4/25/2015

TREC and The Episcopal Church as an international church.

It is clear that the TREC (The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church) Report to the 78th General Convention concerns itself with The Episcopal Church. That is, its mandate grows from concerns about the future of TEC viewed as a spiritual, social and political agency or entity within the United States of America.

The mandate for its work is stated this way: "To urge The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future, we may more faithfully: proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; teach, baptize, and nurture new believers; respond to human need by loving service; seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind, and to pursue peace and reconciliation; and strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth."

The mandate engages the "Five Marks of Mission," which has become a kind of "Anglican Communion " icon.


Many in the Anglican Communion make use of the five marks of mission as a touchstone for what it would mean to be faithful to the Gospel. Each of these Five Marks are universal in scope, although some imply locale. The hope is that these "marks" found wherever Christians gather, might indeed reasonably map out the missionary scope of the Church worldwide.

The Five Marks are interestingly not described in a sacramental or incarnational form, but rather in operational form. We are to baptize, teach, nurture, respond in service, transform, challenge, strive to safeguard. These are things we do, but they are not seen as outward and visible signs of Grace, nor are they seen as embodiment of God's presence.

So it is possible, as the TREC report so clearly shows, to hold up the five marks of mission as something which we must faithfully be about, and yet spend most of the energy in the report on a "reimagining" that hardly touches on the doing of these five marks. For this report "reimagining" preceeds "doing." 


We should note that the TREC report has astonishingly little to say about the "Foreign" work of The Episcopal Church. It looks primarily at the "Domestic" side of the reimagining, and the church it images is one growing primarily out of local engagement. In its "engagement process" there was little to indicate any involvement by Episcopalians outside the US.  

All this is appropriate, given that it is precisely the "local" with which parish churches have lost touch. As local social conditions have changed, and people and groups have gone and come, what used to be neighborhood churches have become churches disconnected with locale. It is quite understandable that TREC has focused on the work needed to be responsive in local terms - on a variety of levels of "location."  In spite of there being TEC congregations and dioceses outside the United States of America TREC quite rightly has focused on changes as they relate to life in the church in locations part of the US. TREC has, as a result, very little to say to the notion that TEC is an international church. 

The one place where the "Foreign" in the title of the church as a corporate entity (The Foreign and Domestic Missionary Society) is concretely addressed is in the interesting proposal that the General Convention be closely tied in with a "Missionary Convocation."  The section on this reads as follows: "the Church could convene a General Missionary Convocation both in person and virtually, potentially concurrent with General Convention." (p.47)  The canonical provision is simply this, "Each General Convention shall function for the Church both as a legislative body and as a mission-oriented convocation." (p. 61).  There is no suggestion one way or another that "Mission" in this general missionary convocation concerns foreign as well as domestic issues and concerns.  I assume it would.But the report says little about this.

The sixty two page TREC report references "foreign" 26 times, always concerning the title "Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society."  It is silent on just what "Foreign" might mean in practice, except to refer in turn to Anglican Communion interests.  "International" comes up exactly once, in reference to the Presiding Bishop's role. (p.12). 

TEC has touted its "international" character, noting that there are 16 jurisdictions outside the USA that are part of TEC. But TREC says very little about those jurisdictions. 

TEC is international in its internal life. We are increasingly conscious that we are a church made up of indigenous peoples,of immigrants from England, the islands off shore from mainland Europe, from Hispanic, Haitian, Caribbean islanders, African slaves, and Asians, and more. But that is in TEC itself.  What about the overseas jurisdictions? Are they what give TEC its international character? 

TREC does not address the issues related to our missionary efforts in these other nations. Surely, as part of our reimagnining we might think of a policy or image of the future in which those jurisdictions become fully churches of their own. 

TREC has little to say to the future of our engagement with emerging churches in jurisdictions not part of the USA. 

My sense is that this failure by TREC needs to be addressed. To the extent that it is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society that is our core corporate model, we ought to have a policy, or at least a imagining of TEC as a jurisdiction always devoted to autonomy for those areas outside the USA. 

How will TREC's reimagining move us to a missionary zeal to see those parts of TEC in other countries become autonomous? 

 

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