May 9, 2012

Great Coach, What's the Game?

The Presiding Bishop has been attending the Provincial Synods of The Episcopal Church and delivering a stirring address at each of them. While I very much enjoyed the PB's address, I observed to another member of my deputation afterwards, "The PB is an excellent coach, but I'm not sure what game we are playing." This, it seems to me, is at the base of our problems with restructuring and changing how we work -- I'm not sure we are at all clear about the task.

For one thing, I think there is a good deal of confusion about the differences between mission and ministry and outreach and the corporal works of mercy. All of these things are important, all of them are interrelated, but they are different things. I tried to lay out some of these distinctions in an earlier post, by examining the Catechism's definition of mission and its implementation. I hope that some further careful thought will go into discernment and clarification prior to any effort at restructuring. Form follows function, a wise man once said. Making formal changes before we are entirely clear about the purpose for the form will accomplish little, and may damage much.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


John-Julian, OJN said...

I have never quite been able to understand what I can only call current "mission madness". I read and re-read and begin to wonder what people mean by this massive idea of MISSION.

If they mean something like :missionary", then I am reminded that there have been two basic "missionary styles which I have called Benedictine or Franciscan. The Benedictine approach is to go into a missionary area, build a monastery, begin the Offices and Mass and offering alms to the poor—working mainly with "presence". The Franciscan approach was to go out into the community mingle and preach and convert, working mainly with "confronting and convincing".

I dont think one style is superior to the other—their use may be determined by those one wishes to reach.

But surely (am I too much of a Benedictine?) the witnessing and converting is pretty useless unless there is a living and vital sacramental/ecclesial/ teaching community to which one can bring a convert.

So shouldn't we be examining our wares before we get excited about offering them to others? Frankly, from what I know of many parishes, there is no ecclesial community there to whom I would want to convert anyone.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Well said, Fr. J-J. What I would call the Cistercian Model has its definite attractions: they would go to underserved and less developed areas and then become -- via their works both sacred and more secular (beer, bread and cheese, and in later days, jams and jellies at that end of the productive spectrum) -- centers of Christian civilization. If we were to think of this in cultural rather than geographical terms, we might well find that the place to work is in the midst of the youth or tech cultures -- the dis- and un-churched; providing a substrate of civilizing (and Christianizing) influence through that same variety of works.

Our history has much to teach us, and nihil sub sole novum...

Deacon Charlie Perrin said...

"Frankly, from what I know of many parishes, there is no ecclesial community there to whom I would want to convert anyone."

And that, John-Julian, is the problem which this current thrust is attempting to overcome.

Too many parishes have become nothing more than clubs where knowing the ins and outs of the Liturgy (when to stand, when to sit, when to kneel) and the proper page numbers in the BCP have become our secret handshake. Too many of our parishes see their time on Sunday as one of being entertained (I have experienced a growin number of parishes where the choir and organist are applauded (even at funerals!)).

I think the best question for a Parish to ask is this: If we were to disappear from our community, would anybody miss us?

I believe that this is the Missiion begin spoken of. To be the Church in our communities. To bring the Word into our secular settings through our actions and our attitudes. To present Christ Jesus as someone others would want to encounter and be transformed by.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Deacon Charlie, I concur with the importance of that question in a sort of "It's a Wonderful Life" kind of way -- would anyone notice if we were not there.

But I wouldn't undervalue the aesthetic element (which can veer into entertainment) as part of what is offered. One of the Oxford Movement's primary goals in parish churches was to offer beauty in worship to people whose lives contained little in the way of color, music, or poetry. Those things would surely be missed.

Deacon Charlie Perrin said...

Tobias I do not underestimate the value of the aesthetic element. Otherwise I would be a Quaker. However, too many Parishes are OVERestimating the value of the aesthetic to the point that it becomes the be-all and end-all. That's all I'm saying.