Reflecting on the House of Bishops from home

The Spring House of Bishops Meeting drew to a close with further conversation about young adults, this time focused on theological education. For the first time in anyone’s memory, the deans of all eleven Episcopal Seminaries joined the bishops for a conversation about seminary education. The good news is that nearly all of the seminaries have taken strong and positive steps to address issues of enrollment and finances. All are discovering new ways to deliver theological education and most are financially stable.  That said, the seminaries still face many challenges, most particularly the challenge of forming clergy and lay leaders for a church that is very different from the church of just a few years ago.

The last session of our meeting was a brief business meeting during which we heard commentary from the visiting Primates, elected members of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, and approved a letter in support of the Bishop of Jerusalem.

Since returning home, I’ve reflected a bit on the bishops’ time together. It seems to me that part of what it made it feel so jam-packed was that what we were discussing – ministry with young adults and conversations with Islam – is so very challenging. Our assumptions about the value of the church are not shared today by many in Western culture. Indeed, many young adults have no experience of or interest in the church at all. And in our increasingly pluralistic communities, Christianity no longer corners the market on meaning or morals. Other religions/philosophies have passionate adherents. Like the early church, we are in the position of having to show the world our good news, to take what we believe on the road, and to risk the encounters of the marketplace. And, frankly, we don’t know how. We have some ideas. There are successful programs in a number of places. But a lot of our congregations are stuck in a manner of life that no longer serves.

 

What does it really mean to meet young people where they are?

How do we show others that we are more interested in them than we are in ourselves?

Is our commitment to Christ greater than our concern for institutional survival?

What kind of ordained leadership is needed both to evangelize the unchurched and to train the churched to participate in God’s mission?

Whether it’s face-to-face or long distance, what kind of seminary education actually prepares church leaders for the realities we face?

Can we be faithful to our commitment to God in Christ and live in peace with committed adherents of other faith traditions?

These are the questions behind our struggles with finances, with liturgy, with governance. These are the challenges that will continue no matter what we decide about an Anglican Covenant. They are, I suspect, messages from God about the new thing God is doing. But only God knows where it’s all going.

We bishops learned a much that was helpful at our Spring Meeting. For all of us the task now is to bring it home for your consideration and to work with you to make a new church.

Bishop Steve