I put together a power point presentation recently on a bit of history and some thoughts on present structure of Executive Council. Included with that was this slide.."and we can recast a Vision for Council."
My thought was to think about moving beyond the "corporate board" model for Council and towards a model that would keep the necessary board functions and would also promote a genuinely missionary council - casting every issue in terms of the core concern to live out the mission of God as we understand that mission to include The Episcopal Church. In more or less plain terms, the object of this recasting of a vision would be to get Executive Council to think of itself more often as a missionary agency (that is a body to get mission moving) , a means of being in mission.
That sense is already present and much of what Executive Council did this first meeting following General Convention was about understanding our work as missionary in character. If this yearning to be an agency of God's mission were to permeate the work of Council we could ask old questions in new ways and ask new ones arising out of new situations.
There are all sorts of possibilities.
Our canons provide for Missionary Bishops and for missionary dioceses. Missionary bishops and dioceses were meant to provide a structure for the beginning of new work. The canons for this purpose have not been invoked directly for some time. There are currently no missionary dioceses.
We are facing into a new situation almost everywhere in The Episcopal Church: The percentage of the population belonging to the traditional "protestant" churches is falling, trends of growing secularism and "detached" spiritual practices, as well as the growth of religious entertainment substituting itself for church, has meant that many Christian church bodies, including The Episcopal Church, are becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the population.
If this is so, we may be coming to the point where it would be helpful for us to consider the jurisdictions where the Church has dioceses to be missionary dioceses and hold them accountable on that basis. We could then envision a search for and election of bishops who would have this missionary sense always with them, be willing to be trained as missionaries, and be skilled in making the case for The Episcopal Church to the increasingly unchurched population as well as to those who have become detached or drawn into entertainment religion.
This is not new stuff. In the 1950's the argument for missionary bishops as the basic starting point for establishing Episcopal dioceses in Central and South America was that there was a genuine call for a role for The Episcopal Church in Latin America primarily reaching the disaffected middle class emerging in many countries. For a variety of reasons this vision fell short of its hope, but the idea was there - missionary bishops and missionary dioceses in places where there were many disaffected from church life as they knew it.
To its credit, the Anglican Mission in the Americas, having cut its ties with The Episcopal Church, after some time turned outward and now proclaims its vision to reach "... the 150 million individuals in the U.S. and Canada who have yet to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ by building communities of faith and transforming lives."
I have all sorts of problems with AMiA, not the least of which is with their beginning premise for existing, namely that AMiA "was born as a bold missionary strategy in response to a crisis of faith and leadership in North America." AMiA was born of disaffected members of The Episcopal Church who could not abide being in a minority position. And, truth be told I have no idea where they got that "150 million" number. But their position is right - whatever the number, those people who have not responded, or have responded and later walked off, constitute a great missionary opportunity.
So, suppose we more clearly organized our vision for the episcopate and for diocesan life as the organization of a missionary episcopate and missionary dioceses. We might then ask of ourselves and of our church a greater level of attention to reaching into the lives of those around us who are seemingly untouched by the Gospel.
On other occasions I have suggested that the sign, "The Episcopal Church welcomes you," is fine as that goes. But as missionaries what we will wish for is that we so shine with love for Christ in those around us that people might put a sticker on their doors stating, "The Episcopal Church welcomed here." It would give new meaning to "let your light so shine that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."
That too would put all our work on seeking to be an inclusive church on a different footing: instead of trying to show (sometimes more or less successfully) that we are being good at inclusion we might see inclusion as a reflection of God's mission. (Remembering of course that there are many rooms in the mansion and enough places at the table for all who will come.) Inclusion would become a many-way street. We include "them," they include "us." It may be that some Christians will view this as a way to change the lives of others, but the overwhelming experience is that it changes Christian lives as well. Mission is about all of us drawn into God's love. We will all be changed.