The View from the Platform: General Convention 2018

I’ve been a deputy to General Convention three times – 2009, 2012, and 2015. In 2018, although I was elected from Arizona, I moved to Oklahoma and couldn’t serve as a deputy. Instead, I attended as a member of the Secretariat – which means my job was to sit up front (“on the platform”) at the House of Deputies and keep track of amendments as they were proposed.

This job gave me plenty of time to observe the flurry of activity – legislative, social, and mission-oriented – at General Convention. Although the basic structure of this Convention was the same as others I have attended, the atmosphere surrounding this Convention was very different. To describe what I mean, I give you my Top Ten Observations: General Convention 2018.

Revival

Leaders and musicians enjoy Revival! Photo credit: Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma.

  1. Revival and Evangelism. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s first General Convention as PB was marked by a passionate desire to spread the good news about Jesus. From his fiery sermons, to the Saturday night revival (attended by many non-Episcopalians), to a special joint session on evangelism, to the legislative committee on Evangelism and Church Planting, which used part of its committee time to walk the streets of Austin, talk to people, and discover where God was at work there, there was truly an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Staid Episcopalians acknowledged the ministry of evangelism as a core practice of the church, even if we are still somewhat hesitant about how to go about it. You can find many Episcopal Evangelism Resources here. Those resources include the Evangelism Charter for the church (here), which I helped write along with four other church-wide evangelism leaders. In the exhibit hall, I signed up to act as a “Jesus Genius” for two shifts, which meant I got to wander around the hall and ask people to tell me about their encounters with Jesus (a very inspiring thing to do!). A particularly transformative moment for me was acting as a prayer leader at the revival service. People were invited to come forward for prayer, and along with about 20 others, I prayed personally with people who responded to the invitation. Jesus was powerfully present in those prayers. Evangelism! Revival! Laying on hands and praying for people! It truly felt like a new day in our church.

 

  1. The Way of Love. Bishop Curry introduced us to the “Way of Love,” seven core practices that help us follow Jesus. You can find his introductory video and details of this initiative here. Bishop Curry invites us all to engage in these seven practices: Turn; Learn; Pray; Worship; Bless; Go; Rest (explained further in the downloadable brochure, here). Reawakening our church means making disciples, starting with the core spiritual practices of our faith. That’s what the Way of Love is all about.
Schentrups

Philip Schentrup speaks as his wife, April (right), and his two surviving children (left) look on. Photo credit: Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma.

  1. Public Prayer and Witness.On Sunday, July 8, many attendees participated in two remarkable prayer events focused on Christian witness in the public square. At 9:30 that morning, Bishops Against Gun Violence led a public prayer service. It featured moving testimony from Philip and April Schentrup, whose daughter Carmen was a senior at Parkland High School and was president of her Episcopal youth group when she was murdered at school. Their tearful recollection of their ordeal, and the silent witness of Carmen’s younger brother and sister beside them, called us all to mindful attention and action to end a difficult and demanding crisis. Later that same day, I stood with over 1,000 other Episcopalians in the hot sun outside the Hutto Detention Center, a holding place for migrant women, many of whom had been separated from their children. The Center has been the subject of numerous allegations of physical and sexual abuse of detainees. The liturgy featured scripture readings, prayers, songs, and a sermon by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. We learned later that the women in the center were deeply moved by the prayer service as they watched from inside the center and knew that they were not alone.
Curry Hutto

Presiding Bishop Curry speaks outside the Hutto Migrant Detention Center. Photo credit: Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma.

 

  1. A Spirit of Gracious Compromise. Previous Conventions have featured win-or-lose politics, mostly focused around issues of human sexuality. In 2015, The Episcopal Church recognized same-sex marriages and authorized trial liturgies for blessing them. Yet eight dioceses in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal still do not allow their priests to officiate at them. At this Convention, a small group of people worked quietly to create a compromise that would allow priests in those dioceses to perform same-sex marriages while still allowing the dissenting bishops to maintain their conscientious beliefs. The resulting compromise was Resolution B012, which calls for congregations to receive oversight from a bishop outside their diocese in marriage issues if their own bishop could not approve them. This compromise appeared to be a positive sign all around. One fervently hopes that all parties follow the intent and spirit of this resolution.

 

  1. Book of Common Prayer Revision. Again, the contentious debate about prayer book revision saw a spirit of gracious compromise. While many folks argued for revising the prayer book, many others opposed revision, seeing it as an opening to revise the core doctrine of the church. A generational divide appeared, with many younger people opposing a revision that would be led by elders. The compromise reached in an amendment proposed by Texas Bishop Andy Doyle was to “memorialize” the 1979 Book of Common Prayer while developing alternative liturgies. “Memorialize” is a novel term without a clear definition, but this model appears to follow the Church of England, whose 1662 Book of Common Prayer is still the official prayer book, but which has provided more modern liturgies in the volume called “Common Worship.” A new task force has been authorized to begin collecting alternative liturgies to propose to the next General Convention.

