How remarkably peculiar, how vastly important is the position Of our Church! Possessing as we fully believe all those characteristics which distinguished the primitive fold:--A scriptural Liturgy--evangelical doctrines--and the apostolic succession--having the form of godliness and the power thereof--free from the false and worldly scruples and the time-serving policy of civil governments--independent-- respected and influential--in the midst of an intelligent, enterprising and commercial people--Brethren! may it not be Our duty to convert the world--may not this high, this inestimable privilege be offered to Us! And are we prepared--are we doing at the present moment Even One Tenth part of what we are capable? Our means and our power are extensive--and under the blessing of Him, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy, our aim--our constant, undeviating, untiring aim should be great and lofty. "Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God." Bishop Jackson Kemper, 1841
Kemper founded Nashotah House Seminary in Wisconsin (see "USEFUL LINKS" to the right) to train clergy for what was them a frontier mission. The church calendar commemorates him on May 24.
Anglicans/Episcopalians tend to move quickly from mission field to country club, from preaching the City of God to perching among the elites of the earthly city. But you still see a bit of that missionary spirit in places like South Dakota, especially the clergy who serve the Reservations and the far flung small towns.
While Rector of Trinity, Pierre, South Dakota's new Bishop John Tarrant showed some of this effort by covering many miles to link up with other congregations in that part of the state.
At a recent meeting with Sioux Falls clergy, he opened up a similar vision for this corner of the state. My favorite idea, "But we have to keep it a movement, not a program. Once we turn it into a program, we kill it."
My interest is in bringing all three aspects of the Christian movement as Jackson Kemper preached it: worship built from the words of Scripture, preaching and teaching that rightly presents the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, and Bishops "sent" (the root meaning of apostolic) to preach, spread and contend for that faith.
Southeastern South Dakota has a number of Reservation and small town churches in need of missionary clergy support. I find some excitement in the thought of regional clergy and congregations operating as missionary teams to build up the church . But honesty requires me to confront some of the barriers we will face:
1. The lingering "pastoral model" of the church. The American Christianity of my parents' generation and with which I grew up was about small, familiar congregations with a pastor who was there to "do a nice service" and "take care of" the members. Lay people showed up, payed the bills, got mad about this or that, got attention from the pastor, and contained church to Sunday morning as much as possible. There was no movement, no message to spread, no missionary fire. Everybody was Christian, nominally, and the presence of the church was a given. And it was given to take care of those already on the inside, not to reach out. With the membership of our current churches made up of aging folks steeped in those assumptions, the raw material for a missionary movement seems scarce.
2. Lack of spiritual and theological unity. For many, maybe most of the clergy, Jesus is a mere man, myth or symbol who can be invoked to throw some pixie dust on this or that cause. Anything more than that is dismissed as "fundamentalism." Most Episcopal clergy, if pushed hard enough, will reveal that they don't think Christianity has anything unique or urgent to say to the world - all religions and no religion come to the same truth eventually, because everybody's already holy just as they are. A recent Episcopal service - the consecration of a new bishop, no less - featured a Native American solemnly intoning a White liberal fantasy about how "My people lived without sin." The denomination has made room for stuff way beyond cultural tolerance, moving into direct rejection of the New Testament and spiritual chaos. Hard to get a movement going on that kind of surface.
3. The loss of what Kemper called "the blessing of Him, without whom nothing is strong." Writes one Episcopal priest (a long time Deputy to the denomination's General Convention and a current candidate for bishop), "The disintegration quietly continues but the contending parties have long since pretty much quit talking to each other. They wonder what the point is. Meanwhile, average Sunday attendance in the Episcopal Church continues to skydive." By almost any sane measure, God has removed His blessing from The Episcopal Church (TEC). There's little energy, little hope and, worst of all, very little love.
4. The abysmal "leadership" asserted and practiced by the "national church." Those who have the free time and resources to go to confabs all year long figured out that they could sit in the bureaucracy of the church, have their hands on all kinds of money, keep jobs and pensions without being responsible for anything, and turn the denomination into a club for people they like. Christian missionary work is irrelevant - even repulsive - to them. They serve a very small, self-referencing, self-congratulatory and self-serving niche. They have the bank accounts to maintain it without a thought to the collapse of the rest of the church. The Diocese of South Dakota depends upon these very people for mission money. There isn't going to be much support for a "missionary movement" that does anything more than affirm "public statements" issued in New York. A movement to preach the necessity and urgency of faith in Jesus Christ is not going to get support. In fact, it might be shut down by this type of religious leader. The most missionary Episcopalian clergy and people are the ones who have left the denomination, and the "national leaders" are fine with that.
Formidable barriers, those. And greater collapse might well have to precede rebuilding. But as the Apostle Peter preached to an ambivalent crowd when the Holy Spirit ignited the church at Pentecost, God's surprises are out there to be had,
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”