Growing pains and the promise of a future for our church.

SOSc

I am writing this from the House of Bishops meeting in Minneapolis. We meet every spring and often in the fall. This particular meeting is characterized by the addition of many new bishops to our community. Most of the new bishops are younger, many are women and quite a few are people of color. It’s a sign that the Episcopal Church is undergoing a significant change in its demographics, a shift that mirrors the changes we are experiencing in our state and in our country.

Together, we bishops are talking about how to be Episcopalian in the world today, how to manage churches in rapidly changing contexts and what God might be up to next in our lives. And I think these are exciting possibilities. Yet change always brings many dimensions. Some things I’ve found meaningful and supportive are less prominent— and new music, new prayers and new voices are front and center. Part of me is sad that things that were so central to my own formation are less important to the next generation of church leadership. And part of me is challenged to learn new ways of praying to and thinking about God, as well as hearing voices speaking a truth to me that I sometimes find hard to hear, because it sounds like a critique of the past and sometimes is explicitly that.  

But a part of me, I hope the best part of me, finds this change hugely promising. A church that is not challenged to grow and stretch is a church that does not have a future. You might notice how much of the conflict in the Acts of the Apostles or in the writings of the Epistles grows out of the call of the followers of the Way of Jesus to engage the whole culture of their world, including men and women, Jew and Greek, slave and free. It’s the story of how the church changed because the horizons were changing. St. Paul talks about the struggles people experienced to remain in community with each other and to keep the main thing, Jesus, the center of their common life. The conflict was a sign back then that the community was actively growing and engaged. If you take a moment to think about it, you’ll probably notice the same seasons of conflict existing again and again in the history of the church. The church is constantly being reformed by the working of the Holy Spirit. And that work of reformation has conflict and change as its signature. 

I feel wistful about the things that are no longer as meaningful to a new generation. But I recognize the promise — and necessity — of the change and reforming of the church that is under way. My prayer for myself (and maybe you?) is that God will grant me eyes to see and welcome the birth pangs of the new church that is emerging in our midst.

+Nicholas

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...