Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Radical Ecclesiastical Reconfiguration

Between the procession of Ash Wednesday services today I have found myself looking today at some of the things I wrote in Brave New Church (Morehouse Publishing: 2001) a few years ago about what was then the coming "radical ecclesiastical reconfiguration." I have looked at these as I have read with more care and then started to study the documents coming out of Dar-es-Salaam. While I never expected the players to take the field in the way they have, in various things we have said we seem to have foreseen some of the bits of what might happen.

The past few years those of us who are historic Anglicans in North America have been grieving over the passing of the old denomination in which so many of us were shaped and reared. However inadequate your parent might have been, it is always difficult to see them decline, deteriorate, and ultimately die. We have been watching those structures from the past with their accompanying rules and regulations begin to shuffle off, while a raucous new wave of structures are noisily (and sometimes rancorously) are testing the waters.

The tentative structural steps outlined in the Communique from the Primates concerning a Pastoral Council and Primatial Vicar in the United States, appears to me to be the Communion now catching up with and attempting to give some order to the changed realities that are all around us.

Of course, we are hearing howls from those who are still living in what Leonard Sweet called a state of "persistent make-believe" over the old structures. They are saying things like "This document is demanding the biggest change in the polity of the Episcopal Church by people who have absolutely no authority to even ask." ( This is an interesting statement from a writer who cries foul to changing structures, but who consents to changing of fundamental doctrine -- but has absolutely no authority to do so!

It is hard to see what the long term outcomes of the Communique's proposals are likely to be, and I am certainly not eager to make brash predictions, but this does appear to be the first formal step down a road that will ultimately result in something rather different emerging, gathering strength and authority, and enabling Gospel ministry in this century.

The Primates are attempting to honor the received approach to being church while at the same time taking into account the effect of the anomalies which have surfaced with increasing intensity since August 2003. A dozen years or so ago when we were thinking about future structures we had in mind a network of networks -- now that possibility of that is beginning to emerge.

What I find so fascinating is that the so-called "progressives" are so retrogressive about and hostile to all this. One would have thought that those with an eager desire to recast Christian doctrine and behavior in a more contemporary mode would readily embrace a recasting of the old-fashioned way in which the church manages itself, but quite to the contrary. The only thing any one can say about this is that perhaps there is some other reason for their penchant for the tired and worn-out...

I love the words of Loren Mead written in the 1990s, and Loren is hardly a theological conservative. "Both the church and the world are always in flux, but usually we bring to that constant change a stable and unchanging paradigm, a mind-set that sometimes last for centuries. Sooner or later, however, the thousands of minute shifts and changes bring such pressure to bear that the stable mind-set cracks, shifts, or falls apart. That has happened to us" (Once and Future Church, 1991).


1 comment:

Richard Kew said...

You will find some very helpful comments on this piece at TitusOneNine ( . As of Sunday, February 25, it is on page three.