ReimagineTEC Churchwide Meeting – Some Thoughts

This past Thursday night I had the great pleasure of attending the Task force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church’s (TREC) Churchwide meeting at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The meeting was billed as a chance to hear from the TREC members and a chance for folks to voice concerns and ask questions.

The schedule was packed with great speakers (The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, The Rev. Dr. Dwight Zscheile, The Rev. Miguelina Howell, and a few others) who talked about the theological, historical, organizational, and cultural context for TREC’s forthcoming proposals.

It was an informative meeting with great information from the scheduled speakers and some great questions/comments from the crowd. I walked away from the meeting with two main thoughts:

1.) Towards the end of the event I asked a question about youth and young adult participation in the “reimagining” process. My wording was not perfect, but it received a solid answer from the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe. Bishop Rowe commented that he has spent a majority of his time in the Episcopacy as a “young adult”. (There is some dispute as to where the cut off age for young adult membership is. Some say 35, other 40. Bishop Rowe falls into the latter camp.) Bishop Rowe also mentioned that there are several members under the age of 40 on the Task Force. TREC’s official Twitter quickly responded to my question and the House of Deputies Twitter responded with the ages of the under 40 members in 2012, when the Task Force was formed (19, 22, 25, 32, 33, 35, 35, 37, 38, 39).

I appreciated the answers from all three sources. It is incredibly important to include young adults and people under 40 in this process. Three folks under 30 is HUGE.

That being said, my question was less about how many young adults are on the Task Force and more about the practical ways that Young Adults are being included in the “reimagining” process. How are the concerns of the young people of the church being considered? There were many comments made about the structural change at General Convention, the national church office (“815”), and the Executive Council, but no comments made about how young people will fit into this new vision for the church.

Bishop Rowe also said in his response that the church sometimes idealizes the young at the cost of ignoring the broad range of ages in the church. He said that every church wants more young people but he is more concerned with “the people God is sending”. Good point. My first (overly snarky) thought was that the Gospels seem to portray Jesus as someone who idealizes the young. My second (more rational) thought was that it is true that many churches proclaim they want to attract young people without really knowing why. Many churches seem to think that the mere presence of young people will revitalize a stagnant community. The truth is that some churches need to figure out what their community is all about before they can start to attract any new members, let alone young members.

However, if our strategy is to sit in the sanctuary and wait for the people who God sends to our churches we may end up sitting alone. We have operated for too long under the assumption that people will just automatically come to church. This was possibly true at one point in the South…in the 1950s, but church has never been a given in many parts of the country. Church is currently not a given in most places in the country.

I tend to think that God is less concerned with sending people into our churches and more concerned with sending us out of our churches. The only way that we are going to reach out and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our “weird Anglican way” is by going outside and telling somebody.

At the beginning of the TREC event a young man stood up and told his story of being a seeker who found his connection to God in the Episcopal Church. He emotionally told of how his generation (and my generation) are looking for spirituality and connection to God, but they don’t know where to look. If this is true (which I believe it is), the Episcopal Church would be doing a disservice to this generation and to the Gospel by staying in our churches and waiting for folks to show up.

My question also included youth and their role in this process. Bishop Rowe said that TREC has heard the voices of many youth, which is a really good thing. I would love to see a youth advisory group for TREC, a survey for all Episcopal youth, or some way for the youngest members of our church to have a say in the future of the church. There is a common phrase that always gets under my skin: “Youth are the future of the church”.

False. Youth are real members of the church. Youth are the church. The current youth in the Episcopal Church are the ones who will have to deal with whatever changes we make right now to the church. They are the ones who will be “reimagining” the reimagined church that emerges from the next General Convention.

It is worth noting again that I truly appreciated Bishop Rowe’s answer. He was gracious and gave a good response to my question. I think a more thorough discussion of youth and young adults in this process is still called for.

This brings me to my second thought:

2.) A majority of the talk at this meeting was about reforming current structures of church governance and polity. Some folks talked as if the courageous and radical thing to do is to change the structure of the Executive Council or limit the amount of resolutions at General Convention (both good things). No one talked about the underlying question in this whole discussion: Do we want to change the structure of the church so that it will continue to look like it does right now or are we willing to let some structures go entirely for the sake of renewal and revival?

The roof is on fire; maybe we should let it burn.

Are we ready to accept that perhaps God is calling us out into the wilderness in order to lead us to the promised land?

I hope that we have decided that the some of the golden calves that we think give us security and safety need to go (another good thing) but it sometimes seems like we’ve decided to replace them with smaller, more efficient calves.

If the Episcopal Church is going to survive the turmoil of the next decades, we are going to have to let go of a lot of things. The good news is that we don’t have to let go of our Anglican identity and we don’t have to worry about God letting go of us. There are ways to change and grow that do not sacrifice our core beliefs and our core identity. We need to continue having the really tough conversations that many people don’t want to have.

I know, this point is fairly vague about the actual structures that may need to go. The vagueness corresponds to the vagueness at the churchwide meeting and other suggestions at this point in the reimagining process. It seems that we are in the phase of discussion that focuses primarily on broad ideas and less on specific actions. My comment here is more an indicator of my hope that TREC will keep this in mind as they continue to meet and decide their formal recommendations.

I am so grateful to the members of TREC and all of the incredible work they have been doing for the sake of the church. The meeting on Thursday was good and helpful. I think I am joined by many Episcopalians when I say that I am very much looking forward to their final proposals. They are the ones having the hard conversations that will hopefully lead to productive and positive changes for the future of the church.

The real test will come when the actual proposals are presented. It will take a lot of humility and courage in the House of Deputies (and the House of Bishops) to make the changes that are surely needed if the Episcopal Church has any chance of being a force for the Gospel of Christ and the love of God into the future.

We must be proactive and positive. We must not accept the outcome predicted by our critics. We can change the fate of our church and continue our work towards the Kingdom of God. It will be tough. There will be a lot of grief in this process, but grief has a way of breaking us open to more blessing and love than we thought possible.

Thank you to the members of TREC and all the people who tuned in and came to the churchwide meeting this week. It gives me great hope for the future and for the work that is to come.

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