As I write, at the beginning of Labor Day weekend, I’m beginning to form impressions of the first round of something that is a new experience for us as a diocese. In our last revision of the diocesan canons, in 2016, we now ask each Eucharistic Community (or organized geographic parish) to submit annually a Mission Strategy Report to me and to the Department of Mission. The first of these MSRs were due June 1. I’m not sure precisely how many met that deadline, but I think it’s safe to say–not many! No great harm done, however, because my calendar over the summer conspired to prevent me from doing more than taking brief mental notice of each one as it arrived, and filing it appropriately.
Now in my second week back in the office post-vacation, I’ve had an opportunity to take a first pass at them. I intend to sit down with the members of the Department of Mission within the next several weeks, sometime after synod, to do a deeper dive, and then, collectively, to offer some feedback on each one.
In the meantime, let me offer a few general observations based on what I’ve seen:
- The process has been taken seriously. Of our 35 worshiping communities, 26 have complied with the new canon (or at least assured me that they are on the “finishing touches” of doing so), In all but perhaps one case, it is evident that significant collaborative effort on the part of the clergy and Mission Leadership Team has been expended. We need to do better, but I’m encouraged by this.
- Virtually every congregation’s image of itself includes the characteristic “friendly.” This doesn’t surprise me, because it’s in sync with what I hear all across the Episcopal Church. I have no doubt that they’re all telling the truth about how they feel. But it invites the question, What does this mean? I suspect that, in some cases, it might say more about the sense of community among the parishioners than it does about the experience of newcomers and visitors.
- We are generous toward local outreach projects. Financial support of feeding ministries (especially) and other social ministry endeavors lies close to the heart of each Eucharistic Community’s core values and sense of identity. In other words, we care about the needs of the world and the people in it. Of course, that qualifies as mission only partially and indirectly. It’s a good thing for us to be doing, but it’s not the thing we need to be doing.
- We still think of the Sunday Eucharist as our “show window” to the world. We remain firmly entrenched in the “attractional” model of mission, casting about for ways to draw more people through our beautiful red doors on Sunday mornings, and there’s a strong tendency to think that liturgy and music is one of the important tools in that work. What we are not doing very much of is strategizing toward getting out of our building and pitching our (metaphorical) tent alongside the unchurched whom we are trying to reach with the gospel. This will be a tough nut to crack, and it’s one of our biggest challenges. It involves ruthlessly deconstructing a mental map that is etched deeply into the way we think about “doing church,” and it will be the most uncomfortable push-point as we move forward in this annual process.
- We mostly understand that we need to become disciples before we can become apostles–that is, those who are sent out in missionary outreach. More than a handful of the MSRs indicate an intention to double down on discipleship formation, and put organized missionary outreach on hold for the time being. I commend the sober realism of this insight. And I think it’s an acceptable stance, so long as the disciple-making regimen is robust, and it never becomes a convenient wall to hide behind and duck out on mission.
So I look forward to seeing how this plays out. It is a good and holy thing that we are at least developing the vocabulary and administrative infrastructure that is necessary to support our “one church” that is driven by the mission of reconciling all people to God and one another in Christ.