For some time now, our bishop, The Right Rev. Jeffery D. Lee, has been visiting the various deaneries within our diocese for a “breakfast gathering”. The invitation extended has been for “breakfast and conversation”. Enticed by coffee, bagels and cream cheese, fruit and pastries, the purpose of the visit is twofold: to have a dialogue about the ministry of our diocese and to provide the opportunity for questions in order to gain a better understanding of the state of our church (my words). To be sure, the invitation was not limited in any way, other than perhaps if one is not connected to the “Leadership News” (for clergy and lay leaders) that comes out biweekly (more about that later). A few Saturday’s ago, Betty Kilgore, (our vestry’s junior warden) and I had the opportunity to attend the “breakfast gathering” hosted by St. Nicholas in Elk Grove. I thought I would share a few of the more interesting issues and perhaps messages.
Our breakfast with the Bishop
With the recent inclusion of a number of churches from the former Diocese of Quincy, we are now a very large diocese that extends as far south as Warsaw, Illinois (the newest congregations form the Peoria Deanery). (Check out Warsaw on the map-it is a 6 hour drive for the bishop when he goes to visit)! And while we are one diocese, like “all politics are local” so in a practical sense “all churches are local” with their specific needs and issues. That said, generally we are all asking the same questions and facing the same overall issues in terms of numbers, vitality, and trying to answer the question, “Where are we headed?”. Addressing the last point first, today we are in “uncharted waters” when it comes to the “indifference to the church and what it has to offer.”
What the modern church looks like
Clearly, the church is in a period of change which is said to occur every 500 years or so. As an institution, it will likely survive, but in what form? New entities are forming from what are termed “spiritual entrepreneurs” who are ok with meeting virtually; meaning no physical community and no buildings. Needless to say, at the local level it is up to each church to monitor and be responsible for its own vitality. St. Nicholas, itself, is comprised of three churches, two of which failed on their own. St. Simon’s has recently included the former parishioners of St. John’s in Mount Prospect. A number of the “transferees” spoke about how their “closing” snuck up on them and how insidious the slide was. One day they were a viable congregation and then not. So we all do have to monitor “what we are offering as church” and how might we be doing things differently. On the other hand, the big issues, with which the “larger” church has grappled, are not the issue at the local level. Ordination of women, LGBTQ rights, and same sex marriage are elements that have made the church more open. But these issues have also clearly made some uncomfortable. However, it was expressed that “that train has left the station”.
Mission vs Church
Interesting to hear was the perspective of those individuals who had either been a mission or were still a mission. The historical path was for a mission to work to financial self-sufficiency and become a church (as was true for St. Mark’s). Today there are those who prefer to stay a mission because they like the perspective that position offers in terms of who they are and what they do. It is also a way to always know there are “resources” available to keep them afloat, whereas if a church fails financially, that is it; gone and good-bye!
The numbers story
The bishop is more about “counting the lives we touch” not numbers in the pews. Although those in the pews do need to have a full understanding of what it takes to remain a community. In this regard, the kind of numbers collected for the parochial report simply do not tell the whole story of any given congregation. He believes we need to find a “new way to count”. We are called to Christian maturity because “these times they are a changing” (Bob Dylan). It is up to local lay leadership to determine the path forward and it is important for all to know that those who work directly for the bishop are there to help; they are a resource to be tapped! In this period of change we have “a moment to seize” in determining who we are and how we will be. As both church and as individuals, we have to be in the mode both as “come and see” and “go and tell”. (We have seen this throughout gospel stories.)
Change as Opportunity
As described in the Living Compass Lenten Series, we are in a reflective time that includes listening and hearing “with all our hearts, with all our souls and all our strength”. “We all have a moment to seize” in this period of change. To be better informed of what is going on elsewhere and what our diocese has to offer we can “get connected” through the diocesan website Episcopal Chicago There is a treasure trove of information. To receive the email newsletter, under the category of “connect” click on “Email newsletter “, (it will ask for your email address, of course). Note there is, also, for you techies, “twitter”, “you tube”, “our blog”, and “Facebook”. The bishop has made numerous informative videos and they are well worth watching!
Keep smiling! Easter and spring are coming: