Archive for June, 2010

Today, June 21, marks the celebration of the summer solstice, and National Aboriginal Day. At the Forks, in Winnipeg, a grand powwow has concluded the first national gathering of the Truth and Residential Commission. While this event was happening over the past week, I have been thinking of the hearings which I attended on behalf of the church, several years ago, to offer formal apology and support for the victims of abuse in the schools. It was hard to bear witness to the pain involved, and the effect on lives and generations, but I’m glad I was able to be part of the apology … hopefully it was also a small part of the healing which continues. All the prophecies, both Christian and Traditional, point to a time of healing for our land only when reconciliation and healing among the First Peoples is complete. May that time come soon…

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I’ve been spending too much time this past week glued to my computer screen. My church, the Anglican Church of Canada, has been having its triennial General Synod in Halifax, and I’ve been watching very carefully to see what portends for the future, mainly in terms of the place of queer folks in the church, but also regarding issues of mission and the relation of the church to the fate of creation.
But because I also hang out A LOT with the United Church of Canada, I’ve been reading reports and reflections from their latest General Council meeting and its aftermath. Again, lots of thoughts from the UCC about mission and mandate.
So, with all this in background, my mind has begun to spin with the complexities of the situation. Some major changes are afoot. These changes began several decades ago, but they are now reaching the critical “tipping point” … the ecclesiastical post-Christendom breakdown is happening in earnest. I, among many others, saw it coming some time ago, but it is a little scary, and more than a little exciting, to actually watch it happen.
So what am I talking about? Well, many things. But mainly the phenomenon within Canadian mainline protestant churches (specifically Anglican, United, Lutheran, and Presbyterian) whereby the demographics have really tipped. The money is running out, the buildings are falling apart, the deep conflict between conservative and liberal/radical camps is becoming unbearable, the older generation (which makes up the clear majority of these denominations) is beginning to face the reality of mortality, the majority of leadership is ready to retire within the decade, and the congregations are dwindling and closing. And did I mention that the money is running out?
So is the sky falling? Is the end nigh? Or is there an alternate future for the mainline denominations of Canada?
A proposal is crystallizing in my mind (though it has been growing there for the past decade or more). The church of the future (let’s call it, for now, the Ecumenical Church of Love) will be described by a “Triple E” principle: Ecumenical, Economical, and (Eco)Evangelical.
“Ecumenical” – the Church of Love will draw from the best of its four denominational traditions. From the Anglicans it will inherit a rich aesthetic and noble liturgical life. From the United Church it will inherit a quest for justice and an insistence on expansive language and imagery in the naming of God. From the Presbyterians it will inherit an abiding sense of the glory and sovereignty of the Creator. From the Lutherans it will inherit the bold hermenuetic and divine vulnerability of the theologia cruxis (theology of the cross). And foremost from each tradition it will inherit and be led by the Indigenous perspectives of the First Peoples in each denomination.

Economical:  the Ecumenical Church of Love will own no buildings and pay no ministers.  That is not to say that it will not, on occasion, use a building.  And it is certainly not to say that it will have no ministers.  But this is going to be a “no-budget” church.  There is a tremendously loaded history here, but the root of it is that questions of money and budgets have set the agenda for churches in an enormously damaging way.  But what do you need for church?  You need God (all three Persons!), you need Christians, you need bread and wine (or gluten free crackers and grape juice!), and you need a Bible.  Throw in some deacons, priests, and bishops, and you’re set to go.  But none of that requires a budget.  Is there money involved?  Yes, of course … an offering is taken, and divided equally three ways.  The first portion goes to outreach and justice work.  The second portion helps to cover expenses incurred.  And the third portion goes toward training for the leaders of the church.  There you go … no budgets, no capital campaigns, no buildings to fix, no (*&%^%&^ing) investment portfolios, no pension plans, nada.  Think, instead, of tables and tent-makers.  There’s your clue…

But finally, and this is the real kicker, the Ecumenical Church of Love will thrive on (Eco)Evangelism: this is the burning question: what is the point?  What is the point of being Christian?  What is the point of being the Church?  What is the REAL bottom line (after the red herring of money has been cleared away)?  What is the heart of the matter?  Or, in short, what is the gospel?  This, for me, is where the “gospel of Sophia” comes in so strongly.  “God is Love, and Her Body is all Creation.  She is a Tree of Life, who gathers Her children in Love.”  All of the central doctrines of the church are hidden within that confession: Trinity, Incarnation, Soteriology, and Pneumato-Eschatology.  It is a seed of orthodox thought, but it takes the contextual form of a radical call to Love.  Theology and ethics, ecclesiology and mission, all flow from the rich vision of God presented there.  The “Great Tradition” of the church throughout history is taken up and transformed in the Gospel of Sophia, but nothing of worth need be left behind.  This is not a liberal progression of thought, but rather a radical (radix=root) reclaiming of the whole evolved tradition.  The Ecumenical Church of Love will exist solely to proclaim and bear witness to this gospel, this constant passionate mission of the God who IS Love, and who is embodied in the beautiful broken creation within and around us.  With a gospel like that, we can be utterly zealous in our evangelism, true to our inherited traditions, and insistent on our ecofeminist convictions.

There you have it, the “triple E” principles for the “once and future church”.  Ecumenical, Economical, and (Eco)Evangelical.  You heard it here first!  More to come in the days to come … questions, comments, and outrage welcome!

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