 

  1. Expansive Language Liturgies.One of the more common arguments advanced for prayer book revision was the heavily masculine language used for humans as well as God in the Rite II Book of Common Prayer. A group of priests proposed an expansive-language version of Rite II that used more inclusive terms, while still retaining traditional Trinitarian language and doctrine. (Full disclosure: I was one of the priests who had a small part in developing this proposal.) The resulting expansive-language Rite II, with Eucharistic Prayers A, B, and D, will be authorized for trial use beginning Jan. 1, 2019. Prayer C has been referred to the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music for further work after rather singular discussions in both the committee and the House of Bishops, involving the Canadian Prayer Book and leisure suits.
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Bishops read letters from Episcopalians detailing real-life experiences of abuse at the Liturgy of Listening, July 4. Photo credit: Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma.

  1. #MeToo and #ChurchToo. The #MeToo movement reached the church, as many Episcopalians (mostly women clergy, but also male clergy and lay Episcopalians) have raised issues of sexual and other abuse in the church. The bishops responded with a powerful Listening Session on July 4, with prayers and public reading of letters detailing past abuses. The bishops agreed on a covenant about how they will respond to allegations of abuse. You can find Oklahoma Bishop Ed Konieczny’s statement about the bishops’ actions here. Meanwhile, in the House of Deputies, a 47-member commission proposed a number of resolutions to strengthen the church’s response to abuse allegations. Among the resolutions that passed both houses were the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to explore discrimination against women and girls in the church; removal of gender and compensation information from Office of Transition Ministry portfolios; addition of family status, including pregnancy or child care, to the church’s nondiscrimination provisions; stronger whistleblower protection; a three-year (2019-21) suspension of the statute of limitations for reports of clergy sexual misconduct; and the creation of an anti-sexism training program that will be required of clergy and others.

 

  1. Racial Reconciliation. General Convention 2015 named racial reconciliation as one of the core priorities of our church, acknowledging that God loves all people equally and calls us to understanding, justice, and reconciliation in Jesus’ name. Since then, some initiatives have developed around this priority, including the “Becoming Beloved Community” resources found here. This Convention featured a special joint session with powerful speakers on racial reconciliation, but we also acknowledged how far we have to go, in the US and the other countries in which The Episcopal Church makes its home.

 

  1. Translations. Among the issues of racial reconciliation that came to the forefront at this Convention was the issue of translations. The Episcopal Church is located in 16 countries and has four official languages: English, Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole. Yet is has long been acknowledged that our Book of Common Prayer translations into Spanish and French are poorly done – they use antiquated idiom and are sometimes downright ungrammatical. To date, inadequate funding has been allocated to create dynamic translations, but $200,000 was allocated for this purpose at this Convention – a good start. In the meantime, controversy erupted because inadequate interpretation services were provided for some legislative committee hearings, leading to a protest led by Bishop Lloyd Allen of Honduras. Quick reactions by the General Convention Secretariat helped allay some of the immediate issues, but greater sensitivity to non-English dominant Episcopalians will be a big challenge for our increasingly diverse church in the future.

 

  1. Re-Admission of Cuba as a TEC Diocese. One of the most moving events at Convention happened as the Diocese of Cuba, which left The Episcopal Church in the 1960s after the Cuban Revolution, was formally re-admitted as a TEC diocese. The House of Bishops voted first, after a moving speech by Bishop Jose McLaughlin of Western North Carolina, and gave a standing ovation as Cuban Bishop Griselda Delgado Del Carpio was given seat and voice in the House of Bishops. The next day the House of Deputies voted, and again a standing ovation greeted Bishop Griselda and the Cuban deputies as they took their places in the House of Deputies. A joyful reunion of old friends and partners was a fitting high point for this Convention that had so many inspiring moments.

Putting our Trust in God, Not Money

The Acts 8 Movement is asking this week: How has financial giving affected your spiritual life?

Well – I want to share with you a small miracle story. It may not sound like a miracle to you, but it changed my life and my husband’s, and showed us the power of trusting in God.

Before I was a priest, I worked for ten years as a CPA. Tom was also a financial professional – an actuary. Between the two of us, we had loads of financial savvy, and as rising young professionals, we had a nice house in the suburbs of Houston, two very young children, and bright futures ahead of us. What we didn’t have was much in the way of churchiness. We’d had our children baptized, we drifted into a church in Houston from time to time, but you couldn’t call us committed Christians. We certainly didn’t give any money to the church – we figured that was a job for the older, richer people in the congregation.

All that changed when we moved to Arizona. My husband was offered a transfer for no additional salary, but a good upside potential, so I quit my well-paying CPA job, decided to stay home with the kids for a couple of years, and we settled in for life in somewhat reduced circumstances. We bought a house in Arizona and put our house in Houston up for sale.

What we didn’t anticipate was that the Houston house would take so long to sell. We loved our house and assumed everyone else would, too. But apparently they didn’t. The house sat, and sat, and sat. In the meantime, we were living on one salary, making two house payments, and watching our savings dwindle away to nothing.

But in Arizona we joined a church. Not because we got any more religious when we crossed the state line, but because I figured after leaving all our family and friends behind, the church was where I would be able to meet some people. You know, if you show up there, they have to let you in. And we did meet people – a wonderful group of families our age who became like family to us. Because they were involved in the church, we got involved in the church – which led us to God, and eventually led me to become a priest, but that’s another story.

This story is about financial giving. And the thing was, this church that we loved was doing a big capital campaign. But we couldn’t give a dime, to that or to the regular operating fund, because we were strained to the breaking point and watching our savings dwindle away. The leaders would do appeals, and we would just shake our heads sadly, because we just couldn’t afford to give, not with first one offer on the Houston house falling through, and then another, while our bank balance melted away toward zero.

