Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My hope for the Diocese of Northern Michigan

Assuming that Kevin Genpo Thew Forrester's cruciphobic sermons and writings keep him from becoming Bishop of Northern Michigan, I would hope that there be no rush to select a Bishop there. Certainly, retired or neighboring Bishops could provide some of the care that is needed in the interim.

What seems to me more important is that Northern Michigan could become a model for wise support from the wider church. Frankly, TEC did NoMich no favors by bringing in "reflectors" for a group process better suited to an intact organization's routine maintenance; NoMich is, like many other dioceses, dealing with significant decline and needs some guidance to reverse it.

When a region of the church suffers a natural disaster, we see funds, leaders and work teams deployed to help the place get back on its feet. Why not the same kind of approach to struggling dioceses?

When it comes to the missionary effort of a diocese, there are people in TEC who have the skills and experience to help with vision casting, congregational development and evangelism. They don't grow on trees, but there could be great value if the national church gathered and supported them in teams temporarily deployed to dioceses like Northern Michigan, to help the people rediscover abundance in the Lord's work.

There are several possible barriers to such a model:
  1. Current "gatekeepers" could resist the outside influence.
  2. The Presiding Bishop and many of those who exercise authority in TEC (including most Bishops) have little to no real experience in the kind of work needed in a situation like NoMich (notice I did not say "in a setting like NoMich - just being in a small or declining diocese doesn't mean that one knows how to develop and grow its mission.)
  3. The ideological infighting in the denomination, well documented in reports to this year's General Convention, make the Liberal Protestant leadership faction nervous about bringing in anybody who might be "Evangelical."

But there are people in TEC from different positions on "issues" who could contribute to such work. Certainly, Neal Michell of Dallas has traditional theological views, but his proven work in vision casting, congregational development and church planting from a diocesan position is an incredible resource if the national church's factional bigotry can be put on hold.

Then there is a more "progressive" (OK, let's be real: LGBT-endorsing) parish, All Saints' in Beverly Hills, CA. The parish has had amazing growth among young professionals; it teaches relational, person to person evangelism (with the exception of LGBT issues, their theology is actually quite traditional); it thrives on small group development; it nurtures growth via newcomer and discipleship classes; it engages the public with worship of traditional beauty and depth without ignoring contemporary media and resources. The parish even launched a special ministry to share its methods with other interested congregations. They have proven experience as a once stagnant congregation that came alive and grew.

These are just two examples from around TEC. There are other pockets of health and vitality but, as John Maxwell says, "Everything rises and falls on leadership." For an array of reasons, the types of leaders who can nurture missionary growth are locked out of national TEC leadership.

Might Northern Michigan be a place where some of the denomination's dysfunction can be set aside, and its missionary leaders can share their gifts for the common good?

"Yes" would be my "blue sky" hope, and Northern Michigan an even bluer sky hope for the first application of the model.


tjmcmahon said...

Fr. Tim, would it were so simple.
The office of bishop here is now a team, headed by KGTF. Which of them is actually consecrated is not relevant, really, the same brain will run it regardless. The team is self discerning and self perpetuating- that is, there will never be an election, like there would be for a standing committee. In many of the parishes, the diocese has ordained a large percentage of the ASA- 20% in the local parish here. So, to do what you are suggesting means dismantling the entire diocesan structure around the bishop, and over the violent objection of virtually all the clergy who owe their orders to the current and past "missioners."
ALL of the missioners, ALL of the standing committee and all of the "core team" and soon, if not already, ALL of the "Episcopal Ministry Support Team" are signatories of the "Dar response"- those famous "affirmations."
I cannot see the PB coming in to do the work that needs to be done here. And the ground has already been laid to resist by whatever means necessary, "foreign intervention" from places like South Dakota or Fon du Lac. Foreign aid from 815, on the other hand, is expected to be flowing soon. Although perhaps the diocesan powers that be ought to pay more attention to what is happening to other mission programs of TEC in the current economic times before making any concrete plans.

TLF+ said...

tj - thanks for that dose of reality. It affirms my first concern: "gatekeepers" can obstruct needed change.

TEC's people don't care or choose to remain uninformed that the PB et. al. will throw money at propping up programs that are manifestly unresponsive to mission needs, all while calling it "missional."

plsdeacon said...

Part of the problem is that we have people who are supposed to teach other people how to catch fish, but they themselves, have never eben been fishing. They don't understand the need to go fishing or why anyone would want to fish, so they decide that playing chess is more fun. But they paid to be fishermen, so they call "fishing" a game played with 32 pieces (16 on each side) on a board with 64 altenating black and white squares.

Phil Snyder

TLF+ said...

Phil, that is one great metaphor for the situation.