Don't Think Twice, Its Alright: The love for the assembly

The gearing up for General Convention is also the wind down of my term on Executive Council, the wind down my work in the institutional church, and a kind of freedom to look again at how I have spent my years in ministry and where to go from here.

Contrary to the belief of some who read this blog, I love the Church very much. Indeed I have loved the Church to the point of sometimes confusing the integrity of its life as community and its life as assembly. 

I have spent a great deal of time dealing with the Church as assembly, as ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) all the while believing that working with the christian assembly was a way to ultimately serve the church as beloved community, as koinonia (κοινωνία).  

I didn't go into this work blind, indeed in Seminary and afterwords in my first ministries as missionary overseas and missionary in the US, (campus ministry) it was stressed again and again by classmates that one of the first questions we needed to ask was if to Gospel was served by serving the Church - since the church itself was a fit subject for transformation by the Gospel and subject to all the proclivities of the flesh. The question was, and is, can that transformation be worked from within?

Can the assembly, with its institutional needs (even Common Prayer is an institutional need), ever free itself from institutional protectionism enough to be the place where the beloved community gathers and thrives?

Well, yes, if you believe (as I did and often do now) that every meeting of the assembly is local, and limited enough to where a community of loving care can be formed in its midst.  I believe that General Convention, Executive Council, the Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice, the Diocesan Council in Delaware, the Diocesan Convention, the local church, the vestry and on and on, are all local, all a place where a community of loving care can form.  But each of these assemblies, in the various forms of their institutional grandeur, can exhibit characteristics of what a good friend and prophet calls, "a brood of vipers." 

This is because every church assembly, every ekklesia, has institutionalized matters of spiritual health and loving kindness and has offered those cloaked in proper dress and occasionally silly pomp. And worse, every ekklesia is burdened with the care of money and power, and the worldly wisdom that goes along with it.

I have just spent the last few days with a community of people who, as koinonia, are worthy of God's love and capable of showing that love in community. Executive Council is a wonderful and talented group of people. At the same time Executive Council is caught up in all the foibles of regulatory agencies, boards, supervisors, etc. It is a place of negotiation, compromise, and small gains. The people are capable of great dreams, but the institutional life we lead grinds those dreams down to small threads of hope.

Now back home I realize just how much the life of the Church as institution has cost, cost me and I believe cost all who are part not only of Executive Council, but also Diocesan Councils, Standing Committees, Vestries, etc.  The Church we believe in, as in "We believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church" is not the institutional Church, an entity bound by all the sins of humankind, but the koinonia church that is the localized gathering of the faithful.

Of course the two churches are inseparable - the koinonia always begets assembly - but they are not the same. I use the church institutional and it uses me, but in our better moments we use the church institutional to the end that a community of loving kindness, a koinonia, can thrive. But too much of the assembly church can cause any thriving to wilt, any joy to be turned to despair.

And so it is that I returned from Executive Council with the strong feeling that I had misplaced my love - my love of the Church as a community of loving kindness had been overtaken by my love of the Church as assembly.  And now I wonder if time spent working on making the assembly a body in which the spirit can thrive was a waste.  I don't know. 

But I do know that running around in my head is the Bob Dylan song, "Don't think Twice, its Alright" as sung by Ramblin' Jack Elliot. The words are these:

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on
Don’t think twice, it’s all right.

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway
So don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
Like you never did before
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
I can’t hear you anymore
I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’ all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

Oh, I know, there's all sorts of problems with identifying the Church as a woman, much less singing good ol' Dylan and identifying what he was saying about love and love of church.  I know, I know. Still, there it is. 

The question, of course, is at the end of the song -

I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

And I am left with the question... did it just waste my precious time?  Well, don't think twice, it's alright.

Here is Ramblin' Jack Elliot singing:


  1. Mark, I doubt seriously you've wasted your time. I'm more than grateful to those in our church, which I, too, dearly love, warts and all, who represent the rest of us in the assemblies. As one who is not gifted in working in assemblies, (and I have tried over the years), I appreciate those who have the gift. You surely did, and you served in the place of the likes of me exceedingly well. So, in brief: Thank you for your service.

    "Don't think Twice, its Alright"

  2. I concur with Mimi. She says it well.

  3. Your comments resonated with me. I've spent a lot of time working within the institution, what I sometimes call the Ministry of Meetings. I think it's a valuable ministry and much of the other ministry of the church would not occur without it.

    But I've realized over the last couple of years that I'm just not called to that ministry anymore, or at least for the time being, or at least not as much. There are other ministries that seem to have a stronger call at the moment.