One day, as we heard another appeal in church, Tom and I looked at each other, and said in unison, “It’s time.” We got out the checkbook and wrote a check to the church from our savings account, equal to one house payment on the Houston house. We were one month closer to zero on that savings account.

There was a church picnic that day, so we didn’t get home till about 2:00. In those quaint old days before cell phones, as we walked into the house, trailing our hot, tired children, the phone was ringing. It was an offer on the Houston house. It was a better offer than either of the others, and this one stuck – the house sold, and we were able to get back on our feet.

That may not seem like a miracle story to you, but it did to us. Because we were savvy financial professionals, and we knew it made no sense to contribute money to the church when we were struggling financially. We knew that our job was to conserve our cash, and save for our children’s education, and put away something for retirement – not foolishly give to God’s mission in this church that had come to mean so much to us.

Giving to the church would make no sense. But we did it anyway. And we were blessed. I know this story might sound like “prosperity gospel” theology, where contributing money to the church gives you even more money in return. And I don’t by any means think that happens to everyone, nor do I think that God’s rewards usually come in the form of riches.

But the thing is, for us, sitting there in church, we heard the voice of God at the same time, calling us to do this absurd thing. And God showed us that he was there, blessing us right through it. In fact, in writing that check, we made the decision that our money was not going to be our savior. Against all our training, against all our professional backgrounds, against common sense, we determined that we would put our trust in God instead. And we’ve never looked back.

Every year since then, we’ve increased our giving. Every year, we’ve given out of prayer and thanksgiving and faith in the God who has given us everything we have. Every year, we have found our giving to be joyful. Every year, we have had more than enough to meet our own needs, and make generous gifts outside the church as well. Every year, we have put our trust in God just a bit more.

You see, in our rational, capitalistic world, we Americans are trained to think that our achievements bring us money, and our money will save us. In my Christian faith, I’ve found the opposite. Christ will save us, and it’s our willingness to accept his love that brings us wholeness, and faith, and salvation, and the joy of giving for the sake of Christ’s mission in this world.

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Episcopal Resurrection and the 78th General Convention

IMG_1740“We are one together, yo, yo, yo,” we sang in the House of Deputies. Our chaplain, the Rev. Lester Mackenzie of Los Angeles, taught us this chant as part of our prayers, and at times, the song would break out spontaneously.

For me, nothing could describe better the feeling I had throughout this Convention. With a few exceptions, our discussions were courteous and thoughtful, with care given for those who disagreed. We made momentous decisions, on marriage equality, church structure, and evangelism initiatives. We elected a new Presiding Bishop who will be an amazing, inspiring Chief Evangelism Officer for our church. And for my group of friends who worked together on Episcopal Resurrection (friends who first came together around the Acts 8 Moment), the whole experience brought us closer together in friendship and united us in our dedication to God’s mission in the church. We are one together, yo, yo, yo!

For me, the whole experience of Convention was intertwined with my personal experience of Episcopal Resurrection and Acts 8 – a group of folks that I spent this Convention planning, strategizing, and socializing with.

Episcopal Resurrection

Back in April, six friends and I got together in Columbus, Ohio, and talked about what we believed the church needed to accomplish at this Convention. That meeting resulted in A Memorial to the Church, a kind of open letter that launched publicly on Ascension Day. We called on Convention to engage deeply in prayer and discernment about where the church is called to go, to fund evangelism initiatives extravagantly, and to release our hold on old structures and conflicts that do not serve the church well. We invited anyone who was inspired by the Memorial to sign on, and about 500 people did, including 33 bishops.

I believe the Memorial, and the discussion and excitement it generated, helped to set a tone for this Convention. This is the third Convention I have attended as a deputy, and in contrast to the other two, I saw far more focus on Jesus’ call to proclaim the good news this time, and far less focus on conflict.

ER folks

Some of our Episcopal Resurrection friends. though we’re missing a few.

At the bottom of this post, I’ll give a summary of how Episcopal Resurrection’s resolutions did in Convention. Most of them passed, some with enthusiastic support. I think is safe to say that Episcopal Resurrection had a measurable effect on Convention this year. To me, that fact goes to show that our polity in the Episcopal Church truly is democratic. A determined minority of folks who capture others’ attention and imagination can influence the course of the church. We had no church-wide funding (we paid ourselves for our plane tickets to Columbus, our advertising on social media, our buttons and cards, and our meeting rooms for our two gatherings at Convention). We had no official authorization to do the work we did. But we were deputies to Convention, we made proposals, and we made a difference.

There were many inspiring moments at this Convention for me. The election of +Michael Curry as our new Presiding Bishop (and he is going to be a great PB!), his closing sermon, the moment we passed the church planting initiative and the other resolutions I worked with others to draft, the tears of joy shed by many when the marriage equality resolutions passed, and many more moments inspired me.

But of all the amazing moments of this Convention, my favorite, stunning moment was when the budget amendment passed that allowed additional funds for church planting and Latino/Hispanic ministries.

