The Episcopal Church is a gigantic ship, and surely turning this ship will be a monumental task. Yet a deeply hopeful General Convention created a mandate for change in passing the Structure resolution, providing my favorite moment of the whole Convention. As the vote was taken, the House of Deputies resounded with a hearty "aye" – and not a single "no." Of one accord, every person present - nearly 900 people - agreed to form a Task Force that would lead a process of change. Then we stood in a standing ovation, cheering and clapping, and joined together in singing the hymn, "Sing a New Church Into Being."
The Structure resolution was a good one: carefully drafted, taking the input of many into account, providing for an independent group that will not be supervised or sabotaged by current leadership structures that will want to protect their own standing and their natural inclination to say, “But we’ve always done it that way before!” This group is accountable only to the 2015 General Convention.
Yet my worry is this: the 2015 General Convention will find itself deeply resisting change. The hopeful moment is now, because none of us have seen the change that will be proposed. What happens when this hope-filled task force brings back specifics? We took two votes in the House of Deputies that make me worry that the specifics will bring out forces who want to maintain the status quo. We turned down a proposal to reduce the number of Standing Commissions to two. And we voted to increase the length of General Convention – one of the structures that will be carefully looked at for potential to change – back to 10 days from 8.
Admittedly, some people voted against eliminating Standing Commissions because they want to see these changes proposed as part of a coordinated Task Force plan. There is wisdom in this. But the natural inclination of any system is to protect itself, and I am concerned that when it comes to the next Convention, we will not show imagination about singing a new church into being. I am concerned that we will see exactly what you would expect of a big ship: a reluctance to change and a determination, when a new course is offered, to continue plowing steadily ahead.
So where does the Acts 8 Moment come in? In Acts chapter 8, the Holy Spirit drove the disciples out of their comfortable headquarters in Jerusalem, to strange places where they baptized people, like an Ethiopian eunuch, who they probably assumed weren't even qualified to be part of the Kingdom of God. Getting thrown out of Jerusalem transformed the church from a small apocalyptic Jewish sect, waiting for the end times in Jerusalem, into a missionary movement that proclaimed the word to people of all nations and races. You and I are Christians because the church experienced this moment of change.
Today's church needs a similar transformation: it needs the guidance of the Holy Spirit if we are going to move into a new era of change. The change we need is not simply a matter of changing our structures to save money. The change we need is to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading into a new apostolic era – where we find ourselves flung out of our comfortable structures and ways of being the church, away from our secure, familiar Jerusalems, into places where we learn to proclaim the gospel in ways we had never imagined.
We need to start praying for, experiencing, and leading an Acts 8 Moment for The Episcopal Church.
At our gathering on July 11, we talked about hopes for the church – hopes that we will learn to proclaim the gospel wherever we are, in whatever difficult circumstances; hopes that this moment of change will not be lost; hopes that new generations will come to know Jesus through us; hopes that the Holy Spirit will guide us into the changes we need to make. We believe that the Acts 8 Moment has a place in leading the church in the direction it needs to go, by providing prayer and spiritual guidance that parallels the work of the Structure Task Force, and by holding our church’s leadership to account in advocating for change.
So, where do we go from here? Some of our ideas include:
- Bringing the Acts 8 movement of prayer and discernment to the local level, to our parishes, to diocesan and regional gatherings.
- Creating ways to be accountable to each other through online interactions, regular communications, agreed-upon prayer times, etc.
- Providing resources for a churchwide study of the Book of Acts, that transformational book of the Bible that describes God’s hope for the church and the way the church reaches new people.
- Creating a blogger network where we can share all our ideas.
- Staying involved with the Task Force on Restructuring, praying, getting the grassroots involved, making sure our ideas are heard.
- Making sure we have accountability and community with each other.
- Bringing the Acts 8 renewal movement into parishes, since true change comes from people, not from structures.
- Building an interactive website that has everything we need for the journey, with interactivity and a way for people to communicate with each other.
- Tweet chats at designated times.
- Naming a time of day when we all commit to pray for this initiative, such as 5:08 p.m. (Acts is the 5th book of the New Testament, so 5:08).
- Building a network of diocesan representatives who could start local gatherings.
- Meeting face to face to create a Benedictine Rule of Life together (we are considering a conference/meetup in October or November).
- Including some kind of engagement with our communities.
We have begun the work with our first website, at http://www.acts8moment.org/. (Thanks to Frank Logue for putting it together!) Check it out and write in with your suggestions. Let us know what your ideas are for Acts 8, and what you are feeling called to do and lead.
Most of all, start praying. With prayer, discernment, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I believe we truly can turn this ship in a new direction, full of hope and possibility.