Deanery Disscussion – November 8

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Clericus Discussion on “Christianity After Religion” Passage – November 8 2012

Stimulus passage for discussion response:

Choosing faith is now a bit like ordering off the menu at a high-end coffee shop–there are a host of possibilities, some simple, some complex, some already assembled, some seasonal, some regular, and some that people invent for themselves. When faced with such a wide array of ways to connect with God, to love one’s neighbor, and to practice faith, we all now have to decide for ourselves. Choice in religion is just what is. There is no escaping it.

                                                             -Diana Butler-Bass: Christianity After Religion 

Focus for conversation:

Given this reality, as a ‘God option’, what do we offer and how do we proceed?

Summary of discussion points:

-Walter Wink points out that we belong to the first generation to choose its world view.

-We have to live with in the reality that we are outside of the past framework of Christendom.

-We can offer people, outside the cultural Christendom framework, places and opportunities for prayer and for discussion of ‘the big questions’. Elaborate or traditional church buildings are not necessary for this, and in some cases, not even desirable to meet this need. We require new frameworks outside current institutional structures through which we express ourselves

-People in the pews want to focus on the kind of ministry and issues that are reflected in the reality of Jesus. There is a growing alienation from church-as-institution – from serving on committees and keeping the wheels of the status quo structures turning. People want to focus on community involvement and where the church gathers for worship as part of its rhythm to ‘recharge the batteries’.

-With the “how”, we have an increasing need for paid people resources to carry out specific areas of ministry. Get rid of the ‘edifice complex’ in favour of providing places for diverse aspects of community to develop; provide meeting spaces; facilitate community-building conversation in the context of the perceived needs and interests of the communities we are in. Our physical facilities must be geared to practical community uses and not be monuments to one-hour-per-week worship gatherings. Facilities need to continue to provide space for worship gathering, prayer, contemplation and meditation. People seek the contemplative in all kinds of settings; church space must be one attractive option.

-We might develop a situation where a few churches are specified for services and spiritual exercises while others are designated ‘discipleship schools ‘ – storefronts, gatherings in pubs or restaurants, etc where people are sent out as ‘chaplains’ to enter into conversation with people; therefore, we have a ‘diaconal’ focus in a framework of larger spiritual centres and ‘discipleship and community service centres.  This means a major retooling of the organization toward a service model.

-We have to develop the perspective that we are in a ‘Good Friday moment’ where death and rebirth can take place – a paradigm shift is happening and we have to be part of it to remain a source of effective spiritual witness and engagement for people. As Anglicans, we have to talk more specifically about the multiple meanings we attach to the word ‘church’ and what the real essence of that word is for us.

-We could look at a model of ‘worker priests’ and a growing need for much of our ministry to be non-stipendiary. The Church of England is ahead of us with this kind of ministry model. Such a model assigns people to minister in specific vocational and social contexts. To work, such an approach must provide both appropriate training and an accountability mechanism to maintain focus and best practice.

-Seminaries at the moment generally do an adequate job of academic professional ministry education, but more intentional training for the realities and diversity of ministry is needed. The nature of seminary placement for ministry, including curacy, needs to change.

-We need ‘institutional will’ to change. Some initiative is being taken at the provincial synod level where there is a look at standards for non-stipendiary ministry and the transferability of such ministry. There needs to be continuing dialogue in both the Provincial House of Bishops and the National House of Bishops. One issue is that there must be mechanisms in place that prevent opportunities for non-stipendiary ordained personnel to take paying jobs for which they are not qualified. Non-stipendiary ministry must be seen as significantly different, and not a road to paid ministry positions ‘down the road’. 

-In terms of our new economic and social realities, we need seminaries and ministry training institutions to implement the kind of flexible scheduling and modular education that will accommodate young professionals. We need education opportunities that will not impoverish individuals and families as they prepare for ministry. Ministry cannot be coupled with taking on a sustained burden of debt.  Perhaps theological education in general needs to look more like the Native Ministry Consortium at VST. 

-In preparation for ministry, as Butler-Bass points out, it’s how you live your life that is important. One should belong to a community for at least five years and put down strong spiritual roots before being considered for ordained ministry positions.

-All of this reflects the main challenge: how can the local church be a place where true organic growth can happen in terms of facilitating ‘experiential encounters’ with the Divine for people?

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