Let’s be clear – this budget amendment did not make some folks happy, including some folks on PB&F. I like and admire the members of PB&F, with whom I worked as the leader of Council’s budget process. But without apology, I will say that I believe that the most vital, essential, strategic move our church can make at this moment in our history is to plant new churches, including among Latinos. We have to do this, and we have to do it now. For too long, our church has been timid, acting as though we believe that we don’t have any particular good news to share. It’s time to break out of that kind of conservatism. It’s time to take a risk for the gospel. It’s time to plant new churches.

Our Episcopal Resurrection group was ecstatic when D005, our church planting resolution, passed both houses. The House of Bishops actually burst into applause when the initiative passed there. But later that same day, we heard that PB&F’s budget proposal (which would be presented in a joint session the next day, and voted on the day after) would have no additional funding for church planting beyond what was in Executive Council’s budget, nor any additional funding for Latino/Hispanic ministries – an area closely allied with church planting, in our view. Immediately, we began to consider what we could do to remedy this neglect of the very areas of ministry that we believed could lead our church into a new era of growth and vitality.

Very soon, we came up with the idea of proposing an amendment to the budget, to be funded by an additional 0.5% draw on the church’s endowment. (The endowment has earned over 8% for a number of years, and we have drawn only 5% per year.) Now, we had all been to Conventions before, and we knew that amendments to PB&F’s budget proposals NEVER pass. NEVER. This proposed budget amendment was a “futile and stupid gesture,” in the immortal words of John Belushi in Animal House. But if a futile and stupid gesture would bring attention to this vital area of ministry, we were willing to do it.

So we started planning, the day before PB&F’s budget came up for a vote. Frank Logue, who served on PB&F, came up with the idea of funding D005 and A086 with an additional 0.5% draw on the endowment, and drafted the proposed amendment. The rest of us carefully planned how we would get to the microphones and propose, and then speak to, the amendment. On the day of the budget debate, many of our group queued in to propose or speak to the amendment. Frank was the first to get to the mike, and proposed the amendment. I was the third speaker, and had the honor of supporting it on the floor. The amendment passed the House of Deputies by a wide margin. Our group sat in amazed disbelief – for the first time in memory, a budget amendment had passed. And that budget amendment was to fund evangelism: church planting and Latino/Hispanic ministries. We were in awe. A new day had come to the church.

Later that same day, folks who were able to attend the budget debate in the House of Bishops kept those of us who were waiting in the House of Deputies informed about what was going on. After several speakers urged fiscal conservatism, bishop after bishop spoke in favor of our proposal. Bishop Hahn of Lexington was reported to have said, “I’d rather not be part of a church with a growing endowment and declining membership.” That sentiment carried the day in the House of Bishops, and our Episcopal Resurrection group rejoiced as texts from the observers there let us know that the amended budget had passed.

As an Executive Council member, and for the past triennium as a member of its Finances for Mission committee, I do have sympathy for those who want to be careful with our resources. And I do have hope that we can find ways to fund the evangelism initiatives without drawing as much from the endowment earnings as we voted to do at Convention. But I have to agree with Bishop Hahn – a growing endowment means little if we aren’t doing the mission Jesus calls us to do. And that mission means going out, doing the scary thing, taking a risk to reach new people and new populations. That mission means evangelism and church planting – and I am grateful to be part of a church that decided to take a risk for the sake of the gospel.

We are one together, yo, yo, yo!

By the way: by all means leave a comment. However, basically the moment I press “publish” on this post, I am leaving for China for a long-anticipated family vacation, and won’t have access to my blog to approve comments till I return. If your comment doesn’t appear for a while, that’s why. 

Footnote: How did the Episcopal Resurrection Proposals Do? Here’s a summary of how our proposals ended up. I think it’s safe to say that Episcopal Resurrection changed the conversation at Convention in a number of ways – around evangelism, and around the structure conversation.

The Memorial: Was commended to Convention, and all bishops and deputies were urged to share it with their communities and congregations, in resolution A179. I believe the Memorial had an effect far beyond A179, however; it helped set the tone for a Convention that would vote to include evangelism initiatives in the budget.

We also drafted nine resolutions for Convention, and signed on to a tenth. Here is the scorecard on how our resolutions did. (Note: you can see our original proposals here, and you can see the final proposals that were passed here.)

ER resolutions

D005: Creating a Capacity to Plant Churches: This is a very bold and strategic initiative, not only to provide grants for church planting, but also to train church planting leaders, including lay and ordained leaders for Latino/Hispanic church plants. This initiative passed with enthusiastic support in both houses – the House of Bishops reportedly broke into applause when it passed. It was NOT funded in PB&F’s proposed budget, but with some legislative work, our Episcopal Resurrection group managed to propose and get passed a $2.8 million addition to the budget that will help fund D005 and also A086, a resolution on Latino/Hispanic ministries. In addition, the Development Office is asked to raise money for this initiative.

D009: Revitalization of Congregations: This resolution also passed both houses with wide support, but it received no funding. However, the resolution still calls on the Development Office to raise money to fund this initiative, so it may yet see the light of day.

B009: Conducting an Online Digital Evangelism Test: This resolution passed with wide support, especially on The Twitters. It also received significant funding. Watch for the Episcopal Church to start developing a much stronger social media presence, including ways to connect with people who are searching online for answers to life’s questions, and helping connect them with local communities of faith.

D007: Permit Dioceses to Explore Shared Ministry and Collaboration: Passed. This resolution loosens up the requirements for dioceses to have separate Commissions on Ministry so that they can explore ways of sharing resources. Our original resolution allowed a diocesan bishop to reside outside his/her diocese if the bishop living in another diocese where he/she also serves, but this provision was struck.

