific or cosmogonic one.  It is metaphysics about the divine nature of the universe becoming manifested and real over time. It is really metaphysics of more is yet to be revealed. “I think that the existence of God, as well as we conceive of it, consists in this, that a tendency towards ends is so necessary a constituent of the universe that the mere action of chance upon innumerable atoms has an inevitable teleological result. One of the ends so brought about is the development of intelligence and of knowledge; and therefore I should say God’s omniscience, humanly conceived, and consists in the fact that knowledge in its development leaves no question unanswered.” (The Essential Pierce, P. 236).

Pierce’s metaphysics is a method of painstaking and persistent inquiry into the movement of the universe and human conscious to foundational truth.  Humanity in its questions, disputes, opinions, attitudes, theories and tests is driven to a final compromise and opinion. Human beings at their best are driven in intellect, will and soul to the final truth of the universe through a type of dialectical via media inquiry.  Rosa Maria Perez-Teran Mayorga writes that Pierce’s metaphysics “…claims that  the drive towards a consensus about things is as much an actual force or law or power as the gravitational one; it is a tendency that guides thought in one “fated” or determined direction-the truth…the very fact that we engage in inquiry presupposes that we will be persuaded by the right kind of evidence to accept the correct answer… according to Pierce there is some predisposition, some occult power… we are destined in the direction of truth, so given enough time, we look likely to arrive at it. It is a real fact that there would be a final option were the investigation to continue long enough.” (From Realism to ‘Realicism’, The Metaphysics of Charles Sanders Pierce, and p.145)  Finally, I take it that Pierce is a Via Media type person, and there is a Via Media metaphysics that gives Anglo-Catholic theology real heft and sustaining power in our Journey of Hope.





Thursday, September 5, 2013

Is Redundancy Immoral?

Gary Gilbertson
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Congratulations to the United Methodists of Kansas and Missouri.  They openly acknowledged the population movement from rural areas and the resulting decline in the number of Methodist churches in the two states.  So like good stewards, on August 23rd, they merged three Conferences:  Kansas East, Kansas West and Nebraska, into the new "Great Plains Annual Conference"; please note that they will still have over 1,000 Methodist churches across the two states.  So why merge?  Their answer:  "Our hope is that we'll be stronger, and able to do more in mission by uniting than we could as three smaller conferences."

The Episcopal Church also has three jurisdictions in the two states:  the Diocese of Nebraska, Kansas, and Western Kansas.  Could they not be stronger and do more in mission by uniting into one rather than continuing as three smaller jurisdictions?  The reality of rural to city movement and the decline of the number of Episcopal churches is as true of us as it is for the Methodists.  Even with merger the two states would have only 129 Episcopal congregations with many in the waning moments of life:  50 congregations (39%) have an average Sunday attendance (ASA) of less than 20 members, another 35 congregations (27%) have an ASA of 20-49.  At the National level 68% (4,580) of our congregations have an average Sunday attendance under 100 members; in Nebraska and Kansas 66%of our congregations have an average Sunday attendance under 50 members.

Why have three bishops?  Why have three diocesan staffs managing similar programs for so few congregations?  If the Methodists can service seven times as many congregations in the same geographical area, why can't we Episcopalians centrally manage 129 congregations in the two states?

Repeatedly lay-persons suggest the reason we can't merge is the lack of leadership in our bishops and senior clergy.  To be fair one of the bishops involved did offer to take one or both of the other dioceses under his wing; nevertheless, when was the last time any bishop challenged a diocesan convention to make merger a major priority?  When was the last time a parish delegation pushed legislation for merger?  The remnant Diocese of Quincy did retreat back into the Diocese of Chicago last month but that was a move based on financial desperation and not mission; in any case, it is atypical.

If we used the Methodist example of 1000 congregations as a decent basis for a new jurisdiction - the Episcopal Church in the United States would have only seven dioceses instead of the 100 we have now.  The National Church listed just 6,736 congregations in the last reported year of 2011 and that was down 58 churches from the year before; hundreds of these congregations have no priest at all and hundreds more have only part-time clergy - this in spite of the fact that there is no clergy shortage in the Episcopal Church.  So why do we need 100 Episcopal dioceses and staffs that are inefficient, or worse, that incompetent that we need so much redundancy?  The Methodists merged to be stronger and do more in mission.

What keeps the Episcopal Church in Kansas and Nebraska from actively working toward merger?  What keeps the other 97 diocesan bishops from actively working toward merger?  The most common answers do not focus on inefficiency or incompetency but rather that our most senior leaders are "territorial" - "empire builders."  If this is accurate, it is a sad commentary that those entrusted with leading the Church are actually about keeping dominion over their domain.  As Author David Gibson says, "An organization that was born as a divine kingdom...and flourished by donning the trappings of monarchy does not yield easily to retrofitting."  Granted, many in Episcopal Orders are dedicated and committed but many others are aloof and their ministry lacks accountability and transparency; one respected university historian put it this way, "...a betrayal of fidelity enable by arrogance that comes with unchecked power."  That may be too strong but it is time for renewal and reorganization.

History teaches us that change will not originate from those with Holy Orders; it must come from "ordinary" lay people who, face it, have little leverage in a voluntary organization that is proudly defined as hierarchical.  Nevertheless, if the Episcopal journey forward is to be one of "hope," the key is in the hands of the laity.