SEIZE THE EPISCOPAL MOMENT: An Emergent Manifesto of Hope for the Episcopal Church

I have written this little paper along with Rev. Don Schell (one of the founders of St. Gregory's of Nyssa Episcopal Church). We offer it as our small contribution to moving the conversation of emerging mission forward in the Episcopal Church. It is written for diocesan Bishops and Commissions on Ministry, as food for thought and action that might help us seize the 'Episcopal Moment' and better participate in God's future and mission with hope.

Download SEIZING THE EPISCOPAL MOMENT and use in any way helpful for you.


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Comment by Denise Yarbrough on June 16, 2009 at 12:33pm
Karen -

I have just read your paper and will take more time to fully digest it and respond. I find much of what you suggest exciting and actually tracking some of what we are doing here in Rochester in a seminary program we have created with the local ecumenical seminary that is now offering an Anglican Studies Certificate and moving more into distance learning as a way to accomplish seminary education for "non traditional" students. I would note that even some of the older seminarians cannot and do not do the traditional, three years full time seminary training anymore given the changes in our culture. I'm wondering - to what extent is there room in the emerging church movement for folks over 40 who happen to find it exciting and innovative and creative to be part of what goes on? As an old woman of 53 I am very intrigued and energized by what I see in the emergent movement but don't feel particularly welcomed when I read material that seems to want to restrict this way of doing and being church to the under 40 crowd. Again, I am going to use your paper and your suggestions in much of the work I do here both at the diocesan level and at the seminary and will probably want to engage you more in conversation as time goes by.

Thanks for your hard work on this.

Denise Yarbrough
Comment by Otis on May 12, 2009 at 4:14pm
Hey Karen,

This was brilliant! I feel like it is more evidence that we can do this. Very very insightful AND practical

Comment by Drew Downs on May 6, 2009 at 10:28am
I look forward to it!
Comment by Karen Ward on May 6, 2009 at 9:26am
One more revision of the paper is happening now to add in a few more insights such as the ones above. It will be republished after a pro copy edit from someone from Baker Books within a week or so.

Comment by Donald Schell on May 6, 2009 at 8:21am
Paul, I hope you know how much I appreciate your helping St. Gregory's remember its primary grace is as an ordinary congregation, an ordinary Christian community. From present perpsective it may not be evident how consistently we worked toward that 'no big deal' simplicity of vocation through the congregation's founding years. We've talked how we worked to shape St. Gregory's language talking about the congregation, our relationship to the bishop, to the diocese, and the wider church, and you do know the steady push we made to keep us, clergy and laity directly involved with diocesan programs, projects, and governance. I also know there were times when we, consciously or unconsciously, fell to glorying in difference, uniqueness, or purported specialness. That's a dilemma of trying to hold true to offering vision and purposefulness; we certainly tried to correct ourselves when we heard St. Gregory's setting ourselves apart or above other congregations.

There was something else happening and I think it matters, not just to this story but to our church's practice of new mission and innovation. St. Gregory's full story includes real instances of our diocese and church manifesting the immune system response that healthy institutions naturally go to facing the new and unfamiliar.

I've just come across Clayton Christensen's organizational research and theories on sustaining and disruptive innovation. Healthy organizations foster steady sustaining organization. And the most vital organizations know that certain kinds of innovation and outreach needs protection (or at least separate nurture) to thrive. Christensen tells the story of the collapse of Digital Equipment Corp, the world's premier maker of minicomputers. They were known throughout the industry for powerful, continuous innovation of massively powerful small computers. They and their market agreed that the kind of computing NASA, General Motors, and the U.S. government needed to do was well worth the $250,000 price tag on the computers and the extensive training it took an engineer specialist to operate one. DEC completely missed what was happening when Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs began building a $500 small computer in a garage. A dozen years later DEC was dead. The laptop computer, like church mission to people who haven't been part of church, launched a new conversation, created a new market, triggered an avalanche of collaborative innovation and the laptop toy offered massive computing power to a public that DEC never imagined would ever want or need a computer.

