“Just what is it you are trying to do here?” A good question, I get it in some variety regularly. What would this shift produce? What would we look like if our culture shifted?
1. The first and most importantly, each person takes maximum responsibility for his or her own soul.
2. The clergy and congregation understand that the clergy are not the paid Christians to go and do the ministry in the name of this community.
What are the consequences of these two shifts? Paradoxically the church would look like is goes now and at the same time be radically different in function, For one thing there would be fewer programs! Hearing this many will wonder if we are too lazy to do our jobs? I will confess that we do many things because they have been done that way in the past. I remember at least five years ago the staff here worked hard, came up with ideas (good ones), crafted programs, arranged dinner and provided offering so that everyone of every age group had a place to go and something to do when they got there.
After Labor Day we launched our creation and in only a matter of weeks we were down to a handful of souls. Guilt and shame rose up among us at staff meeting like a bad odor from the cellar. Finally, we did a non-scientific survey and what we overwhelmingly learned was that people were tired and children needed to be home. We pulled the plug. My colleagues (you know the professional Christians) and I felt guilty but we dealt with it privately. We have had no sustained education on Wednesday evening since and largely no one ever mentions it to me.
This is hard. The “professional Christians” – hereafter to known as PC (layers of irony, that) work hard producing programs, classes and groups. Do not misunderstand me – formation is essential. However, formation must be initiated by the laity. When the laity discerns the slow leak in their souls and wants to do something about it, we will not have offer programs, will people to come and nurse your resentment when they do not.
As hard as it is, the PC’s must lay down the professional sole-practitioner persona and become ordinary priests and deacons fulfilling our proper role (that we were ordained to do). Above all those of the white collars must know that, contrary to the wisdom of this age, they are not MBA’s in dog collars.
As hard as it is, laity must move beyond a sort of “fashionable ignorance” of the scriptures and the faith. At least in the South, Episcopalians live in a closed loop system of anxious, and reactive fundamentalism. Since many of us are converts, refugees from catastrophic certitude; even exposure to garden variety Christianity produces an allergic reaction. Like all allergies, of course, it is an overreaction and with proper soul work recovery is assured.
The last thing that people need is another thing to do at night. Families need to be together. But what about their souls; isn’t the decline of programs bad? If you are living in 1975 it is bad. When people take responsibly for the feeding and caring of their souls most of the education takes place in home, offices and vehicles.
It happens at 5:00am when a man rises an hour early to drink coffee and read his Bible in the Bible challenge. When he has a question he will call me and I will be my best to get him what he needs. That is very different than chasing him down the street begging him to come to class that addresses nothing he needs for his soul at this point and in this time.
Naturally, this will not necessarily fill the pews.