As I mused a few weeks ago, not all of the church (or even the world) is mired in the kind of sickness I usually put up with in The Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion.
Since that inspiring Hospice gathering, I've met with a few Episcopal clergy of different perspectives, several of whom have really healthy, exciting parishes. There are capable leaders out there, they are just scattered and largely ignored by the "insiders" of the denomination.
But I do have some hope for the Bishop election here. Candidates will be announced next week and, if the profile produced by the people of the diocese is followed, we should be seeing nominees who share my passion for healthy, vital and growing congregations. The people of the diocese want some of this good stuff, and that is in and of itself welcome news.
Via small group Bible studies, my parishioners are finding deeper relationship with God and one another. Really exciting as we start to plan for the next round of groups.
Outside of the church, I was blessed to attend a "Day for Dads" workshop put on by some of the local agencies that help families with Special Needs kids. A refreshing, insightful day and some great guys from around the community filled the room (there was a wait list, even).
Throughout this week, the daily Bible readings have come from the middle chapters of Romans, emphasizing God's gracious love and help even in the midst of pain and struggle. Above all of the good stuff is the good God who gives it all.
In contrast to various expressions of health and goodness I encounter, most of my interactions with my denomination are pretty bad.
More and more, I am hearing Episcopal clergy say, "I really don't care - I just want to get to retirement."
More and more, there is the dysfunctional habit of saying "It is all your/so-and-so's/their fault. I have no part in any of the problems in the church."
More and more, there is no responsibility at the leadership level. Many leaders are quoting the national studies showing declining church participation, but not all are drawing useful conclusions. Some are saying the equivalent of, "Our decline is a simple social trend, so just accept it. But have the people keep those checks coming while we're in charge."
The sum of the "bad stuff" is that the church seems stuck in a "one generation" mentality with no vision or plan for a future. No investment in maintaining relationships, no concern for keeping people together, but a hyper-concern for holding assets to subsidize insiders without regard to quality of ministry. Big concern for pension and retirement, little concern for what happens to the church after this generation of leaders steps down.
The daily readings have included Jeremiah's warnings about false priests and prophets who scatter and destroy God's people.
My own behaviors get ugly when facing the bad stuff in the church. It is easy to become isolated and passive-aggressive when letters, phone calls and emails go unanswered or are misrepresented; when clergy colleagues plant hostile rumors in my congregation; and when the church uses God's people and resources irresponsibly and destructively. As a blogger, it is profoundly easy to vent here on the web and get into the same toxic and petty antics that I dislike in others.
In today's Gospel lesson from John 6, many disciples give up on Jesus and stop following him. Even the loyal twelve who stay close have a traitor in their midst. I have to look at my own potential for ugly stuff. Even those of us who are called to Jesus' ministry can betray him.