Christensen contrasts Toyota's development of the Prius. Work within existing structures? Toyota knew that they needed their very best and most imaginative engineers to work on the Prius project and that those engineers - the internal combustion guys, the battery guys, the brake guys, all had a clear, massively supported mandate and culture to support sustaining innovation where they were working. So Toyota uprooted them and set the Prius development project completely outside the usual lines of authority and in a special (flexible) accountable relationship to the company's hierarchy. They did that for two generations of Prius development because what Christensen calls 'disruptive innovation,' venturing into new territory, new relationships to the wider world, new mission needs a significantly different kind of space and less structure than good sustained innovation. The Prius project is now being folded back into regular Toyota structures. That piece of disruptive innovation was massively successful, and for sustained development, the larger organization can now embrace and support the new thinking because its new sense (and how it relates to older technologies) is evident.

Christensen's analysis helps us see why the COM structure, just a generation old and invented by radicals to democratize the vocations process got co-opted to sustaining innovation before it had done its disruptive work. Some of our bishops are noticing that the structure is only advisory to the bishop and are asking whether they can do a Prius project alongside of it for mission. To me that makes very good sense.

I look forward to continuing this conversation. What you see of the present is essential to telling the whole truth. I hope I can make some wise offering from remembering what went before.

Comment by Karen Ward on May 5, 2009 at 5:27pm
That was a typo. It is NPR. I will correct it. thanks and distribute away!
Comment by Karen Ward on May 4, 2009 at 6:21pm
Paul thanks for you comments. I am with you on wanting to help reform the seminaries. How to begin with this? So far, the only seminary that has ever asked me as a local pastor to help revision courses for the future church has been Mars Hill Grad School, non denon and progressive Evangelical. The day Episcopal Seminaries ask for help from pastors to do the same, sign me up!

Also if the regular ordination track would breathe, and flex, there would be no need for any alternate.
No one wants to be alone and isolated. Being cool, is of no interest to me, but being included is as most emerging leaders just want to participate as equals and grow weary of knocking at the establishments door. My point being sometime you have to create separate places and spaces for those not let in, until the wider door eventually opens.

I'm doing what I can to work with CDSP and SSW on internships and an Anglican House of Studies for Seattle.
As of the COMs, well, the only people who can appoint visionary people to them are visionary bishops. I am not on any COM and I'd be very surprised If I would ever be appointed no matter my pioneer visioning for six years and going on seven in my diocese. So what I can do (as I did when I started the now defunct website 8 years ago) is to 'vote with my mouse' and cast dreams online for anyone who is interested to listen, as this is the only vote I have currently, still not being a legit Episcopalian, which I've struggled to give up trying to figure out... So I am doing what I can from where I sit as an Outlier' who has been camped out on the porch for some years now. At least people are talking... so there is some are interest in all of this.
Comment by Paul Fromberg on May 4, 2009 at 3:59pm
As the rector of St. Gregory of Nyssa, and an interested member of Anglimergent, I want to share a few thoughts about this document. I think that it is generally a good and bold proposal. But I’m concerned that it is trying a work around that contains some pitfalls. I’m also concerned that the brass ring of ordination seems to be assumed as the only way of taking up significant work in the church. So, my summary response is: instead of setting up an alternate system, change the one that is in place already and empower your people to do good work that makes more of them regardless of ordination. Here are some more pointed thoughts related to specifics in the document:

Patience and perseverance are taken as good enough substitutes for passion and inspiration. Result? Passionless, uninspiring postulants.

Why can’t patience, perseverance, passion and inspiration be linked? Why does one pair necessitate the elimination of the other? My reading of many COMs is that they aren’t trying to produce passionless clergy, or replicate the some of the worst parts of the Episcopal Church, but are trying to form a culture of relationships that are best defined as interdependent. Passion and inspiration are beneficial only in as far as they are worked into the living relationship that is the church. Apart from the interdividuality of the church, passion and inspiration by themselves look a lot like narcissism.

Although the anecdotal evidence presented by Donald points to a history of St. Gregory’s being misunderstood by the Diocese of California the truth is that any misapprehensions evaporated the more the community of St. Gregory’s began to define itself as a regular part of the diocese.

