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I wonder: Useful adaptation or fearful reactivity?

It's the Feast of Anskar, Bishop and Missionary to Denmark and Sweden. The collect for the day captures something of his life. 

Almighty and everlasting God, who sent your servant Anskar as an apostle to the people of Scandinavia, and enabled him to lay a firm foundation for their conversion, though he did not see the results of his labors: Keep your Church from discouragement in the day of small things, knowing that when you have begun a good work you will bring it to a faithful conclusion; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

There's some wonderful work going on in the Episcopal Church these days--parishes that are growing, efforts to create and sustain urban ministry, work with young people. There's also a tendency toward legalism, bureaucracy and maybe a bit of flailing about. Some new ideas get offered under the rubric of adaptation but have the smell of fear and anxiety about them.

-We need to restructure
-We need to focus on the mission of God rather than the mission of the church
-We need to be missional and emergent
-We need more parishes to close or merge
-We need more attention outside the walls of the parish
-We need to say it's a myth that we are declining
-We need communion before baptism


I wonder: Useful adaptation or fearful reactivity?


It's always hard to tell from within our own time. It's usually safe to assume it's some of each. 


A useful exercise is to take each of the "adaptations" being proposed and restate them within a broader context. For me that context is a mix of: 1) what are the facts? 2) an appreciative stance toward our tradition and ethos, 3) an understand of pastoral and ascetical theology with a systems perspective, and 4) a grasp of the research and experience about how organizations successfully manage the need for adaptation while maintaining and advancing institutional integrity, identity, and integration. 


Here's what occurs to me.

-Instead of "we need to restructure" how about "We need parish clergy and bishops able to manage change; to advance the church's identity and integrity while adapting. We require leaders with an increased sophistication regarding the ongoing task of aligning people, direction, dynamics, structures and process, and leadership in a changing environment."
-Instead of "we need to focus on the mission of God rather than the mission of the church." How about "We need to have a critical mass of people in each parish who understand 'the business we are in.' We need leaders who see the line running through the mission of God, the mission of the church, the primary task of a diocese, and the primary task of the parish church."
-Instead of "we need to be missional and emergent." How about "We need to look to our own resources of common prayer and ethos for ground on which to stand. We need to stop looking to evangelical sources for our signals--church growth to church planting to emergent to missional to the new Calvinism." (When spell check doesn't recognize a word sometimes I need to add the word. Other times I need to stop using the word.)
-Instead of "we need more parishes to close or merge." How about we need bishops to say "We will focus on creating and sustaining healthy and faithful parishes. This diocese is not in the business of closing parishes. And, there are some parishes that will end up closing and merging."
-Instead of "we need more attention outside the walls of the parish." How about, "We need to nurture within the parish such a life of common prayer, reflection and community that it overflows into lives of service outside the parish walls."
-Instead of "we need to say it's a myth that we are declining." How about "We are declining in membership. We don't know how to address some of the causes. We do know how to shape healthier and more faithful parish churches and we trust that such churches will attract people."
-Instead of "we need communion before baptism." How about, "Parish clergy need training and coaching to better shape healthy parishes, create a welcoming climate, and maintain the needed polarities of acceptance and invitation/challenge. Our respect for human dignity both requires a radical acceptance of all people and a radical invitation to choose to be in community, to be baptized."


Yes, it takes more words to move from bumper sticker solutions to actual direction. You may have better ways of expressing what I'm struggling with -- please give it a try. 


It's an exciting and difficult time for the Episcopal Church. Any of us, including me, can get things wrong; can misread the times; and can lack the needed competencies and wisdom for the work. 


So I say the Office and trust that God is faithful.




For your use --
PDF of Six Primary Elements of a System - Note there are a number of models like this. They all help identify the elements and suggest the interdependence of the elements.