Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The First Mark of Mission

If you had asked me after the 2009 General Convention what I thought of the church’s chances of surviving more than another 50 years, I would have sighed deeply and asked you to pray for a miracle.  If you had asked me the same question after the 2012 General Convention, I would have said that maybe, just maybe, a miracle is starting to occur.

The Omnibus Resolution on Restructuring was a truly hopeful development, passing both houses unanimously, to great rejoicing.  But if restructuring is only about creating a different framework to contain the same arguments, it’s not going to take us where we need to go.  What we need in the church is a reawakening. 

At Convention, I saw movements beginning to spring up, often among younger clergy and lay people, eager to jump start evangelism and mission in our church.  The Acts 8 Moment was one; Episcopal Evangelism Network is a second.  But these are movements on the fringes – do we have a hope of bringing them to the center?

I think we do, for the most prosaic of reasons: the budget.  Unlike the disaster of the 2009 budget, the disaster of the 2012 budget led to … wait for it … new hope.  Each of the Five Marks of Mission received a pool of money to pay for new mission initiatives. 

My special area of interest is the First Mark of Mission (on which all the others depend, according to the official statement on the Anglican Communion website):  To proclaim the good news of the kingdom.  This Mark could be interpreted in a number of ways, but it assuredly includes ministries of evangelism.  The budget allocated $2 million over three years to this Mark, which is intended to include:

  • The “Mission Enterprise Zones” of Resolution A073
  • Church Planting
  • Funding for the Latino/Hispanic Strategic Plan which was passed with overwhelming support in 2009

The budget left it to Executive Council to decide how the money was to be allocated.  At the invitation of Bishop Stacy Sauls, I attended a gathering last week of church leaders who were convened to advise Church Center management in creating a proposal to bring to the Executive Council meeting in October.  The meeting included:

  • Two members of Executive Council (Stephanie Cheney and me);
  • Three former or new members of Program, Budget, and Finance (Bishop Alan Scarfe, Frank Logue, and Victoria Heard);
  • Five members of Church Center staff (Bishop Stacy Sauls, Sam McDonald, Tom Brackett, Kirk Hadaway, and Anthony Guillen);
  • Five current or former church planters (Victoria Heard, Frank Logue, Stephanie Spellers, Lang Lowrey, and me – some of us fall into two categories);
  • A representative from the church planting office of the ELCA (Mary Frances).

The group was clear that it was Executive Council’s job to decide how to allocate the funds, and this group was simply there to advise management on a proposal to bring to Executive Council. 

I don’t want to go into details about the proposal we came up with, partly because Executive Council might decide to go in a different direction, and partly because we left a few issues unresolved (to be addressed via email).  However, here are some highlights of our gathering:

  • Frank Logue and I led Acts 8-type Bible study and prayer sessions the two days we gathered.  The whole gathering was thereby framed in the Acts 8 paradigm – we are in a new era of the church, being scattered somewhat fearfully into unfamiliar territory, yet finding new ways to proclaim the gospel to new people.
  • A short discussion of the difference between the three categories of ministry the money covers:
  • Mission Enterprise Zones are diocesan-level ministries with underserved populations, e.g., people in cultures and ethnicities under-represented in The Episcopal Church, youth and young adults, low-income people, etc.
  •   A073 provided up to $20,000 for such projects (the diocese has to provide matching funds).  The group felt very strongly that these ministries should lead to the creation of a worshiping community (e.g., these are not soup kitchens, though soup kitchens may be involved).
  • Church plants are new worshiping communities that are intended to be permanent and (eventually) self-sustaining.  They could receive grants of amounts to be determined by Executive Council.  The group felt that grants of up to $100,000 per project would be reasonable over a three-year period.  The diocese would have to match the funds.
  • Latino-Hispanic ministries could fall into either category above, and might have some special provisions.
  • Since the budget passed by General Convention is not clear about how to allocate the $2 million between the three purposes (Mission Enterprise Zones, church planting, and Latino/Hispanic ministries), we are suggesting that it is best not to arbitrarily divide the money between these three categories.  Our hope is that the grants committee, whoever that turns out to be, would have discretion to determine which projects to fund (with carefully determined criteria).
  • We got great help and counsel from Mary Frances, the ELCA representative.  They are light-years ahead of us on church planting, and the funds they allocate make ours pale in comparison.  They are willing to advise and possibly even partner with us on some projects. 
  • A small thing that was of some personal interest to me: I really enjoyed getting to know Bishop Alan Scarfe.  He told some inspiring stories of mission during his young-adult days in England and Romania.  He also said that he had never been in a room with church planters before, and he found it very inspiring.  What a revelation!  I guess we church planters are unusual creatures, at that.  But I wonder how it’s different to be in a room with us!

We spent some time “dreaming” about how to start a movement in the church.  One of the fears we share is that there just won’t be enough novel and exciting projects out there to fund, which have sufficient diocesan buy-in to provide matching funds.  We didn’t figure out this question – how to start a missional movement.  Acts 8 folks: what do you think?  How do we start the church dreaming?  How do we midwife a new missional movement in the church?  How do we respond to our Acts 8 Moment?