Mission and the Mainlines

There’s been some interesting talk recently that I’ve only half been able to follow: Christopher had something on the Daily Office as the core of a new way of doing Church, and on what mission could look like in his area which was a riff on what LutherPunk was talking about here in a look at the practical issues of growing a community.

Add into the mix Andrew Gern’s piece yesterday at the Cafe on the Mainlines and the recent Pew Report

It’s clear we’ve got a problem. And by “we” I mean people in churches, people who call themselves Christians, people who care about encountering God and helping others find the same God.

I like the notion in Gerns’s piece that we have to have a sense of who we are and that we have to be open at the same time. I certainly have a vision for what that should look like—and I doubt it will be a surprise to anyone. I also get a liitle nervous when we start using marketing language because of its connotations of manipulation. Our marketing vision has to match with what others see when they encounter us; if the marketing vision doesn’t have integrity and authenticity, it will be obvious and all the work in the world won’t fix the credibility gap.

Who do I see the Episcopal Church being? I see us as a community that understands the search for God as pre-eminently rooted in the corporate liturgical cycles of Mass and Office and in the theologies of those texts.

Furthermore, I see us not just holding those boundaries but encouraging play within them. That is, we are a people who accept the scientific study of Scripture as well as the scientific study of the universe in all its splendor. We firmly believe that we need not be afraid of the answers and new questions we find, knowing that faith seeking understanding is a better path than either understanding seeking faith or faith hiding from understanding.

In many ways I think we fail on both counts. We don’t do full justice to our heritage of worshiping God in the beauty of holiness nor—as was taken up after the rant yesterday—are our clergy and people as rooted in the traditions, liturgies, and Scriptures of our church as I would wish them to be. These are the groundings that making the second part possible and fruitful. Faith must be our starting place—only then does the understanding have a framework within which to fit. Recognizing the proper place of understanding is one of our current problems–personified by Spong and his approach which is to say if there is any potential conflict between a scientific worldview and a traditional Christian worldview, the scientific wins. That’s not right either.

There’s a lot to be said for recognizing that all of our worldviews are just that—models that we use to function constructively on a day-by-day basis. What some seem to find so hard to understand is that a scientific worldview is not scientific fact, rather it is a construct based on a host of facts, theories, and assumptions that proceed from a scientific understanding of the universe. As such, I suggest we wear our models lightly and recognize that we live in the midst of several, and not require that we force resolution between them.

(I might add that when we talk about worldviews, Scripture itself contains not one but several, some that are compatible with one another and some that conflict more or less violently. Ditto for Christianity throughout the centuries…)

So that’s my vision for us. We need to be the church that worships God in the beauty of holiness and that encourages dialogue between the worlds of faith, science, and technology. To get there we need to work on our beauty, and our holiness, and our groundedness.

5 thoughts on “Mission and the Mainlines

  1. lutherpunk

    Interestingly enough, when we decided to send out mass marketing postcards, we highlighted our sense of being a place where both questions are welcomed and tradition is honored at the same time. I think that mainline churches need to really look at the gifts they have to offer and highlight them, both internally to those present and to those who may be on a journey outside the church. Being a grace-centered community with deep respect for the traditions of the church is something that many mainline churches hold in common but fail to highlight.

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    Absolutely true. And you’ve hit on a good ractical point there: the marketing materials you send out should ring true for both visitors and long-timers. We *do* have a lot of good stuff going on, we just don’t talk about it very well.

  3. John-Julian, OJN


    I think someone else thought of that idea first! How does it go? “Strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

    Our approach to and theology of liturgy is really the single unique thing that belongs to Anglicanism — everything else has been, is being, or can be done by anyone else. And, those who are not attracted to our liturgy, won’t find anything else here of much value.

    For an Anglican, all life begins in the pew and at the altar — and whatever else there may be springs from that.

  4. Christopher


    I think a third piece is being honest about ourselves, that we’re not perfect, that we do get into conflicts, that we can be unkind to and hurt one another…I think part of public perception of us is that we advertise one thing–holiness, grace, forgiveness, and yet we behave badly, and none of us are excluded from my assessment including myself. The best way to address this is not with words, but in neighbor care.

    I would pick up on your note about our liturgies that we have theologies (plural) in them. You point about underdetermined is invaluable every bit as much as is your point, which Watson does a good job of showing as well, that conflict and differences in theology are biblical–and also liturgical!

    The mission statement of C’s congegation is “rooted in tradition and open to new expressions.” I think it sums them up pretty well.

  5. Derek the Ænglican

    Heh. That’s a great point too, Christopher. I was reading a review of *Unchristian*, a book written by the Barna research group that reminds us that most of the folks our age out there see the church as a bastion of bigotry and hypocrisy.

    Maybe we need to name & claim that too…

    Amen, Fr. John-Julian…

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