The (Missional) Episcopal Church and why it’s more than just a catchphrase.


The level of snark present on a seminary campus is fairly overwhelming. This trend seems to hold true with many Episcopal clergy, especially on social media. New church fads and movements are skewered in class and at the lunch table. Some groups bring this on themselves, for instance this church that gave away assault rifles at a revival. But many church movements or ideas get shot down (pun intended) in conversation before they are even understood or investigated.

Some ‘trendy’ models of church have been thoroughly investigated and have been found lacking in certain areas. The seeker-sensitive movement came across as watering down doctrine and tradition for the sake of membership numbers. The emergent movement, at times, drifted out of the lines of Christian orthodoxy.

One movement, though not new at all, has been the topic of many conversations at the seminary recently. When you say the word ‘missional’ you usually get one of two reactions. First, a person may respond positively without knowing too much about what it means to be missional. Second, a person may respond with disdain for another church growth fad and dismiss missional ecclesiology…also without knowing too much about what it actually means.

I’m hoping this blog post will be informative about what it truly means to have a missional understanding of the church, but my true goal for this post is that it be a starting point for conversations (with minimal snark) about the future of the Episcopal Church and the future of the Church as a whole.

Being missional is first and foremost about relationship: Relationship with oneself, with the worshiping community, with the community/neighborhood/area as a whole, and especially with God. The primary goal of a missional church is not increasing membership numbers or average Sunday attendance. The focus is not the capital campaign or getting more folks to come to the annual chili cook-off fundraiser. A missional church is primarily concerned with its member’s relationships with each other and the church’s relationship with the broader community. This is not a very popular answer to the ‘problem’ of decline in the Episcopal Church. It seems that people want the five easy steps or the perfectly crafted program that will magically draw people to the empty Episcopal Churches across the country. This brings me to the second characteristic of missional churches.

Missional churches reject the purely attractional model of church. The attractional model has dominated Christianity in America for a very long time. The basic idea behind this model is that you start at the physical church building and draw people in the doors. You draw them with worship services, educational programs, entertainment, prayer groups, etc. The attractional model church presents the people in the community with a menu of religious goods and services in hopes that something will catch their eye and bring them to the building. It is a sign of the consumer understanding of religion.

This model is not working in most of the country. It is not a bad model and it has served us very well for a long time, but it would seem that it is no longer serving the needs of the church or many communities.

There are some hot spots of church activity in major cities/suburbs, but for the most part every denomination is struggling to maintain and especially to increase membership. No matter how many new programs or church growth consultants they bring in, people are just not coming to church.

Missional churches doesn’t see the question as ‘How do we get people to come to church?’ but ‘How do we get the church to the people?’

I recently attended Common Place, a gathering of young adults and young adult ministers hosted by the Diocese of Washington D.C. The weekend was filled with conversations and stories about young adult ministry success and failure. The Rev. Mike Angell, the Young Adult Missioner for the Episcopal Church, spoke about the current trends in young adult ministry in the church.

At one point in his talk, Mike said, “When I give talks or presentations, people tend to ask, ‘Where are all the young adults?’ to which I respond, ‘I don’t know. Let’s go find them together.'”

That is the missional church; one that goes out into the world and interacts with the people who would otherwise never interact with the church.

The Five Marks of Mission is a list of the characteristics of the church’s mission that was adopted by the General Convention in 2009. Since that time, the Five Marks of Mission have been engaged (and not engaged) differently in each Diocese.

The Five Marks of Mission are:

~ To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
~ To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
~ To respond to human need by loving service
~ To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
~ To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
This is the mission of Christ and, by extension, the mission of the church. The Episcopal Church, in my experience, is really good at the last three Marks. We’ve got the service, peace/reconciliation, and sustainability issues fairly well covered. The Episcopal Church, again in my experience, has a hard time with the first two. It seems that we have lost our voice when it comes to proclaiming the Good News and teaching new believers. In our reaction to the incredible growth and influence of the conservative Evangelical branches of Christianity we have forfeited all talk about the Gospel, salvation, and sin, just so we won’t be associated with the more extreme members of the Christian family. It is as if we hope that we can just do works of service for people and the Gospel will somehow seep into them. Call it osmosis evangelism.
The third characteristic of the missional church is that it knows its own story and can tell others about it easily. A missional church knows what Jesus Christ means in its life and wants to tell the world. A missional church can articulate the key points of the Christian faith when asked. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us that we are to always be ready to explain the hope that is within us, the hope that comes from God. The Episcopal Church must also reclaim its identity as Anglicans. As the recognized Anglican church in North America, the Episcopal Church has access to a great Anglican tradition of reform and renewal. The fighting and legal battles of the past decade have zapped a lot of energy from the Episcopal Church, but the same hope that we have in Christ is the hope that propels us forward. This leads into the fourth characteristic:
Missional churches are hopeful. With some of the talk above and with much of the talk around the blogosphere and social media, it is easy to become discouraged about the future of the church. It would be easy to see the declining numbers and shrinking budgets and resign ourselves to keep everything as it is and go down with the ship. The missional church isn’t discouraged by the projections and numbers. Sure, it’s sad that our numbers are lower than they were at one time and it is always sad to see a church close its doors. That being said, there is a lot of room for hope.
God is doing something new in the Episcopal Church and in the Church around the world. With the influence of Pope Francis spreading around the world and the spotlight of American culture fading on conservative Evangelicalism, the Episcopal Church is in a great position to renew itself. The type of renewal that we need is much more than reforming the Executive Council or the General Convention rules of order. We need a grassroots renewal of our identity and understanding of ourselves. This process can begin right now in whatever context you find yourself or your church. Go outside and get to know the neighborhood. Figure out what is important to the people in your church and in your community. Don’t immediately jump to a new bible study or bar event – singing hymns while drinking beer will not solve our problems, although it can be fun.
This may be frustrating to some folks. This process is time-consuming and labor-intensive. Forming authentic relationships takes a long time and a lot of work, but it is the best way for the Episcopal Church to move forward in faith and hope for the future. Being missional is much more than a church growth trick or new ecclesiological fad – it is a return our roots and the roots of the Church. If we are to be ‘fishers of people’, the days of the huge, industrial fishing fleets is over. We must return to the days of individuals casting small nets on the shore, where it all began.
This is by no means an exhaustive explanation of the missional movement. For more in depth study of missional ecclesiology I recommend this book and this book, which is directed specifically at the Episcopal Church. Start this conversation with those around you and see what the Holy Spirit is doing in your church. Please, please, please don’t just bury your head in the sand and hope that things will turn around if we just wait long enough. The world is in desperate need of the Good News of Christ and the Episcopal Church can be the voice that proclaims it if we start renewing our vision and reviving our mission.



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.

Why the Church Needs a High Camp-ology (Part II)


A few months ago I published a little post on why I love Episcopal Summer Camps. The post took off quickly as people identified with the need for a high “camp-ology” and began to share it through their various circles.

This summer I am working at Shrine Mont Summer Camp in the Diocese of Virginia as the Chaplain to the Staff. My primary task is the spiritual formation and care of the ~75 college-aged counselors who have chosen to spend their summer here on the mountain. I participate in camp meals, games, activities, and worship. I get to spend time talking about the struggles of daily life, the ups and downs of faith, and the realities of following Christ in 2014 – all in a safe and uplifting community.

We have just passed the half-way point for the summer, which seems like as good a time as any to reflect on my previous post and see how it plays out in the real world of camp. Theology (and camp-ology) is pointless unless it is lived out. Here are my thoughts from the road, using my previous four criteria:

4. Camp is the only place in the church where older folks, young adults, and youth all willingly sign-up to be together. I was scheduled to preach at All-Camp Worship (a weekly Eucharist featuring every camp currently on the mountain) a few weeks ago. As I was preparing my notes I thought of the folks in the “congregation”. Who would I be talking to? What ages would be present? After some thought I realized that most of the campers would be from ages 8-13.

Easy enough, right?

Then I realized that the “Boomer Camp” would also be there, with campers from ages 22-70. There would also be the counselors: a wonderful and wildly smart group of college-aged folks.

On top of all of that, Bishop Ted Gulick (Assistant Bishop of Virginia) would be serving as the Chaplain for St. George’s camp and would also be present.

In one service there were children, young adults, “middle” adults, “upper” adults, and an Episcopal authority figure, all eager and willing to be there. They all sang together, prayed together, and participated in the Eucharist together. All of the inter-camp differences (age, activities, etc.) dissipated for one hour on a Sunday evening. And best of all…it was downright fun!

3. Benefits to staff. The amazing staff that I have the honor of working with this summer have proven this point over and over again. There have already been several blog posts on the Shrine Mont Camp blog about individual staff members going above and beyond in their roles as leaders, guides, and mentors to campers. Even though they are working for very little and giving up their entire summer, these staff members are proving that summer camp counselor is not always the easiest job in the world – but it is the best job in the world.

2. There is a lot of peer pressure… to be yourself. During the first sessions of MAD (Music and Drama) Camp and St. Sebastian’s (Sports) Camp, I found myself observing a joint-camp dance party. Held in the HAPPY Pavilion, the camps came together in goofy costumes and danced to loud pop music for what seemed like hours. At one point in the evening, a young camper came up to me where I was standing on the side of the dance floor.

