6/21/2013

Episcopal Church in the Philippines has a vision, so do others: What is this vison thing about.

The Episcopal Church in the Philippines publishes "The Philippine Episcopalian" on a quarterly basis. It is a meaty, and I might add, tasty bit of journalism. Many of the articles are in depth looks a important parts of the goals related to the ECP Vision 2018. That vision is this: "“By the year 2018, we envision a dynamic and vibrant church of caring, witnessing, and mission-oriented parishes.”

The term "parish" is used with specific intent to indicate parishes that  are self-sufficient. The move to parish self-sufficiency is seen as a cornerstone to diocesan and provincial growth. It is a move away from "aided" congregations dependent on diocesan, provincial or "partners" help for basic congregational life. 

The Easter 2013 edition of The Philippine Episcopalian has an excellent artice "Breaking the Ground" on asset-based congregational development programme. The whole issue can be downloaded HERE as a PDF file. The article is by Floyd Lalwet, Provincial Secretary and National Development Officer.

Asset Based Congregational Development (ABCD) is a fine example of melding development concerns with traditional values of stewardship and congregational health. The proposition is roughly, as reported in "O God," "we've been given everything we need to make it work."  In looking again at the assets a congregation has, not only the funds, property, community standing, etc, but talents and time of its members, congregations often find new courage for congregational life and action.

One of the comments in an ABCD by a lay leader from the Central Philippines was "ABCD does not only mean on your financial capabilities, but also about your gifts, time and efforts and sharing it with others not just within your church, but with other people as well."  

ABCD has become a major force in the ECP as it moves towards its 2018 vision. 

A wider part of that vision is for the ECP to also become more and more a church of the whole nation, moving out from the areas where the work first began to cover the whole of the Philippines. To that end the development of a new diocese in Mindanao in the past few years has been a major confirmation of the ECP intent to be country wide in scope.

The clarity of the vision - to be a Church of self-sufficient parishes - is part of the continuing process of moving from dependency to mutual interdependence - from some being dependent on others, to all being supported by all.  The vision does not speak of specific goals, how many, where, etc., but rather of the whole. And success is a product of the vision becoming central to the life of the church - the vision of a church aware of its own strengths as well as its weaknesses.

I've been thinking on this a bit as I've been watching another vision "thing" unfold. Over in ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) land there is a vision of starting 1000 new congregations. That vision was a challenge from the Archbishop to the church, and the time period is roughly until the end of the Archbishop's tenure in office. (2016?) He said something in his address to ACNA's Provincial Council that struck me. "Will there be 1000 new congregations in five years?  With the 1-2-3 challenge put forth by Can. Alan Hawkins and his A1K team – every congregation planting one new church in the next two years using one of three strategies – it could still happen.  Whether it does or not, I think we can reasonably say that church-planting is now fixed in the genetic code of this Province.  What a triumph that is!"

One of the values of a vision "thing" is changing the way we think of particular issues. Instead of thinking, "how can we survive?" people in the ECP are thinking, "what are the assets that make us strong enough to prosper?"  Instead of thinking, "we have to grow in order to survive," folk in ACNA are positively saying, "let's plant new churches." 

Mission mindedness is primarily about holding a solid vision and finding the means to address that vision positively. The ECP has it and is steady at the work of being a  "dynamic and vibrant church of caring, witnessing, and mission-oriented parishes."  ACNA is hard at the task of "Reaching North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ."

Now the fact is, I am in strong agreement with the mission statement of ECP and a little put off by ACNA's mission statement. But I do applaud both churches for sustaining a vision of growth that is about communities of faithful people. 

My problem with ACNA's vision is twofold: (i) The "transforming" in "the transforming love of Jesus Christ," has always echoed ACNA leadership's belief that homosexuality is a problem - moral and theological - best solved by being transformed, by overcoming, the desire to act out homosexual desires. The closing of Exodus International's efforts to do "conversion therapy" puts a crimp in this "transforming" sub text of ACNA.  

Of course on some other levels ACNA's vision of the transforming love of Jesus Christ is right on target, and is I suppose the vision and goal of all Christians, which is the second reason I think the vision has a sub text. That text, at least in the first years of ACNA's struggle to present itself as the true voice of Anglicanism in North America, had a sub-text, "We are that true voice of Anglicanism, and The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are not." And of course, going back to the vision thing, ACNA's subtext is that they indeed are "reaching North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ," and TEC and the ACoC are not.

Well, it turns out, after all the shouting and carrying on that perhaps TEC, ECP, ACoC, and ACNA and almost everyone else in the alphabet soup of Anglican, Anglican like and general Christian conglomerations as churches, is attached to the notion that being Christian is transformative.  Most of the rest is about where we sit with the reality that our transformed lives are always in reference to our own past and present "location" in the our lost worlds and what we experienced when found.

Meanwhile, however, vision "things" are useful. The question is, how is vision articulated, and what are its sub-texts?  The ECP subtext is the move from dependency to self-sufficiency (a colonial and post colonial issue). The ACNA subtext is transformation "from" as well as "to." 

So, friends in Episcopal Church land... what is the vision of TEC? and where does it lead? And will we too have some sense of practical steps (a ABCD program, an "Anglican 1000" goal) to get there?

Here is one vision from the long history of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society: That The Episcopal Church will be present in every part of The United States of America and its territories, and will foster missionary activity outside the US to the end of encouraging new national or regional churches throughout the world informed by Anglican tradition and grounded in the principles of the Lambeth Quadrilateral."

This vision would explain why Episcopal Church presence in particular areas is not ended when some people pull up stakes and leave. (We've been pretty clear about that.) It would also explain why, although we are an international church, we need to work ourselves out of that reality, helping those churches to become national or regional churches in their own context.

These are days where the vision thing is of increasing importance. Time to get to work.  

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