The Task Force on Re-imaging the Episcopal Church wrote the following in their "Letter to the Church."
In that document the Task Force asked us to imagine various possibilities. I have. On the whole I find the imagining to be a variation on the Star Trek motif of "boldly going where no one has gone before," and mostly as banal. My comments in RED follow each imagining.
"Imagine a world where all of our Episcopal parishes are spiritually
vibrant and mission-focused. A recent survey suggests that less than 30%
would pass this test today.
Imagine a survey that actually could measure spiritually vibrancy and mission focus. What in the world do the writers mean by "spiritually vibrant" or "mission-focused"? I can guess and even guess that it would be good to be vibrant and focused. Also muscular and relevant and so forth. Blah blah blah. Still, imagining a world of vibrant and focused parishes has some value, provided their vibrancy is not a goose step and their focus is not on their own survival.
Imagine a world where our parishes
consistently are good at inspiring their traditional members and also
are energized and effective in reaching out to new generations and new
Ah, imagine indeed. I'm an old white clergy guy and frankly pissed off at being relegated to being a "traditional member" who needs to be inspired, as opposed to being a new generation. Actually I am part of a new generation of old white guys who, as members of the modestly revolutionary "sixties", constitutes a "new population. This new population is the wave of older people who are younger than that now. This imagining is fluff at best.
Imagine a world where the shape of our Church frequently
adapts, as new parish communities emerge in non-traditional places and
non-traditional ways, and as existing parishes merge and reinvent as
local conditions change.
Well now we are getting somewhere. Adaptation is a key issue. Congregational life needs to be more fluid and open to times and conditions. But casting this in terms of "parishes" is a mistake, since "parish" is a specific sort of congregational structure with particular meaning in canon. Better to encourage congregational life in a variety of forms, one of which is the parish.
Imagine a world where Episcopal clergy and lay
leaders are renowned for being highly effective leaders, skilled at
Christian formation and community building, at new church planting, at
church transformation, and at organizing communities for mission.
Imaging "Episcopal clergy and lay leaders" as highly effective and so forth is great. Asking them to be "renowned" for those abilities suggests a new round of "our clergy and leaders are better than yours". Being renowned is irrelevant, unless of course it is a gambit to get people to join us, and not "them."
Imagine that Episcopalians easily collaborate with each other across the
Church: forming communities of interest, working together to share
learnings from local initiatives, and collaborating to pool resources
OK, now you are on to something. New means of collaboration are very much in order. Notice now that the "imagining" is no longer about a "world where" but about Episcopalians.
Imagine that the Church wide structure of The Episcopal
Church primarily serves to enable and magnify local mission through
networked collaboration, as well as to lend its prophetic voice.
This is just sloppy. (i) This view of networking involves the old view of networks as having a "hub" that serves "to enable and magnify." But networks are more and more understood as neural and organic, that is as having no hub but rather a life as a whole. In this sense we don't need the Church wide structure at all. Collaboration and enabling takes place organically. (ii) The Church wide structure does not have prophetic voice, no non-person has prophetic voice. That is a left over from the notion of the corporate persons. The church wide structure can acknowledge prophetic voice or not, it can lend its affirmation to prophetic voice, but it is persons who are prophetic, not structures.
that each triennium we come together in a “General Mission Convocation”
where participants from all over the Church immerse themselves in
mission learning, sharing, decision making and celebration.
Now the whole imagining gets down to cases. The "imagining" here is of a meeting each "triennium" (notice the specific use of the General Convention triennium language) that is NOT General Convention but something else - a "General Mission Convocation." Where is the work of General Convention going to be done? In Executive Council? By a smaller leaner meaner cleaner legislative body meeting on some other schedule than every three years? There may be something to that, but stay tuned. Meanwhile, imagine that this "General Mission Convocation" took place WITH General Convention. Well that would be very much like having the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society resurrected as a "Mission Convocation" and reclaiming its place in the wider General Convention context. Is this a suggestion that we imagine GC legislation taking place in the context of DFMS missionary strategies? Is this a return to an earlier model or is it really a new model? We will have to wait and see.
Now, here is the thing. All this imagining is fine, rhetorical but fine. The bottom line, however, is not about a "world where..." but about more specifically a "church where." The imaging line is moving us to consider recasting General Convention to be a smaller legislative body and a larger tribal body. Interesting idea. Actually, fine idea. But...
More on the Letter to the Church later.