Structure, Function, Goals and Objectives

Brian rightly notes in the comments on my previous post that I may indeed have some “structure, function, goals and objectives” in mind for how I’d like to see work on spirituality proceed within our church. Here are some thoughts on these…

As the church moves towards some form of restructuring, there’s been a lot more talk about “networks” that will be relied upon to do some of the heavy lifting. I don’t know a whole lot about the state and extent of these networks but am looking into them. I’m envisioning a “network” that focuses on researching and presenting our core spiritualities to the wider church. A network implies a number of people doing work on the local level contributing to a wider goal that can be used, shared, and felt on a regional or national level. Furthermore, it implies a nexus of some form that serves to collate member activities, identify best practices, and share information about resources—books, curricula, speakers, etc.—that work or don’t work.

As a for-instance, one of the objectives that I envision would be a promotion of the work of Martin Thornton, English priest and ascetical theologian. I had him in mind when I was writing the previous post and fully intended to make reference to his work English Spirituality but neglected to do so. Both this work and his more foundational Christian Proficiency are key resources for the spirituality we’re discussing here. In fact, if you read this blog regularly but don’t have a dog-eared and well-underlined copy of both, I’d heartily recommend that you remedy that situation immediately; thanks to the good offices of one of our comrades both are now available from Wipf & Stock: Christian Proficiency and English Spirituality. (And many thanks to Paul for reminding me of my neglect to mention Fr. Thornton here!) Reviews and summaries of these books and perhaps articles and curricula on using these books with a congregation would be precisely the kind of thing I’m thinking of.

In our digital world, the obvious answer seems to be a web site that would have several sections including but not limited to book reviews, downloadable curricula, and perhaps a forum where people could ask questions and look for answers. There is so much good stuff now out of copyright and in the public domain that ebooks on the topic could be made available for a nominal fee (because clean-up and mark-up do take time and effort).

The major issue here is funding or the incredible lack thereof. Web sites imply administrators, fora imply moderators. Either you use paid staff or you rely on the generosity of volunteers who need to have both a passion for the topic and expertise in it.  (And passion and expertise don’t always travel together…) As far as I can see, paid staff are completely out of the picture which means cultivating a volunteer corps up to the challenge—which is a challenge in and of itself!

I have been involved in discussions about a lay association parallel to the (Anglican) Society of Catholic Priests. My initial sense was that this lay movement would want to focus on these kinds of spiritual practices. There’s no doubt in my mind that there would be a close connection in purpose and intent between a lay SCP and a core spirituality network, I just don’t know if it would be advisable for them to share the same structure. However, a lay SCP organization (as well as the SCP itself) would mostly likely be a good source of volunteers.

So—that’s what I’m thinking about. A set of local people and groups who are actively researching and teaching this stuff to their congregations and communities who would then be linked and reinforced by decent electronic tools.

[Updated: Let me add to that I see a certain possible breadth here; I don’t necessarily see this as a strictly “Episcopal” endeavor. I think there would be space here for a variety of folks who believe strongly in living into the liturgy: Roman Catholics, Lutherans, US and non-US Anglicans, etc. Certainly my stuff would be Anglicanearly EnglishBCP-focused but not everything would have to be. (A system of labels/tags might be useful for any items that might stray into “Dead Horse” territory but we’d cross that bridge if it even came up.)]

9 thoughts on “Structure, Function, Goals and Objectives

  1. mcdoc

    Well, well.

    Thank you Derek for articulating a clear and detailed vision. I must admit that I have eyed with a certain amount pining for (and dare I say? envy of) the SCP. A Society of Catholic Peeps :) would seem an apt nucleus for such an endeavor.

    For my career, I am moving to a diocese that is mainly broad- to low-church, and wounded by schism (the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, where it appears the Anglo-Catholic parish has gone the way of ACNA – on a related note, I have not ever understood the apparent antipodian natures of progressive theology and catholic practice here in the U.S.) So, having an online community would be welcome and helpful.

    Not sure how an otherwise busy, faithful, but not always believing, self-educated, yet meddling amateur might be helpful.

    I will stay tuned.

    Thank you

  2. Joe Rawls

    You can certainly sign me up for a lay version of SCP. I’m also glad to see that English Spirituality is back in print; it’s a real treasure.

  3. Mike

    Well, I think the “restructuring” has to get back to some basic principles that Fr. Thornton would have understood. Episcopalians seem to have fallen into a very Roman way of running the Church, with 815 and General Convention acting as the curia. The emphasis has come to be on the Church as institution, and not the Church as a Eucharistic assembly, gathered in a particular place around the bishop and presbyters: that’s what a particular church is (as opposed to the Church universal). It’s telling that the Presiding Bishop has no see, (not even the fiction of a titular one as the Romans have), and (as is practically true in the Roman Church) that most bishops now do not have one either. At least the Pope has his own basilica (St. Peter’s) and a Cathedral (St. John Lateran) ; the PB has not even that wherein to celebrate, just an office in New York like the head of a greedy for-profit corporation.

    My only concern about forming networks is that they can merely perpetuate this institutional aspect, becoming institutions or substitutes for the Church as Church. The basic thing is really very simple and has not changed: eucharist on Sundays and feasts, dalily office, and private prayer, reverently and intentionally done as WORSHIP. That’s what the BCP provides for. That’s what we ought to focus on. And if we focus on that we will find that the witness of the Church in the world follows and that the two work together (as William Temple would have noted). Instead we seem unable to settle down and have the stability and patience to simply do what the church does. We would prefer to run about and be busy with the newest thing,and in the end we do nothing worth doing. If you have a network, THAT needs to be its message, and it can only be witnessed to by doing, by being the Church in a particular place, and providing an example for others.

  4. Jonathan

    It’s easy to say but hard to do. It’s even hard sometimes to know what balance to strike at the family and individual levels in terms of private prayer, good works, and the pleasures and challenges of ordinary life. For all that advice and support are helpful, and those who offer that advice and support themselves need advice and support.

  5. Jeff Queen


    I’m so glad to hear that others are using the treasure found in Martin Thornton’s work. I have been using “English Spirituality” as the foundation for a regular class I teach in the parish…”The real roots of the Anglican Tradition.” You are in my prayers for all the good work you do for the Church.

    Jeff Queen, SCP

  6. Mike

    I would actually agree. And I think Dr. Olsen’s idea for a network is actually good. I could have expressed my concerns better. Organizations once founded tend to get their own institutional momentum, and often themselves become part of the problem. I could cite at least one example in the history of the Episcopal Church of an organization that started out with similar ideas, but then became very institutional and partisan — I am not saying which, as I do not want to inadvertently offend anyone who might belong to it, but some of you who have been around for a while could probably make a good guess..

  7. Derek Olsen

    Mike, I wouldn’t give up on them just yet; there may be a new branch growing from that stump. The new leadership there is moving in some interesting directions and I’m involved in some collaborations with them that could bear some worthy fruit. More as things develop…

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