D003: Amend Article V of the Constitution: Passed. This is the first reading of a constitutional amendment, which must be approved at two consecutive General Conventions to become effective. This provision allows two dioceses to merge when one is without a diocesan bishop – the precise time that may be most attractive for a merger.

D004: Create a Task Force to Study Episcopal Elections: Passed. Apparently there was some anxiety in some places about whether this task force would impose church-approved candidates on dioceses. That was certainly not our intent. While the hope for more diversity in the House of Bishops was the part of this resolution that received the most attention, we also hoped that a set of best practices would be created that would be electronically available, to help bishop search processes become more transparent. The next question is whether the funding allocated to this task force by Executive Council (out of Convention’s total budget for CCABs) will be adequate to the task.

D008: Amend Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution: Passed. This is the first reading of a constitutional change. If passed on the second reading, it would allow the two houses of General Convention to hold joint sessions and deliberate and vote together. While TREC proposed an immediate move to a unicameral Convention, this intermediate step allows us more flexibility to experiment with joint sessions and see how we like them.

D013: Budget Process for the Episcopal Church: Passed with some significant modifications. Our proposal clarified the budget process so the canons conform to actual practice (we haven’t actually followed our canons on the budget in years). We made the diocesan “asking” into a mandatory assessment, with waivers to be granted by Executive Council for dioceses that cannot pay the full amount; this provision becomes effective in 2019. Thank God for this change, which I believe will contribute greatly to the spiritual health of the church, as all dioceses participate equally in paying their fair share. My hope is that the assessment could even fall below 15% as this provision takes effect.

The most significant change to our original resolution was that we proposed that the President of the House of Deputies should receive a salary, a proposal that seemed self-evident to us since it is a full-time, unpaid position. Keeping it as an unpaid position means that only independently wealthy or retired people can serve, and as the Bible says, the laborer deserves her/his pay.

However, this provision caused significant controversy in the House of Bishops, which reportedly complained about the increasing scope of the PHoD position (apparently without irony, given the corresponding increasing scope of the Presiding Bishop position). This sniping at the PHoD by the bishops seemed petty and mean-spirited to many deputies. The people in the purple shirts would not dream of working for no pay – why would they demand it of others? In the end, after significant work by a conference committee (the first since 1997), the two houses compromised on this issue by agreeing to form a task force to explore issues of leadership and compensation for the PHoD. The whole conflict seemed indicative of the deep divide that has opened between bishops and deputies over the last several years. I hope that over the next three years, reconciliation will come, and  the full scope of the PHoD’s position will be recognized and honored. And I certainly hope that we can build trust and work together productively – after all, in God’s kingdom, we are all on the same team.

D010: Clarify Officers of the Episcopal Church: Discharged, but some provisions from this proposal were folded into A004, which clarified the roles of the Presiding Officers, Executive Council, and staff. One of Episcopal Resurrection’s contributions to A004 was to propose the position of Chief Legal Officer. Resolution A004 was the subject of some intense debate and compromise, but in the end, it passed both houses.

D011: Eliminate Provinces: Substitute resolution passed. Our original resolution, which would have eliminated provinces altogether, was re-written to establish a task force to study provinces and report back to the next General Convention with ideas for what might take their place if they were eliminated. On the Governance & Structure committee, on which I served, testimony on the provinces resolution clearly fell along age lines. Older folks testified to the meaningful contributions of provinces and the networks they support; younger folks wondered why networks should be organized geographically and involve required governance structures, when electronic communications make organizing along interest lines much easier. As I listened to the testimony, it became evident to me that though the time for eliminating provinces may not be now, that time is coming. And the networks we form in the future will be right for that time, just as the Provinces were the right networks for their time.

Overall Episcopal Resurrection scorecard: 6 resolutions passed essentially unchanged; 2 resolutions passed with modifications; one resolution discharged, but with significant provisions combined into another resolution; one resolution caused intense conversation and was referred to a study committee. One Memorial changed the conversation around the church. A pretty good record, overall.

Gilton & Michie: Realities of Church Planting

This is a guest post by Michael Gilton and Mike Michie, church planters in the Diocese of Dallas. Michael Gilton recently wrote a guest post about myths of church planting – now here are the realities. 

images In response to proposed General Convention legislation supporting church planting in The Episcopal Church, Frank Logue and Ken Howard recently posted excellent articles on myths and truths about church planting. Hopefully church planting will gain greater priority and visibility in The Episcopal Church.

Now, you may be thinking, “I want some of that; I want to plant a church.” Great! TEC desperately needs more church planters. So, to prepare those considering planting, I (Michael Gilton) grabbed friend and fellow-planter, the incomparable Mike Michie, and we generated “ten realities” of church planting. These realities come from our over nineteen combined years of experience as church planters, so we have stories, laughter and scars, and, of course, data behind them all.

Holler at either of us if you want to hear more:

Michael Gilton, founding planter and Vicar, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Prosper, Texas; michael@stpaulsprosper.org.

Mike Michie, founding planter and Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, McKinney, Texas; mikem@standrewsonline.net.

