This is now the third annual address that I offer to this Synod at the Eleventh Bishop of Springfield. It continues to be a joyful privilege to serve among you in central and southern Illinois. At a meeting of the House of Bishops last month, as part of one of our table discussions, we were asked to name the most pleasant surprise in our ministry as bishops. That was easy for me. It’s the constant stream of goodwill—even, at times, love—that I feel when I meet with lay folk and clergy in the Eucharistic Communities of this diocese. And especially while I was laid low by illness earlier this year, it was a great source of consolation and strength to know that so many of your were holding me faithfully in your prayers. I am certainly the luckiest bishop in the world serving best diocese in the world! We’ll have opportunity in due course to express our appreciation to Father Swan and the good people of St John’s Church here in Decatur for their warm hospitality at this synod. As those who have participated in hosting Synod know, it can be a black hole for time and energy. When bishops get together, information will slip out from time to time about the number of staff members who assist us in our various diocesan offices. Springfield’s diocesan staff is among the smallest in the Episcopal Church–not the smallest, mind you, but among the smallest. But what we lack in numbers, we certainly make up for in quality and competence. My job is made not just easier, but possible, on a daily basis by the contributions of Archdeacon Shawn Denney, Administrator Sue Spring, Finance Officer Jim Donkin, and office go-fer Molly Henderson. I am very grateful not only for the job they do but for the people they are. Thank-you!
Two years ago in this address we focused on the mission strategy of the diocese in a rather speculative and fanciful way. Last year, we also focused on the mission strategy of the diocese, but with a more definite framework for the implementation of that strategy beginning to take shape. This year, we are once again going to focus on the mission strategy of the diocese—drilling down a little further, fleshing out a few more details, and incorporating some of what we’ve learned. Let me first just say that, to the extent that anyone may be thinking, “So far this has been a lot of talk and not very much action,” I totally get it. It often seems that way to me as well! It’s true. There has been more talk. But it’s all been necessary talk. Imagine one of your usual driving routes–to your place of work, or school, or to the grocery store … whatever. Imagine that, one day, you notice that a house is a different color than you remember it. Someone has painted, if not the whole house, at least the side that you can see from your car. Of course, by the time you first notice that a house is being painted, the work is nearly done. Yet, a great deal of work–a lot a talking, actually!–took place long before you noticed anything. There was planning, the choice of colors, the purchasing of ladders and brushes and rollers and scrapers and paint, and probably the rental of a pressure washer at some point. There was prep work that doesn’t get noticed by the casual passer-by: washing, scraping, puttying, sanding. It’s the paint that produces the dramatic visible change, but that change would be very fragile and short-lived were if not for the painstaking but below-the-radar prep work.
That’s what’s going on now with our mission strategy. We literally don’t have much to “show” for our efforts. But there’s a whole lot of logistical work–inventory of tools and supplies, planning how to deal with hard-to-reach surfaces, securing of outside resources as needed, test strips to see how various colors look in different kinds of light, and a little bit of pressure washing. The scraping, sanding, puttying, and, last of all, the painting, are still ahead of us. Remember, this is a long-game strategy. Our call is to become a church that can thrive in the post-Christian social environment that is engulfing us. Getting it done right is more important than getting it done quickly. Trust me on this: I will not let the work of mission be starved to death by the tyranny of the usual and customary! If you’ve been in a meeting with me, you may have heard me claim that if I were a dog, I’d be a border collie–maintaining appropriate and healthy boundaries. But I’m here to tell you, your bishop is also a pit bull! When I bite down on something, I do not let go of it. You will be hearing from me about mission strategy for the rest of my time with you, because there is simply nothing more important that we have to talk about.
OK. So … let’s do a teeny bit of review, and the begin to drill down into our mission strategy. I hope you’ve committed this much, at least, to memory: “The Diocese of Springfield is one church, organized for mission into geographic parishes, manifested in Eucharistic Communities and communities-in-formation, with a goal of being concretely incarnate in all 60 counties of central and southern Illinois.”
Here’s the big picture. I think I may have showed you this last year. On the far right is our actual engagement with mission, the product of our mission efforts. We go out and meet people at the level of their felt need. You’ve probably all heard me give you the mantra, “What keeps my neighbors up at night and how would knowing Jesus make it better?” We pitch our tent among them, and earn the privilege, over time, of introducing them to Jesus. We lead them to Christ—to faith and repentance—we baptize them, and welcome them to the fellowship of the Eucharist, to our “eucharistic community.” And we invite them to join us in the work of missionary discipleship.