“Come dance!”, she said enthusiastically.

“I’m not sure if I have any moves.”, I explained.

“It doesn’t matter! It’s not like anyone is going to judge you!”, she said (as if this was the most common sense idea in the world).

A camper who did not know me, except that I was not fully included in the fun, invited me to participate in the party. She took a chance because she wanted me to be a part of the group – no matter how silly my dancing was.

At the same dance, one of the session chaplains came up to me dressed in a long, blue dress and blonde wig. We talked for a few moments before he insisted on getting back on the dance floor. As he walked away, dress and wig swaying to the music, I realized how utterly different and absolutely beautiful this crazy dance was.

That dance was just a small sign of the culture of summer camps – where it is okay to be different as long as you are being you.

1. Camp is a rehearsal for the Kingdom of God. My job as Chaplain to the Staff means that I get to have a foot in each camp on the mountain. I get to eat breakfast with St. George’s camp, spend the morning with Sports Camp, eat lunch with MAD Camp, and worship in the evening with SHYC (Senior High Youth Conference). I get to see the joy and laughter and excitement that comes with each camp. I get to see the struggles and pain that some campers (and staff) overcome while at camp. In short, I get to see the Kingdom of God played out in real time, everyday.

Last night we had All-Camp Worship with Explorer’s Camp, St. George’s Camp, and SHYC. As I stood at the front of the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration and gave each camper and staff member the Bread that is the Body of Christ, I saw the hands of God.

Let me explain:

Some hands were very dirty, covered in the colorful residue of a day of fun at camp.

Some hands were experienced and had seen many summers on this mountain.

Some hands were connected to bodies that were wearing funny costumes.

Some hands were connected to bodies that carried a new, growing life inside of it.

Some hands were small.

Some hands were big.

Some hands were young.

Some hands were old(er).

Some hands had carried heavy burdens to this mountain.

Some hands had found freedom from those burdens in this place.

Some hands were carrying others.

Some hands were being carried.

All of the hands were holy.

All of the hands were sacred.

And as I placed the Bread of Life into each of the hands, I saw the hands of God in front of me.

I still have a high camp-ology and I will forever be changed by what I’ve experienced in my time at summer camps.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, all I can say is “Come and see.” Come to this place or a summer camp like it. Experience the love and joy and peace that comes with a community that knows who it is and whose it is.

As Jacob said in the Lectionary readings from Sunday, “Surely God is in this place!”


The Top Ten Signs of Resurrection in The Episcopal Church


In the last few days I have seen several “Top Ten Signs…” blog posts floating around Facebook and Twitter and it only seemed right to add my voice to the chorus. Here are the Top Ten Signs of Resurrection in The Episcopal Church, according to me:

10. This list and the Acts 8 Blogforce

9. Church leaders who are not shrinking from the challenges of the 21st century, but are walking toward them full of hope for the future. Folks who aren’t trying to maintain a church model that worked in 1950, but are working to build the Church in 2014.

8. Churches that are offering unique and inventive new ways to be the Church, like The Gathering at St. John’s, Roanoke, VA, and the Come as You Are Service at St. Anne’s, Reston, VA.

7. Ashes to Go, Palms to Go, and Prayers to Go – happening across the Episcopal Church.

6. Folks recognizing that the way to reach young adults is not by adding a guitar to your evening service or dressing your priest in jeans, but by actually talking to young adults about what they want and need from church (Hint: its probably a lot more similar to what you want from church than you think).

5. EYE (Episcopal Youth Event) and other vibrant youth ministries across the church.

4. Episcopal Summer Camps.

3. Episcopal Seminaries that are (just now) starting to shake off the dust and realize what they need to do to train priests for 2014.

2. A small, but growing, group of Episcopalians who believe that the arrogance, pessimism, and cynicism that we have inherited from our church elders is not only unhelpful, but is downright destructive.

1. Easter Sunday, where we see that the Body of Christ has been killed and raised once before, so it cannot die again.

Why the Church Needs a High Camp-ology.


In the bubble of seminary you quickly discover that everyone wants to know where you stand on the high-low spectrum for dozens of -ologies (Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, etc.). I often find myself put-off by this classification system because, as is our way here in the Western world, it makes huge and mysterious topics into overly-simple, false dichotomies – but that is for another post.

All of that is to say that I do have a strong position on one -ology.


I have a high camp-ology. And I believe that the Church needs to adopt one too.