Reality #1 – Church planting is hard. Sure, all jobs are hard (unless you are the third string quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys), but church planting brings a unique set of challenges, and if you aren’t prepared for those challenges, planting a church will crush you. So, think twice (or three times) about your skills and gifts and calling before planting a church.

Reality #2 – Church planting is simple. The basic formula for a successful church plant isn’t that complex: get the right planter, assemble a good team, work hard and go for it. Much of our success has been grounded on the simple tasks of preaching the Gospel and loving people when they show up (and even when they don’t!). Don’t be afraid to step out in faith and start a new work, especially in an area where you discern God is already in motion.

Reality #3 – Church planting is unbelievably rewarding. The blessing of seeing God at work, taking a small group of faithful pioneers and growing them into a Body that is transforming the mission field in the name of Christ; is unique, humbling, and profoundly inspiring.

Reality #4 – You can’t plant a church alone. You’ll hurt yourself trying. Thankfully, you never have to. You have the support of those on the launch team, sure; and you also have support from your family, clergy colleagues and Diocese; but you have to seek out that support and accept it. If you prefer to work alone or are naturally reticent to ask for help, do yourself and your family a favor: don’t try to plant a church.

Reality #5 – You will see the miraculous. We’re convinced the Lord gives a double portion of miracles to keep church planters going. Why? Otherwise, you’d quit. Expect miracles and keep your eyes open for them.

Reality #6 – You will want to quit. You will. Which is why you need others supporting you and why you need to keep looking for confirmation that God is at working building his church.

Reality #7 – It’s all in the family. There’s no getting around the fact that others will expect your family to be involved in the plant. Your family will share in the blessings and challenges of planting, so guard your family and pray for them daily. And do not neglect them – they need pastoral care as much or more than you do.

Reality #8 – Church planting costs a lot of money. It does. Which means you need to be comfortable talking about money and understanding basic financial information. If money makes you timid and the word “budget” gives you hives, then planting is going to be very difficult for you.

Reality #9 – You can’t be afraid to ask. You’ll have to ask people to join your launch team, you’ll have to ask your launch team to join the vision, you’ll have to ask people to support you financially, and you’ll have to ask people to support you in many, many other ways. Again, if the idea of asking make you break out into a cold sweat, you should reconsider planting.

Reality #10 – Preaching brings them in and keeps them. Your ability to preach the Good News of God in Christ will be a primary draw. Your members will invite others to “come hear our preacher.” Those who join your church will say, more often than not, we joined because of the preaching. No amount of great music or inspiring visuals or technology will take the place of preaching Christ and him crucified.

Fact or Fiction: Michael Gilton on Church Planting

The Rev. Michael Gilton, church planter and priest at St. Paul’s, Prosper, Texas (Diocese of Dallas), recently made some comments about church planting on my Facebook page. Since he doesn’t have a blog (and since, gentle reader, you know that I am interested in church planting), I asked him to expand on his comments for a post on my blog. So here is a guest post from Michael Gilton, offered with my thanks!

Frank Logue recently posted an excellent article sharing his take on myths and truths about church planting. Ken Howard helpfully added on to these with more myths and facts (here and here). As I was reading through Ken’s list I found myself cheering him on: Preach it brother!

Being who I am, I also shared with my computer screen, “Data, we need more data to establish the fact of these assertions!”

(full disclosure: I’m a numbers geek, and I do talk like that. For those concerned, no, my computer screen never answers back).

So, using the church plant I lead (St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Prosper, Texas), I offer the following in support of Fr. Howard’s facts:

Fact 1: Church plants tend to show more vitality than other churches – ASA has settled in reliably at 67% of membership. I believe the national average is around 30%.

Fact 2: Church plants tend to be more effective at outreach – 80% of our first time visitors return for a second visit. 50% of our membership is “de-churched” people.

Fact 3 : Church plants tend to be more effective in reaching newcomers to church life– 85% of our adults are “active” in one or more ministries.

Fact 4: Church plants tend to more effective reach younger people – our average age is 30, younger than the surrounding mission field. This is mainly because we have a lot of children.

Fact 5: Church plants are more likely to reach more non-Whites and non-Anglos  – While we look like our mission field, we’re “very white.” We’ve done a poor job of reaching African Americans. We’re decent with reaching Latinos.

Fact 6: Church plants are more likely to grow – Our ASA is steadily 1% of the population of our mission field. As our Town has grown, so have we. Based on a simple survey of eight other parishes in our Diocese, the average attendance of established parishes is 0.35% of their mission field.

Fact 7: Church plants may be the only strategy with the growth capacity to reverse the decline in TEC membership – I disagree with this fact (you knew I’d argue with at least one). I’m a “both/and” kinda guy, with strong optimism of TEC’s future, so I resist the word “only.”

Fact 8: Church plants are good for their dioceses – I don’t have much evidence in this area. Our diocese has a good mix of planters and missionally minded leaders of established parishes. For what it’s worth, our four clergy deputies to General Convention are all church planters.

Fact 9: Church plants are good for the established churches around them – The seven churches in our geographic area are all growing at a rate greater than the area’s population growth. Of the seven churches, three are plants.

Fact 10: Church plants are good for the established churches that plant them – Would that there were more established churches willing to plant churches! Our plant was support by the diocese and two other church plants. I’m not sure we could have done what we did without the support of the other two plants, both of which gave money, missional and theological support, administrative support, and people; and both of which are growing.