Now, one of the hallmarks of this strategy is that our missionary effort is parish-based. Everything is going to be done in, through, and by the members of our 35 Eucharistic Communities. So the middle column that you see here represents the process that takes place in our parishes. First, there needs to be conceptual buy-in. It’s not going to happen if there isn’t a critical mass of people who are willing to take it on. Then there needs to be a process of discernment: What are we passionate about in this parish? What are our collective spiritual gifts in this parish? What resources do we have? What are the particular ways in which the Lord is preparing our hearts for the work of mission. Next, there needs to be a survey of the mission field. Who lives in the geographic area that is our responsibility? What are their needs? Where is their pain? What segment of the population seems like a good match for the gifts and passions that we have discovered? Then there comes a process of strategic planning: How are we going to connect with the people among whom we have been called to minister? Once we have a plan, it’s time to organize the effort, divvy up the jobs, and make sure everybody is properly trained and confident in their ability to do the job they’ve taken on. (If this sounds like a military operation, that’s not an accident.) Finally, we execute the plan–we begin to apply paint to the prepared surface!–and, after acquiring some experience, evaluate the strategy and make adjustments as necessary. The column on the left, then, represents what needs to happen at a diocesan level in order to enable what happens at a parish level in order to enable the actual work of mission.
First of all, the diocese—and I’m not talking about me or my office, but all of us together—the diocese needs to be about re-evangelizing our own people. We need to help the people in our pews re-connect with Jesus, or, perhaps, come to really know him for the first time. Now, this is precisely where I want to drill down, so let me quickly cover the rest of this column, and then come back. So … we also need to be about the work of revitalizing our worship, breathing new life into the celebration of the Eucharist in our churches. Now–it’s important that you hear me clearly on this–the reason we need to revitalize our worship is not so we can be more attractive or accessible to visitors and newcomers. Remember, the key word in missionary work is “go,” not “come.” No, we need to revitalize our worship for the sake of our own members, those who are already with us, those who will take up the work of mission, so they are well-fed and richly supplied and sustained by a compelling diet of Word and Sacrament, energized by an authentic encounter with the risen Christ at the Altar of God, Sunday by Sunday, Holy Day by Holy Day. As I worship with all of you in your churches around the diocese, there is a great deal that we do very well, and I am always blessed by the experience. But there is a great deal that we could do so much better. I’m not saying that we should let loose of our precious tradition of Anglican worship. Quite the opposite. I’m saying that should begin to drill down deeper, to mine the treasures of that tradition more thoroughly, more intelligently, more thoughtfully. Too much of what we do on Sunday mornings is done on auto-pilot. We can do better.
Demographics. The diocese stands ready to help parishes better understand their neighborhoods and their regions. At the right moment, we have access to a wealth of useful information. It is also our hope and our plan–although, this is probably the area that is least developed so far–it is our hope to be able to provide, at a diocesan level, concrete assistance to parishes in the discernment of missional opportunities and the development of a mission strategy. And it is also our hope to be able to assist with the training of missionaries in the parishes through providing both resources and on-site coaching in the use of those resources. Stay tuned for more information over the next few months.
OK, now back to the top of the first column–re-evangelization. Our mission strategy calls the baptized faithful in this diocese to ministry that can only be described as apostolic. An apostle, in the literal sense of the word, is one who is sent, and this mission strategy is dependent on the baptized faithful of the Diocese of Springfield heeding the call to be sent into the world as witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. But, what has become more apparent to me over the last couple of years since we first rolled out this vision, is that before anyone can be an apostle, that person must first be a disciple. In the gospel accounts where Jesus sends people out on apostolic mission, he chooses those missionaries from among those who were already his followers, already his disciples. And as I have gotten to know the Eucharistic Communities of our diocese more deeply over the past three years, it has slowly dawned on me that we have a discipleship deficit. We have around 5,000 very fine and lovable people—about 2000 of whom are in church on any given Sunday—but I don’t think we have a critical mass of well-formed Christian disciples. If the church were a ship, which is actually not a completely off-the-wall analogy … if the church were a ship, too many of those who are aboard would think of themselves as passengers who have cabins rather than crew members who have battle stations. The truth is, there are no passengers on the good ship Holy Catholic Church. There are only crew members and stowaways. You’re either a crew member who knows where your battle station is, or you’re a stowaway just getting a free ride and trying not to get caught.
So we asked ourselves, What does a well-formed Christian disciple look like. What are the marks of discipleship? And from that conversation have emerged seven items that I know what to share with you. I presented them to the clergy in June, and they’ve been on the diocesan website, so this may not be new material to you, but I just want to name them once again, so we can embrace them with that much more resolve. This is part of the work of re-evangelization. Only by taking up the work of discipleship will be able to accomplish the missionary endeavor that God has placed before us.