I first went to summer camp in fifth grade at Camp Beckwith in Fairhope, Alabama. I have been at various camps every summer since then but one (which was occupied by CPE). I have been a camper or staff member at four Episcopal summer camps/conference centers (Beckwith, McDowell, Kanuga, Shrine Mont) and a camper at a Methodist camp in Montana (Flathead Lake), NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and an educational camp focused on politics at Georgetown University.

Of all these experiences, the Episcopal summer camps have been the most formative and influential. Episcopal Summer Camps show “the world as it could be“. This quote comes from the Executive Director of Camp McDowell, Rev. Mark Johnston, and it sums up my experiences at camp. I came to know God, myself, and some of my best friends while at camp.

There are many reasons why I have such a high camp-ology, here are four:

1. Camp is a rehearsal for the Kingdom of God. There are no “lost sheep” at Episcopal summer camps. Every camper is greeted like the Prodigal Daughter/Son. Camp Counselors are a special group of people who seek out the lost, lonely, and awkward campers and make them feel welcome. Churches hang banners that proclaim their radical hospitality; Episcopal summer camps simply practice radical hospitality as a given. The whole program is designed for everyone to be involved and everyone to have a good time. In most staff meetings the talk is not about the kids who are fitting in and having a great time, but about the kids who are outside of the fold and how the staff can bring them back in. Inclusion is not something Episcopal summer camps strive for, it is something they live out. Summer camp is a living laboratory for liturgical and social inclusion.

2. There is a lot of peer pressure… to be yourself. Camp is often the one place where campers (and staff) can be 100% themselves. When the camper’s “normal” life is full of commitments and roles that are outside of their control, camp offers a place where they are in full control of their identities. There is no pressure to conform or fit a mold, in fact, the only pressure is to see how far outside of the mold you can go. Wearing funky outfits, singing at the top of your lungs, dancing in the pews of the chapel: these are all normal practices at camp. Campers are given the space to try on different identities and versions of themselves in a non-threatening environment. (Check out this promotional video for Shrine Mont, the summer camp in the Diocese of Virginia, with some great comments on this point from Rev. Susan Daughtry and Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston:

3. Benefits to staff. There have been a couple of blog posts floating around about the professional benefits of being a camp counselor, so I won’t belabor the point (Read this one, this one, or this one). Remember that being a summer camp counselor is not a walk in the park and requires real skills, talents, and determination. In full disclosure, there have been times in my staff experience at summer camp where I did not take the job as seriously as I should have, but even in my goofiest or most immature moments (think high school senior and college freshman summers) the job of camp counselor was never a breeze. It requires grit, focus, and an incredible amount of tact to deal with campers, staff members, and parents, all while organizing games, hikes, canoe trips, bible studies, etc. And you have to be “on” 24/7. There were many nights as a counselor in which I was woken up by a homesick camper or fellow staff member needing help, all of which taught me the valuable ability to open my eyes and get to work.

4. Camp is the only place in the church where older folks, young adults, and youth all willingly sign-up to be together. There is not a 20’s-30’s group that meets separately from the youth group that meets separately from the adult forum hour at summer camp. No, camp is all about everyone being together all the time. Camp Directors mingle and get to know college-aged staff who mingle and get to know elementary school aged campers. Older staff members mentor younger staff members. Campers see counselors as role models and dream of the day they can be on staff (at least I did when I was a camper). Nowhere else in the life of the church are so many different age groups constantly interacting and supporting each other with the common goal of healthy Christian community.

These are just four of the countless reasons why I love Episcopal summer camps. They show the world as it could be, but more specifically they show the church what it looks like to be the church. Jesus was fairly specific about how important children are and how they are the ones who will teach us about God. Spend one day at an Episcopal summer camp and you will see God in the faces of the campers, you will hear God’s voice in the laughter of the staff, and you will see a hodgepodge of people who have very little in common except their love of God, camp, and each other.

It is sad that camp budgets are so small in much of the church. It is sadder still that youth and young adult budgets are usually the first to get cut when Dioceses start tightening the belt.

I have the great fortune to live and work in a Diocese that knows how important summer camps are. With support from the Bishops and the Diocese as a whole, our Diocesan camp is wonderful glimpse of the Kingdom of God and summer camp as it should be. It is the center of the Diocese and it shows.

I would guess that a quick poll of my classmates in seminary would show that a majority of them have been influenced by an Episcopal summer camp. A broader poll would most likely show that a lot of clergy have been touched by an Episcopal summer camp.

What the church needs is not another conference on the future of ministry or new social media tricks or a fight over tax credits (although these are all important).

What the church needs is a summer in the woods and a high camp-ology.