For a long time we at St. Gregory’s lived into our outsider status; there is a romance to such self-perception. What changed our standing in the diocese was an honest, political process of speaking to the diocese as if we were, with our many eccentricities, just another Episcopal Church (which is, happily, the absolute truth). Nobody likes the group that’s too cool for its own good; in many ways it was a process of patient perseverance that moved us from outliers to mainstream in the Diocese of California – and we never lost our passion for doing good work or ceased lending inspiration to other congregations. We just learned the value of claiming our place in the diocese.

Training from, with, and in the local community, followed by ordination to serve for some time in the local community, finally raises the skills and consciousness of the ordained person to a point of readiness to serve in other (standard or nonstandard) communities.

In my experience the value of placing seminarians into internships both during and after seminary is to learn something they hadn’t encountered before. This is the power of working in a new community. Obviously working in the church is the only way of really knowing how to work in the church. One’s sponsoring parish is certainly one of the places where this sort of knowledge and experience is gained, but it is by no means the only one.

I would argue that sometimes remaining in the congregation from which one is sponsored can also create very successful mimics of that culture without the critical detachment that often comes from leaving home. While I am always interested in welcoming seminary interns to St. Gregory’s, and have very good experience with so doing, I would hope that the next postulant from St. Gregory’s would get as much other experience of the church as possible. If we haven’t thoroughly formed a postulant from St. Gregory’s in the particular charism that God has given us, we have not done our job as well as we should.

The challenge is this: As presently constituted, most of our diocesan Commissions on Ministry and seminaries continue to operate much like the Big Three auto makers. They are well designed to serve the needs of the established Episcopal church (which is in steep decline).

So, change them! Appointing visionary people to the COM can change the culture of a system. I agree that systems have a tendency to replicate themselves over and over again. What is wanted is throwing a monkey wrench into the machinery of the COM by getting bishops to make appointments of people who are smart, young and visionary.

A cohort of pioneering Bishops could covenant together to authorize a “pioneer ordination track” in their respective dioceses, that operates as a parallel track to existing Commissions on Ministry.

Why would anyone want to replicate bureaucracy? What is to prevent a new bureaucratic process from devolving into the same monocular culture that currently exists in some COMs? What is wanted (IMHO) is not less cultural diversity in the process of recruiting postulants, but much more. Alternate tracks seem mostly to be about identity politics, usually leading to formulas and a “new” kind of old thinking. If bishops are invested in the growth of the church (both in terms of mission and numbers) they should appoint people to the COM who have some passion and vision for growth. Creating new authority structures never seems like a great idea to me.

I would argue that a far more critical piece of work is reforming the seminaries of the Episcopal Church to prepare people for ministry (lay and ordained) that is congruent with the student's own gifts and calling – not trying to do a one size fits all education. I imagine that this process of change could begin sooner, rather than later given the current crisis in the seminaries.
Comment by Joshua Case on April 30, 2009 at 9:25am
I love it!

Thanks so much Karen and Don for the work you put into this!

Comment by Richard R. on April 28, 2009 at 11:34am
Karen: What an incredible document! Thank you for sharing it with us. I'm already sent it to different folks associated with new and emerging ministries here in Baltimore.

Since I work full time in distance education (and thanks to some courses I took a couple of years ago, have accrued long lists of global distance education institutions), one idea a (very) small number of us had been discussing is the idea of a Regional/Ecumenical study center associated with one or more distance programs in theology. While most of the US/Canadian programs (excepting Earlham School of Religion) don't offer significant distance education opportunities, there are several theology programs associated with major mainline Christian denominations. For instance, in the Anglican Church of Australia, Trinity College at Melbourne College of Divinity has an entirely online MA and MDiv program. Among British Methodists, the Wesley Centre at Oxford Brookes University has entirely online theology and ministry degrees. And among Roman Catholics, Heythrop College at The University of London and the Roman Catholic college at Sydney College of Divinity have an external or distance education degrees.

While DE can be isolating, the idea of the regional center is that it brings students together to let them work with each other on formation in study as well as in prayer, worship, and ministry. I believe that the Benedictines at Ealing Abbey run a center like this that provides tutoring and spiritual formation for students in British and Australian distance programs in theology.



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