Fact 11: Church plants tend to be more nimble and adaptable to change – Change or die! The list of what we’ve tried and failed and tried again is long. Four example, we’re on our fifth version of our process of bringing visitors into membership. We can’t find the perfect process, but each of our iterations is better than the pervious version.

Fact 12: Church plants tend to be more vision guided, mission focused, and purpose driven –Without strong vision and a crystal clear focus on the mission field, churches are unlikely to grow. Church plants start with vision and know only mission; they grow because vision are mission are not after thoughts, vision and mission are essentials.

Fact 13: Church plants tend to be more context sensitive and context responsive – Any missional church is both. The church plants in our area are leaders in outreach to local schools and in direct ministry to “the least of these.”

Fact 14: Church plants are more risky but also more rewarding – In our mission field, seven other churches (Baptist, non-denomination, Pentecostal, Disciples of Christ) were planted after ours. Of the eight, four remain. To God be the glory; hallelujah!

Holler if you want to chat about any of these or about the stunning things the Lord is doing through church planting in the Diocese of Dallas.

michael@stpaulsprosper.org

Treasure to Share: Why Plant New Churches?

Why should we plant churches? One of the most important resolutions proposed by Episcopal Resurrection, of which I am one of the authors, is an ambitious vision for planting new Episcopal churches. Adam Trambley has written a careful blog post outlining the vision behind this resolution – please go and read it.

If we are going to make a priority of planting churches, I believe that this is exactly the kind of large vision (and funding) we need. Diocesan resources and expertise aren’t sufficient – we are going to need to band together church-wide and make it happen.

God Gave the Growth full rgb 2 copy (1)But why should it happen? Why should we be planting churches at all? Don’t we have plenty of unused capacity in churches that are already in existence? Isn’t it more efficient to fill up the churches we have than to start new ones?

Well, no. Not really. Below, I’ll give you the seven best reasons to start new churches, based on the research I did for my upcoming book, God Gave the Growth: Church Planting in the Episcopal Church (you can find more details on these arguments there; it will be published in June 2015).

  1. Planting new churches is one of the best ways to reach new people with the good news of the gospel, because new churches are more likely to grow.

I don’t have to tell you that the Episcopal Church is in steep decline. From 1965 to 2012, the US population increased by a whopping 62%, while the numerical membership of TEC decreased by 39%. (TEC figures provided by Kirk Hadaway, TEC Director of Research; US figures found here.) The decline is bad enough in sheer numbers, but as a percentage of the population, our decline is staggering. TEC fell from 1.6% to a minuscule 0.6%, a 63% decline, over the same period.

The Episcopal Church is utterly failing at fishing for people.

Planting new churches is the best way I know of, not just to reverse this decline, but to answer Jesus’ call in the Great Commission to go and make disciples. How do I know this? Let’s do the numbers.

Based on figures Kirk Hadaway, the Director of Research at the Church Center, provided me, between 2000 and 2008, across TEC, we planted 99 new churches. (Two notes: first, that’s a terribly low number, especially since we closed 432 churches during the same period. Second, statistics actually showed 119 new churches during that time, but I have excluded churches planted or re-formed due to the sexuality conflict – I am considering only truly “new” churches.)

Of those 99 churches planted, 69 were still open in 2012, a 70% success rate over four or more years. The old trope that most new churches fail is absolutely not true. In fact, Episcopal churches have a far better chance of success than nondenominational churches, precisely because of the diocesan and denominational support (financial, leadership, training, prayer, and otherwise) that we provide.

Of those 69 new churches still open, average Sunday attendance in 2012 was 95 people, compared to ASA across the whole church of 65 people. In other words, newer churches were 48% larger, despite having much less time in which to grow, and in most cases, far fewer financial, building, and staff resources. The ten largest church plants from 2000 to 2008 (including my own church plant, Church of the Nativity, #10 on the list) had 2012 average attendance of 359 people.

In a publication on the Episcopal Church’s website, Hadaway discusses factors associated with church growth, and concluded that newer churches are more likely to be growing churches: 54% of churches founded between 1996-2009 were growing, vs. 17% of those founded before 1900.

If we want to reach many new people with the gospel through our beautiful Episcopal Church, one huge and necessary strategy is to take some risks and plant some churches.

  1. A new church is mission-focused.

People who plant new churches absolutely must ask questions of mission and purpose in order to survive. There can be no complacency in a new church. Craig van Gelder and Dwight Zscheile write:

It is often observed that starting new congregations with a missional imagination and posture is easier than reorienting existing ones. This is so in part because the process of planting a new church is inherently missiological and open ended. Leaders of new congregations must ask the key missional questions of identity and purpose that existing congregations often take for granted. These congregations must engage with those outside their doors in order to grow and thrive…. New missional congregations keep at the forefront of their minds and hearts the question of how they can give the gospel as well as their gifts to the community. (Craig Van Gelder and Dwight J. Zscheile, The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 161.)

Having a strong mission and purpose is strongly associated with growth, according to a research report on the Episcopal Church website.

  1. A new church can respond to population shifts.

In Stephen C. Compton’s book, Rekindling the Mainline: New Life Through New Churches (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2003), vii, he points out that mainline denominations’ major growth spurt in the 1950s and 1960s coincided with a large population shift from rural to urban areas. The denominations responded strategically with a corresponding surge in planting new churches in the areas people were moving to. That’s a big reason why they grew rapidly back then.

