Sunday, March 10, 2013

Episcopal Abundance: the great mystery of poverty

It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor"~Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay

Under the leadership of Presiding Bishop John Allin in the late 1970’s until 1985, a mission funding process called Venture in Mission was developed and fully realized in hundreds of local, national and international projects for a monetary total of $175 million. It was the largest single capital funds project in North American Church history and stands as such, as far as I know, to this day. Ward, Dreshman and Reinhart, the fund raising consultants, who managed the VIM, have stated that only one other effort was ever bigger that they had handled, the Red Cross. The genius of VIM was its basis in grassroots mission definition and project development. Its theological vision roots probably go back a hundred years but was directly related to the Anglican Communion vision, document and process called Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence (MRI) of 1963. MRI was a practical and theological approach to mission stating that all God’s children have gifts to give to share and that our mission was to enable this abundance. The practical effect was creating autonomy for national Anglican churches all over the world and it final fruition in VIM. The synergy created by MRI and VIM is still sustained and carries on in a variety of ways for instance locally in Kansas and Missouri organizations that continue to support volunteer efforts to the serve and support those is need.

MRI pointed out what I call the mystery of poverty:  the paradox that much poverty is a false image of empty desire born of fear that calls us all to false needs, desires that never can be filled which can only be remediated by intentional, decisive acts of generosity. When we share with others that sharing synergistically not only returns and reaps greater giving but increases the material and financial resources available. MRI and VIM proved the point many times over in the lives of literally millions of acts and dollars given and shared in grateful giving.

In many ways such MRI/VIM generated abundance and generosity continues all over our local, national and global Anglican mission. However, little to no intentional consciousness of this dynamic seems to be known by many of our own clergy and lay people who have entered the life of the Church in the last thirty years.  Further if known by title, MRI and VIM are not known in practice. So as a result, our understanding of generosity is a thin and vapid reactive sense of “it is nice to help others.” Or in the case of our governance structures in many parishes, dioceses and national body, the actual opposite, the false desire for more, that perverse sense of poverty is once again virally and infectiously active in decision making.

We wish for more money, more people, more financing our episcopal structures, more control to keep what we see falling apart. We must keep every bishop and diocese funded, keep our “headquarters” at 815 2nd Ave. in NYC, must litigate to keep our properties from breakaway Anglicans bodies. This is all poor talk. It is unworthy of our Anglican tradition. The tools of regeneration, of vitality, of abundance and generosity are available for us Episcopal sinners who wish to repent and find joy in mission once again. . .


  1. FLASHBACK! I had the privilege to work at Diocesan headquarters while VENTURE IN MISSION was in full swing. (Would you BELIEVE I mentioned that campaign JUST YESTERDAY to a friend (Exec.Director of another Church Historical Society) in discussing fund-raising?) I was amazed at the commitment and success as well as the 'process' itself.
    To this day I recall some final words of our daily prayer as we "ventured in our mission" to "preach and teach; heal and save; and contend against injustice and oppression."
    It is good to know VIM is sustained; my prayer is that the vitality and generosity you mention return quickly and in good measure to support our Church as it should be supported!

  2. Wow, Joy, you have made my day with your generous and grateful, dear friend.

  3. ..darnit. I misquoted the prayer, I left out "forgive and restore!"
    But yes, loved your post today. Just shared it with previously-mentioned (ABHS) friend. Cheers!

  4. Great context. The recession has shriveled our thinking about wealth and poverty, to givers and takers. Sad. I remember well the fund-raising and the spirit of giving. You are right we are shrunken by concerns for the denomination over doing what God wants from us now. Thanks. Historic memory is important to me, but it needs to be refreshed by telling the story over and over. I had forgotten VIM.

  5. Yes, Russ, I also feel extremely grateful to been taught by and participated this history and some of its leadership. And thank you for pointing out the giver/taker polarity that is so wrong and delusional.

  6. Well said, my dear three way partner!

    I will be writing on my perspective of abundance in another few weeks.

    You and Bob T. gave me lots of areas for reflection in the last week.

    Thank you!!!

    Bob (The Bishop Speaks)

  7. This is one of the best articles you have written Ron. It speaks of a time when we really believed in our national leadership and the commitment of the entire church to mission and outreach, Thank you my friend,

  8. Thanks, 2xBobs, the major reason I was inspired to become a postulant and be ordained was MRI.

  9. Nice, thought-provoking piece, Ron. I am so weary of the poverty mentality and long for a theology of abundance. Plus, I think, we Episcopalians tend to be morbidly attached to our physical structures. Wonder what we could accomplish in the world if we let go of our addiction to property.

  10. From a former Episcopalian, now a clergy person in ACNA, thank you. Part of the problem is that generous giving is linked to vision and mission. I don't think many people get excited about spending millions of dollars on litigation.