Episcopal Church Executive Council: opening remarks from the Presiding Bishop
The following are the opening remarks of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, currently meeting through October 27 the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, MD.
Executive Council opening remarks
24 October 2014
Maritime Center, Linthicum Heights, MD
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
It is very good to see you all again. It’s been a long time since June. I give thanks for the labors of this Council, and for its growth in capacity in this triennium. We are engaging the mission and ministry of this Church in larger and more strategic ways than we have in recent years. I continue to believe that the primary mission of this body is those larger and strategic questions, and I firmly hope the Convention will help us to clarify that role.
The Episcopal Church has crossed a threshold into new ways of being in the 21st century and in our varied contexts. I see signs of growth and missional investment and solidarity at every turn. I’ll give you some examples. In Western Kansas, two women in ranch families – an Episcopalian and a Wesleyan – have started a camp for inner city kids, growing out of their discernment of the needs of kids who’ve never seen a cow, who don’t have terribly stable family lives, have never had chores to do, and need to know what it is to be loved unconditionally in a Christian setting. It’s called Camp Runamuck, and the motto is ‘don’t run amok, run to Him.’
Small congregations are thriving in a number of contexts – a church plant in northern Taiwan to serve children being raised without adequate family support, and in the process is gathering a congregation; a house church in Western Kansas, that’s growing into its 23rd year; emerging faith communities in Italy rooted in the native language worshipping according to the Book of Common Prayer; as well as more ancient ones in rural Mississippi and Illinois, celebrating 150 or 175 years and deeply involved in mission in their local communities.
As old models become unsustainable in some contexts, dioceses are finding new ways to form leaders – like the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry in Topeka that serves students from four neighboring dioceses. Theological education is much in the news, with active conflict in several places, a result of deep anxiety over looming changes. We have excellent resources for theological education, yet they need to be redistributed to form and train leaders more effectively for new and changing contexts. In some ways, that current reality reflects the increasing economic inequality in the developed world, particularly in the United States. The wealthy have little difficulty in accessing those resources; the poor struggle, yet often the poor discover and create new possibilities out of necessity.
The average Episcopal congregation, with 60 to 70 members attending weekly worship, cannot afford the traditional model of full-stipend paid leadership, a building, and a sufficient program to support its members in their daily baptismal ministry. Nor can seminary graduates with educational debt afford to work in most of them.
Students today can be trained for ordination to the priesthood anywhere, if they can foot the bill. If not, they have much more limited resources in residential seminaries – a couple of them can provide sufficient aid to graduate students with little or no additional debt. Increasing numbers of ordination candidates and lay leaders are being educated in programs like Bishop Kemper School, which require minimal displacement from job and family and produce graduates with little or no additional debt. In order to provide effective formation, those more local institutions and programs work closer to home to gather a community for formation. As has always been the case, the struggling and the poorer communities have tended to be more creative in responding to these changing realities. Most of the residential seminaries we have were started in response to similar challenges – the need for education and the inability to provide it in existing frameworks and paradigms.
The Church of England has made a conscious and canonical shift in its expectation. Those who train for non-stipendiary ministry (NSM) do it in two years; those who expect a “career” take a more traditional three years. One of our seminaries has begun to explore a two-year academic track with an additional practical year. The Lutherans have had a model like that for some time – but it’s four years total, three of the four for academics and the third year as a practicum.
We need responses to changing realities that consider the varied needs of the whole body. We have the canonical flexibility already to permit different paths of formation. What we don’t have is a willingness to make resources available to the whole body. We still live in a system that is far more isolated and independent than interdependent. Each diocese makes individual decisions about how to train students. Each seminary does the same. Each diocese and seminary or training program raises and stewards its own financial and human resources with little churchwide conversation or cooperation.
One of the strategic and big picture conversations this Council deals with is the churchwide budget. This body has engaged the process with greater vigor and more detail than ever before. We are making conscious and intentional progress in this budget toward financial autonomy for every diocese (or jurisdiction) in this Church. We’ve engaged a self-sufficiency plan for Province IX, which depends on three legs: the support of the wider church (and not only financial support); the partnership among the dioceses of Province IX and their willingness to pool a portion of their financial resources; and the willingness of leaders in each diocese to risk new ways in the hope of developing greater capacity. We’re doing similar work in Navajoland and in Haiti. The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe has begun this work.
We did not do this kind of work thoroughly enough when we encouraged Mexico, Central America, Brazil, Liberia, and the Philippines to become autonomous. We did not do enough of this work when we encouraged the old missionary districts in the U.S. part of our context to become dioceses. We must repent of our sins of omission and commission, and amend our common life. We are bound to one another, not only in affection, but as the body of Christ, committed to love God and God’s world with all we have and all we are.
We’re not called to build a church that leaves poor and struggling relatives either shamed or incapacitated by their poverty. We are called to build societies of abundance where resources are directed where needed, and no one lives in want. The missionary societies of our forebears in the faith “held all things in common.” We should be challenging all Episcopalians to see the abundance we enjoy as gift to be shared. When those gifts ARE shared, we know that it brings joy and flourishing to all members of the body. It looks like abundant life.
The challenge is the same, whether we’re talking about the asking from dioceses or what seminaries have to offer. The missional question begins in “what does the body require of us, where is it hungry, suffering, where is it joyous?” All are meant to be shared, not held in reserve for favored parts of the body or hidden away in shame or fear. Any favor enjoyed is a blessing that grows apace by sharing. Hiding either our pain or what we fear losing never leads to healing.
The great leaders of every age have challenged people to live for others. John F. Kennedy put it this way, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Martin Luther King, Jr. in the same era, dreamed: “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. … Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” He went on to speak of the white people of this nation, saying, “they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”
We have a dream as well, of a church walking together, doing and living justice, a church equipped and equipping all its members to do justice. We have a duty to all the members of this body, and to those beyond it who need justice. We are asked for the highest and best gift we can offer, in loving our neighbors as ourselves. We’re not going to settle for anything less, whether it’s the work we do here or what we ask of the people of this church. We cannot walk alone, and we cannot encourage others to walk alone. Together, the stony road our ancestors trod flattens out before us – or rises to meet us – and that road leads to justice, love incarnate for the world.
 Church of the Upper Room, Lakin, KS
 Acts 2:44