Population shifts are still happening today, without corresponding strategic moves. We need strategic action. New churches can and should locate in growing areas. New churches can also be planted to reach out to new demographic populations: new language and socioeconomic groups that are not TEC’s traditional strong points. We especially need to take immediate strategic action to plant Latino/Hispanic churches – that population is booming with growth, and our proposal includes significant money to create a training program for lay and clergy leaders for Latino/Hispanic ministries. In the Episcopal Church, only 18% of predominantly White congregations are growing; 43% of Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or Multi-racial congregations are growing. New churches can be strategically planned and located to reach these new folks.

  1. A new church can respond to generational shifts.

The Episcopal Church is much older on average than the US population as a whole. New churches can try new ways of reaching young adults and youth. The kind of gatherings that appeal to Baby Boomers may not be the same as those that appeal to Millennials (in fact, the Millennials may be much more traditional). New churches have the flexibility to try innovative ways to reach new populations.

  1. A new church can try new things.

Change is hard in an established church. A new church doesn’t have that problem – in a new church, you make it up as you go along. That means you can try all kinds of innovative experiments to reach the people in your neighborhood. This willingness to change is strongly associated with growth, according to Hadaway’s statistics.

  1. New churches benefit existing churches.

Established churches often oppose nearby church plants, and can be among the biggest barriers to new churches’ survival. But studies have shown that a new church in a community does not harm existing churches. In fact, new churches trying new things can actually serve as the “R&D Department” of the whole denomination. Established churches can learn from the experiments that succeed, and those that fail, in new churches.

  1. New churches are in a different part of the church life cycle.

Stephen Compton describes the life cycle of churches in five stages: Birth, Vitality, Equilibrium, Decline, and Death, and shows that most of a church’s growth happens during the Birth and Vitality stages, roughly the first ten to fifteen years of its existence. After that, a church can stay in Equilibrium for a very long time, maintaining roughly the same numbers, before it starts to decline. If we want to reverse decline in the Episcopal Church, we need to have far more churches in the Birth and Vitality stages than we have in the Decline and Death stages. That means planting new churches.

Mind you, planting new churches is not ultimately about reversing the institutional decline of the Episcopal Church. Jesus didn’t die so that the American landscape would be plastered with Episcopal Churches, lovely though they are. But Jesus did die – and was raised – and commissioned his disciples to share the good news of his resurrection and the kingdom of God with all nations. We are commanded by Jesus to share the treasure of the gospel with others. We can’t hoard this treasure – it is meant to be shared. That means, yes, revitalizing the congregations we have. And it means planting new ones, to reach new people with the love of Jesus Christ.

Pray a New Church into Being

church_plantingIf you were at General Convention 2012, you probably vividly remember the moment when the legislation to create the Taskforce to Re-imagine the Church passed the House of Deputies unanimously, and we all stood and sang, “Sing a New Church into Being.” Full of hope, we were looking toward a reborn Episcopal Church.

But each of us probably had different ideas about what that new church would look like. Somewhere in our hearts, we all knew that just restructuring our ways of organizing ourselves church-wide wouldn’t be enough. We needed a reawakening. We needed to rededicate ourselves to evangelism and mission. We needed to come to a new understanding of how to reach out to new people and new age and ethnic groups. We needed to leave tired conflicts and structures behind, and find better ways to answer God’s call in the twenty-first century.

Given all these hopes and needs, it was inevitable that TREC would disappoint. I’ve blogged about my mixed reaction to their proposals (here, here and here). Their prologue was inspiring and right on target, calling us to follow Jesus into the neighborhood, traveling lightly. Terrific! But I and others have had mixed reactions to their specific recommendations. And I’ve been disappointed about what I believe was missing from their recommendations:

  • A concrete, achievable proposal for church planting, congregational revitalization, and evangelism;
  • A vision for what the church-wide structure is supposed to accomplish;
  • A mission statement for our staff, including its size and composition;
  • A vision for how we should spend our money and what kind of “headquarters” building we need, if any;
  • A way to structure ourselves in order to help heal factional rivalries and bring us together on the same team.

Well and good. Those things may be missing, but it was probably unrealistic ever to expect TREC to do everything – and there are many of us ready to take up the call and work on these priorities that remain before us.

That’s why I’ve been working with a group of friends – Scott Gunn, Tom Ferguson, Frank Logue, Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, Steve Pankey, and Adam Trambley – to write a Memorial to the Church. What’s a Memorial? It’s a letter to General Convention, calling the church to some broad actions. We believe that our Memorial names some of the larger issues that are posing challenges to the Episcopal Church today, and proposes concrete ways that our church can address them together.

You can find the Memorial here. If you like it, you can join as a signer by following the instructions given – and you can share it on social media or discuss it on your blog, too.

We’ve also proposed a set of resolutions – both about church revitalization and about church restructuring. We believe that these resolutions address some of the elements missing from the TREC report, and make the concrete proposals we’ve been needing to make. You can find the resolutions here. You don’t have to agree with the resolutions to sign onto the Memorial, of course.

It’s a movement we’d like to see grow – a movement that we’d like to see every Episcopalian get involved in, individually and as part of the wider church.

Together, we can sing, pray, worship, work, and love a new church into being.

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