- A secure awareness of a relationship with God in Christ, in the company of the Church. There’ s a great deal I could say about this, but let me just boil it down to the nub: Do you know the Lord? Have you met Jesus? Have you intentionally made him the Lord of your life? Deep down in your belly-button, do you know that you are his and he is yours?
- An ability to verbalize that relationship with confidence and clarity. Can you talk about Jesus? Can you tell the story of who Jesus is, and what he means to you, in a very simple, very clear, rather short, and very personal way?
- A basic familiarity with the long arc of the narrative of scripture. Do you know the difference between the Saul who’s in the Old Testament and the Saul who’s in the New Testament? Do you know that Matthew is a gospel and Galatians is an epistle? Do you know what the significance of the rainbow is in the story of Noah? Can you tell the story of Moses leading the people of Israel from slavery into freedom? Do you know why David is such an important character in the Bible? Could you identify a parable if you heard one? If I told you the Book of Revelation is not a handbook for predicting the future, would your response be, “Then what good is it?” The Bible is many books, but it is also one book. There’s a golden thread tying it all together. A well-formed disciple can trace that thread.
- A habit of corporate worship on Sundays and daily private prayer, along with related spiritual disciplines. A spiritual writer from the last century named Martin Thornton talks about the “technique” of missing Mass on Sunday. Have you learned than technique? If I were to tell you that prayer is like brushing your teeth, how would you respond? Do you make your confession, at least before Christmas and Easter? A well-formed disciple has an intentional spiritual Rule of Life.
- An awareness of vocation—a habit of asking the question, “What is God calling me to do?” If you are unmarried, do you plan on including God in the decision about whom you marry? If you’re considering a job or career change, have you sought guidance from the Lord on that decision? A well-formed disciples always asks that question.
- An awareness of one’s spiritual gifts, and a passion for exercising them. When you were baptized, you were given the gift of the Holy Spirit and you were given gifts from the Holy Spirit. Do you know what those gifts are? Do you have a plan for intentionally sharpening and cultivating those gifts?
- A cultivated habit of practicing the classical theological and moral virtues. Here’s what we’re talking about here: Faith, Hope, Love, Justice, Prudence, Temperance, and Fortitude (or Courage). You might be thinking that a person who has all those virtues could be called a saint, and you would be right. The path of discipleship leads inexorably to sainthood. Along that path we encounter multiple opportunities to learn the habits we will need, not only to engage in apostolic mission, but to live happily in the Kingdom of Heaven.
There’s a great deal more we could unpack about each of these seven marks, and I hope that’s already begun to happen in your parish. Let these marks become the metric by which we evaluate everything we do by way of Christian education and formation. Only well-formed Christian disciples will be equipped to take on the apostolic work of mission. So … this is where we need to focus our attention now, but other things are happening:
- We had a conference for clergy and musicians last November that focused on the revitalization of worship. As a result of that conference, I will shortly be releasing what we will call an “aspirational customary” for the celebration of the Eucharist in the parishes of the diocese–aspirational in the sense that it will represent an ideal that will not be able to be met in every place, at least not right away.
- It’s been my pleasure to participate in the last two Cursillo weekends, and I look for Cursillo itself to be revitalized and continue to be one of the building blocks of re-evangelization and spiritual renewal in the diocese.
- Two of our clergy leaders, in conjunction with the Youth Department, are working on developing our own incarnation of something called the St Michael’s Conference–a week-long experience of intensive instruction and formation for high-school age youth.
- Our Strategy Resource Team is looking toward a rollout of a pilot program in providing the resources for discernment, training, and on-site coaching in our parishes for the development and implementation of mission strategy.
- You may know that I serve on the board of Forward Movement, the folks who bring us those ubiquitous little devotional booklets, Forward Day by Day. Well, Forward Movement has a vision of being a lot more than a pamphlet company. They’re developing a resource called Renewal Works that I believe has tremendous potential as a resource for spiritual revitalization in our parishes. St George’s, Belleville has already been through a pilot process with this, and I think it’s fair to say that they have found it both challenging and fruitful. So if I happen to approach your priest about participating in the next round of Renewal Works, and your priest brings it up to your Vestry of Bishops’ Committee, I hope everyone will be generously open-minded.
Now zoom back with me and take a last look at the big picture. As I said, this is a “long game” strategy. Sometimes I like to compare my job to that of the General Manager of a professional baseball team. We’re trying to stock the farm system with lots of talent and build an appropriate culture. We’re not going to be signing big-name players on the free agent market. But if we’re faithful to our plan, we’re going to be a force to contend with for a very long time as the world around us slides more and more into self-indulgent secularism, ever more in need of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.