    I've enjoyed the Ministry of Meetings and I've met a lot of wonderful people there. I'm grateful that there are others who feeled called to replace me there and support the other kinds of ministry to which I feel more called at the moment.

  4. There is always tension, I think, between ekklesia and koinonia . I suppose the best thing we can do is try to create one that nurtures the other. When I rant, as I am wont to do, against the sin of "institutionalism" I am not saying that there is no need for or honor in servants of ekklesia. Rather the danger lies in letting that service overtake commitment to the community.

    I think you can be sure, based on what your friends see if not your own vision, that you have not fallen into that error often if at all. Some do: some as for instance some archbishops, seem unable to escape its grip. I think you did alright.

    There is an Irish folk proverb, I am told, about how best to think of an institution: consider it a garden. The best the gardener can do is plant the crop, spread the fertilizer, and await God's sun and rain. That makes us, all of us who concentrate all or some of our energy on polity, on ekklesia, at best spreaders of (ummm..err..) manure. A humbling thought worth pondering. Still it is God's sun, and God's rain. Don't think twice, it's alright."


  5. Where I end up almost literally banging my head against a wall is that Executive Council, General Convention, etc... actually DO have the ability (in concert) to radically change the nature of the institution that is apparently squeezing the life out of the dreams of many people for the church. And yet they do not. And yet the biggest news out of Executive Council is arguably the flap between the PB and the PHOD over communication and procedural issues, as well as the "duh!" fact that the resources to keep this institutional machine operating continue to decrease.

    At what point do we ask what really is core to our being and discard the rest. Is an 800+ person House of Deputies that runs an exhausting and expensive eight or nine day legislative sprint really necessary to who we are at our core? Is a office in Manhattan with several floors of faithful people keeping the TEC machine well-oiled and functioning really necessary to who we are?

    I don't see any of these questions being seriously engaged by Executive Council, General Convention, or anyone else. When they are brought up, the quickly become mired in procedural minutia and sink beneath the waves of power, policy, procedure, and provincialism.

    It's time to get over ourselves and do the very difficult work of adaptive change or watch hundreds of years of accumulated work and assets crumble into dust.

  6. Mark
    I have no doubt your work on Executive Council has not only bourne fruit but been worthwhile in not only the questions you have asked but in the work you have done to move us forward I know I sometimes consider the same questions for any ministry I do beyond the parish--despite being told by others not to worry, I look and wonder if we are just rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. I very much resonate with Tom wondering why the bodies charged with acting seem so mired and yet I know in my own leadership positions I find the enertia of the systems daunting. I love the Church and have pledged my life to it in my baptism and ordination. I want to be part of moving it forward--just sometimes I can't find the pathway because it is drifted over from the power dynamics and lack of will that seems to fill the larger church. In the midst of this I see no plan for the future--seminaries selling off piecemeal, churches and cathedrals closing; no one asking the hard questions of moving forward and instead waiting until we are forced into decisions with no good options. Yet I believe my ministry and the ministry of the local congregation I serve DOES make a difference and I find the Holy Spirit moves and people respond. You are right that all ministry is local and diocese and denominations are only helpful and effective if they can recognize this. I pray and hope for our future. Thank you for your efforts and your inspiration.

  7. Thank you Mark, for your lovely testimony here. I, too, do not believe you have wasted your time - in all that you have shown to us of your pastoral care and concern for the marginalsed of the Church.

    Many of us agree with your godly frustration at the workings of the assembly; but you just get on up there and speak your piece at the next General Convention. The world-wide Anglican Communion needs you!

    Here is a big Thankyou from little old ANANZP - Aotearoa/New Zealand, for your encouragement of Women and LGBTs on your Preludium site - and for your ongoing work with the *No Covenant Coalition*.

    Please don't abandon your helpful *Preludium* web-site. Some of us would like to access your wisdom and comments from time to time.

    Agape, Fr. Ron Smith, New Zealand

  8. I often wonder the same thing, but the sense I get once that thought has run its course is, "No, you're not wasting time; you're following a vocation."

  9. A year or so ago, I realized that the only thing that would enable me to continue to seek to live into God's love in a church context was to refuse a request to become Senior Warden and to resign from the Vestry. It's still a near thing, but I walk in those red doors every Sunday morning.

    Blessings Mark ... and I am sure you have not wasted your time. But I honor your sacrifice.

  10. Well, I've been blessed in many ways on many occasions during this triennium on Council. I always look forward to seeing you. Thanks for the perspectives, big questions, and good humor you bring, brother.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.