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Are we done or are we just getting restarted?

Keith’s top 10 or so things that we might think about in advance of the Episcopal election

By Rev. Canon Keith Nethery

For some reason, I’ve had to argue with myself for the better part of a week about writing this column or not.

After nearly 25 years in ordained ministry, I think I have the background and experience that makes expressing my thoughts appropriate, for the sole reason of promoting dialogue.

You see, this will almost certainly be the final time I participate in an Electoral Synod. For the sixth time, I will gather with others to listen for the Spirit’s direction in selecting a new Pastor (remember this choice of title, it will come up again.) It is a privilege that I take seriously and prayerfully.

So why the argument with myself?

Well, my first thought was to write a column about what I see as the issues before this Diocese (and in a wider sense the Anglican Church of Canada), not as a means to direct support to any candidate, but rather simply to provide my own personal window into what we all might think about as we approach October 26.

So what’s the argument? Well, why should I get to share my ideas? Perhaps even more central to my inner struggle: will anyone really care?

To be honest, these are ideas that I have pondered for quite some time, even though many have been rejected when raised before. This might well make this column equivalent to leading with one’s chin. But if I don’t share them out loud now, there might not be another chance.

We elect a bishop and tell them to do the bishop thing as it has always been done. Maybe it might be a good idea for us to have a conversation about the bishop’s expectations and our expectations and if they even reside in the same galaxy?

So here goes: Keith’s top 10 or so things that we might think about in advance of the Episcopal election.

1) We are shrinking (some might say this is an under-statement). If what we have done isn’t working, why aren’t we thinking outside the box? Our structure hasn’t been significantly overhauled in how long? (We might still have had stables on our properties when this last got a serious once over.)

2) Given rapidly growing technology, communication, transportation, and a few more -ology’s and -ations; isn’t it time that we considered joining with Niagara or Toronto or both?

3) Nearly 30 years ago, in the Diocese of Calgary, as a lay person, I participated in a discussion on the potential of changing the way we deploy clergy. It went nowhere and there hasn’t seemed to be a much warmer response in several revisits of the idea, until a London chat two years ago. Is it not time that we look at sharing our gifts, rather than the one priest – one church model that has dominated for decades? Deploying clergy at the deanery or archdeaconry levels would allow the ultimate flexibility required to meet new, changing and exciting trends. This would somewhat match the evolution we have seen in a wide variety of institutions as we make the best use of emerging technology and communication to provide the best overall service at a time when financial resources are strained.

4) Is it not time that we realize that we are building rich and people poor; the exact opposite to what we need to be in today’s world? While I share in the love of historic buildings and wanting the comfort of familiar spaces, I am very much aware that this will be our ending. If we don’t immediately make it a clear and stated priority that our decisions will be made as to “the needs of those who have not yet joined”, then we are a generation away from extinction. In other words, what we want must be less important and what society needs must be more important.

5) In light of number four, can we also state that Jesus is what it’s all about? That’s the radical Jesus, the compassionate Jesus, the inclusive Jesus, the loving Jesus, the just Jesus, the Jesus we have known and the new Jesus that we embrace as the Spirit reveals.

6) I realize that the Anglican Church is known as a traditional church and in some ways that is a good thing. However, in other ways, the things we do are rapidly increasing the sense of irrelevance society and culture feels about us. I mean, we still call a worship book from 1985 our “new” book. Technology is upon us, around us and screaming at us. Its okay to try new things musically, liturgically, structurally; even if (and maybe more appropriately because) this makes us uncomfortable.

7) Our image needs a reboot. Maybe we don’t want to go as far as preachers in jeans and t-shirts or bishops in an Alb and stole, or maybe we do. Rather than continually saying the way we do it is the way we do it, maybe we should ask people outside our walls what they know about us, and if what they know is comfortable or off-putting? I have tried to explain our titles to people and their eyes glaze over and their minds disengage and they simply say, “Why?”

8) Is our Bishop our Pastor, our Administrator, our Authority, some combination? It seems to me we haven’t necessarily given this a whole lot of thought. We elect a bishop and tell them to do the bishop thing as it has always been done. Maybe it might be a good idea for us to have a conversation about the bishop’s expectations and our expectations and if they even reside in the same galaxy? Personally, I would like to see bishops absolved of all administration functions and encouraged to be pastors and visionaries.

9) New models of ministry are a good thing, no they are a great thing! They make us take number four, seriously. Can we find a process that focuses on evaluation and change rather than insists on stability and sameness? Heads up, this will only happen if we are all intentional about making this happen.

10) I said 10 or so, so here is a bit of a hodge-podge of things to think about. Why is confirmation still an episcopal office? Since baptism is now seen as full admission to the church, we’re watching confirmation flounder for a variety of reasons. Because we’ve always done it this way isn’t a good enough reason to continue. If I suggested that every Anglican in Huron visit a different Anglican church at least once (can I push it and say twice) a year, how many would do it? If we aren’t comfortable going to a “new” church, how can we expect people who have never walked in the door of a church to make the first step? Maybe if we challenged ourselves with new experiences, we would learn much about welcoming new people in our midst. Why do we insist on keeping churches open long past the time there is any hope of revitalizing them? Is failure the way we want to be remembered? If our new bishop said, “I want everyone to try this one new thing”, how many of us would do it? It is long past time for us to end the use of the parliamentary system as the means of doing Diocesan business.

So there is my hardly exhaustive list of things we might contemplate while we contemplate who our next bishop might be. Some of the things I suggest are very serious and some more than just a little tongue in cheek. But with every word I have written I am hoping that as a family we will take this as a watershed moment in our history as the Diocese of Huron, an opportunity to ask serious questions, to be willing to hear new answers, to ask God to challenge us, and promise that we will respond, not with the same old same old, but with an exuberance and excitement that will be contagious.

People have been predicting the end of the Anglican Church of Canada, and all its subsets for most, if not all of the quarter century that I have served as a member of the clergy. I personally think that if we don’t soon take some risks, make some vibrant changes, they will be right in their prognostication. So, what say you – are we done or are we just getting restarted?

Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is the rector at St. James’ Westminster, London.
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