Friday, June 29, 2012

The Acts 8 Moment: A Call to Prayer and Action

What time is it?  It's 2012, but it's not the end of the world!  Instead, it is a time of transition in the church, a time to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, a time to go where God says to go.  It's a time for action, but first and primarily, it's a time for prayer, conversation and discernment.  Together with Scott Gunn and Tom Ferguson, I am hoping to start a new conversation at General Convention.  Come and join us to think, pray and dream!  Read more at the bottom of this post.  We would like to open up a space for the Holy Spirit, because ...

This is an Acts 8 Moment.  

It’s a dark time for the church.  Social forces have impacted believers so that it’s not clear how the community of faith can continue.  The institutions that have held the church together are breaking apart, and people are scattered, unsure of their next step, uncertain that the gospel will survive into the next generation.

The Episcopal Church in 2012?  No – the Followers of The Way in Jerusalem, 40 A.D.  Acts Chapter 8 has the story.  A persecution has broken out against the followers of Jesus.  In Jerusalem, the apostles have created an organization, with assigned roles and delegation of responsibilities to deacons and others.  It seems to work, until Stephen speaks out of turn, insisting that the older Temple organization is not necessary.  Stephen gets killed as a result, and a persecution begins.  The fledgling institution is destroyed and scattered, and no one knows what to do.

No one, that is, except the Holy Spirit.  Where human plans have failed, God is doing something new.  It turns out that the very persecution that scatters the believers and destroys their institutions now becomes the seed of new life in unexpected places.  The Twelve had assumed that the main life of the church would always continue in Jerusalem, headquartered in the Temple.  But the Spirit flung the church out into new and frightening places:  Samaria and the road to Gaza and a place called Azotus.  Simon the Magi and an Ethiopian eunuch become Christians.  Baptism happens in a puddle of water alongside a road, instead of in a carefully planned liturgical ceremony.  What will God think of next?

Here in The Episcopal Church, we are not in any danger of being martyred as Stephen was.  But our anxiety over a changing world and a changing role for the church has created a transition point for us, as it did for the church in Jerusalem so long ago.  Our institutions are no longer useful in the same way they once were, society around us often seems hostile to our mission, and we’re not sure what’s coming or how the church can survive into the next generation.  We are being scattered, flung headlong into a new world.

This sounds like a job for the Holy Spirit.  Where human plans fail, God may truly be planning a new thing, something that none of us anticipated.  And the new thing that is coming may well be the very thing that brings life where we least expect to find it.  We may find ourselves in our own symbolic Samaria, on the road to Gaza, or in Azotus, reaching new people in new ways with the good news of God’s grace to us in Jesus. 

The Episcopal Church in 2012 is in an Acts 8 Moment.

Where Should We Go From Here?

As we approach General Convention, we seem to be consumed with questions of “restructuring” and the budget and how we will organize our institutions in the years to come.  I’ve been paying a lot of attention to some of these questions myself.

But I don’t think our structure or our finances or even our decline in membership is what we should be focused on. 

I think we need to focus on what the Holy Spirit is doing. 

How do we do that?

>  First, don’t make any hasty decisions.  In 2009, we restructured by slashing the budget.  No long-term strategic thinking went into what line items were slashed, even though those cuts resulted in long-term changes in how we did our mission.  PB&F was faced with an impossible task, and they did what they could. 

But restructuring by budget-cutting is not a healthy way to run any organization.  Let’s pass a transition budget that does some responsible and sensible cuts, but gives us the time we need to seek out the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

>  Next, don’t deceive ourselves that changing the way General Convention operates, or the place the Church Center does its work, or way we create our budget, or any other organizational fix, is going to get us where we need to be.  Those might be good things to do, but they’re not going to put us on the road to Gaza.  Restructuring our organization isn’t the answer to our problems.

>  Then, allow some space for the Holy Spirit to do its work.  Philip listened, and the angel of the Lord told him to go out to the Gaza Road.  We need to listen too. 

The Episcopal Church in the 21st century is not in a restructuring moment – we’re in an Acts 8 moment.  Let's open up a process of prayer and discernment that allows people across the church to pray together, to study the Bible together, to dream together about what the church could be.  Let's put everything out on the table, including our dearest structures.  The disciples learned that they didn’t become Christians in Jerusalem – they had to move to Antioch.  Everything has to be open to change, and we have to be ready to listen. 

>  And let's make sure that the group that is coordinating this churchwide discernment process IS open to change.  Yes, we should listen to the voices of experienced folks who have worked on Structure and Executive Council and 815 and other positions of leadership.  But if we are truly going to change, then we can’t depend on our current leadership structures to initiate that change.  We need outsiders to lead us into a new era.  We need Gen Xers and Millennials.  We need people in minority groups.  We need people who understand technology.  We need evangelists and teachers.  We need dreamers and thinkers and organizers.  Let’s get a group together who will lead us into a new generation. 

What’s Next?

A whole bunch of folks will be together at General Convention!  Let’s get the conversation started there.  I am working with Scott Gunn and Tom Ferguson – go check out their blogs too.  Together, the three of us would like to invite anyone who is interested to come together in Indianapolis at 9:30 p.m. on July 5 (location TBA - like us on Facebook or follow the Acts 8 Moment on Twitter for details).  We want to start the process by gathering, praying, reading the Bible, and talking together about the church we dream of seeing.  Let’s listen for where the Holy Spirit is calling us to go!  Let's hear each other's prayers and dreams!  Let’s enter into our own Acts 8 Moment.

History belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being….The future belongs to whoever can envision … a new and desirable possibility, which faith then fixes upon as inevitable. This is the politics of hope. Hope envisages its future and then acts as if that future is now irresistible, thus helping to create the reality for which it longs.”
Walter Wink, 1992 "Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination" Augsburg Fortress p. 299 (reprinted  in Avery Brooke's "Healing in the Landscape of Prayer")


  1. Just a thought in passing...maybe gathering and waiting on the Holy Spirit to speak through members of the Act 8 moment community gathered at GC (in the tradition of the Quakers) might be worth a try? Psalm 46:10

  2. Yes, I think you are on the right track, Farmer. That's what we want to do - pray and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and see how God is speaking through the people who gather. I like your idea about having some waiting in silence for a time - thanks.

  3. What? No Boomers? Just Gen Xers and Millennials? I'm planning to attend as I'm a big fan of the Holy Spirit and have felt her work through me - and General Convention - many times. Hope I'm not carded at the door and turned away. I know this may be a really radical thought, but I think we've been brought to this moment by the work of the Spirit. Then again, I'm a Boomer. I'm probably wrong. Indeed, to read what some people think, Boomers are what's wrong with the church. I hope that's not true. I think we've been faithful to what we've heard the Spirit say to us. I hope we still have something - lots of somethings - to contribute. In fact, I think we still do. Which is why I'll be there.

  4. Glad you'll be there, Elizabeth! The presence of Boomers in any church gathering is assumed, and important, because they have a lot of wisdom. It's the Xers and Millennials we don't hear as much from, so we need to reach out to them particularly - to discern the Spirit's movement as we move into a new age. Since Scott, Tom and I are all Xers, I'm glad to hear there will be some diversity. See you there!

  5. Thank you, Susan. I don't think you can always assume that Boomers - or anyone else - will be there. It's the explicit, open invitation that's really important. What some of us Boomers have learned - and hope to pass on to the next generation: If you want diversity - in whatever category - you've got to be intentional in your invitation.

    I think what you're doing is offering an alternative way to think about church and not getting caught up in the drama of dueling budgets and MEGO conversations about restructuring. Kudos. I'm already a fan. See you there.

  6. First time I've been truly sorry to miss this G.C. Very excited about this, and will be with you in prayer.

  7. Elizabeth, let's be clear. The demographic data of the Episcopal Church indicate that the Boomer generation and those older will not only be present in any conversation about the future of the church, but also, by virtue of their larger numbers, are more likely to lead that conversation. Acts 8 is a welcome exception.

    Demographic data also indicate that Generation X cannot be taken for granted, and the presence of Millennials in conversations about the church is practically miraculous. The number of Millennials in leadership pale beside the numbers of Boomers and older. Inclusion and intentionality, in my opinion, starts with the attempt to be intentional about including Millennials. I'm glad Susan, Tom and Scott are doing so.

  8. I appreciate your comments, but where you say, "It’s a dark time for the church," I suggest an image that might fit better with your sense that God is present but there appears obstacles are before us and the future is unclear.

    The situation reminds me of a morning fog. I photographed woods in a morning fog and noticed how bright it was, even on the shady side of the trees. Then I realized the fog diffuses the light, bending it around the dark trees that otherwise stand as obstacles.

    I used to think of Jesus as the light of the world, picturing bright penetrating rays that pierce the darkness. Now I add this picture: Jesus is the light that is diffused throughout the whole view. He shines so there is no dark shadow. He is the light in the fog that bends around whatever threatens to darken our day.

  9. Nice image, Rick - thanks. My description of "a dark time for the church" really was intended to apply to the church after Stephen's martyrdom and the subsequent persecution, though I purposely worded it vaguely so that it could apply to us as well. I like your picture of a fog where we can't quite see our way clear, but Christ's light shines nonetheless. Blessings!

  10. Further demographic data related to the imperative of inclusion: "out of 852 deputies, 529 (62%) are over 50. Only 56 (6.6%) are under 40. Only 21 (2.5%) are under 30." This according to

  11. I am technically a Boomer, but just barely. I plan to attend, but I also plan to listen much and speak little, if at all. Why? Because the Spirit moves better in me when I shut up, and also because I agree wholeheartedly with Nurya that Gen Con, and for that matter the governance of TEC at every level, is dominated by Boomers who don't seem to have made a lot of space for newer voices. I want to hear what these voices have to say. I get enough talk time at my parish.

    I am looking forward to this gathering and hope to learn from it.

  12. I am totally going to be there, and I'm trying to drum up some more young folks. I have at least one taker so far. I'm the 35-year old (which I think makes me Gen Y...but who knows?) senior warden of a parish here in Indianapolis. We're a decent mix in terms of age, largely boomers like a lot of places but with some moderate success attracting younger people. I'm not at GC in any capacity beyond volunteering, but I'm excited about this topic, and appreciate the welcome.

  13. As a member of the #dreamUMC movement and having witnessed the #dreamPCUSA, #dreamUCC and #MainlineDreams movements spring forth this past week, I am very excited about #Acts8. As we dream and act about the future of the church and how to be the church today, I invite you to visit the other movements and join us for ecumenical tweetups! If we can't reach across denominational lines in prayer and solidarity, building relationships with each other, we don't have a hope of reaching across other lines. Follow on twitter at @dreamUMC @dreamUCC @wedreamPCUSA @mainlineDreams. Is @Acts8 on twitter? Peace!