Texts: Isaiah 43 and Acts 1
“In between Ascension and Pentecost…”
Probably you have figured out that I think one of the most treasured resources we have in the Anglican tradition, for deepening our spiritual lives, is the church year itself. Living through, worshipping through, studying through the liturgical year, year after year, is a discipline for growing into the likeness of Christ, for drawing closer to God, for honing our discipleship.
Today, in our church calendar, is the Eve of Pentecost. As you know, 40 days after Easter we celebrate the Ascension, marking the end of the physical presence of Jesus with his disciples on Earth. He returns to be with God (however you conceive of that — not spatially — not “up” somewhere, but relationally, with God). When he leaves, as we heard in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus teaches the disciples (last words, review of everything, teaching about God’s kingdom). The disciples are, of course, anxious and grieving — he is leaving them, and they ask for security — “wouldn’t now be a good time for God to bring in the kingdom?“ They can’t know the timing, he says, (we all sigh inwardly, because we all know that longing — “wouldn’t now be a good time?”) But Jesus reminds them they are not alone. God has promised to send power, to give them the strength they need to live in this time: God’s Spirit, the ongoing presence of Jesus, with them everywhere (not limited to time and space). Jesus instructs them to stay in the city, to wait, to pray, together — The Gift of the Spirit is a gift to the community. In the midst of this huge uncertainty about “what’s next,” Jesus is alive but not visible to them. They are to wait and pray. The Acts passage says all the gathered disciples were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.”
Waiting. We tend to see this as an unproductive time, but “Biblical Waiting” means “Waiting on God.” Active not passive; alert and attentive.
In the Hebrew language, the word for “wait” and “hope” are the same word, and are related to the root of the word for a cord, or a rope; to hold onto; to tie things together.
“Waiting on God,” a reminder that the timing of renewal is God’s. We remain in an open stance of attentiveness to what is happening within and around us.
“Behold I do a new thing” — our theme we chose for our last full Synod in 2021 and for the following three years: October 2022 and this Synod now, leading up to our next full Synod in spring of 2024. “Behold I do a new thing,” continues as our focus.
Today, we are in this ultimate “in-between time.” Jesus has left the disciples, but they do not yet have the Spirit to empower them.
We know this reality of “in-between,” as liminal time in the life of the Church. Of course, we know that the gift of the Spirit, powerfully given at Pentecost, is not a onetime event, but an ongoing reality.
One of the prayers at confirmation, when we claim our own baptismal vows, is that we may “continue to be yours forever and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more”; our baptismal identity is the ever deepening of our life in God’s Spirit.
I want to overlay this “in-between waiting” with a typology from Walter Brueggemann, Hebrew Scholar, from his study of the Psalms, the prayer life of Israel. (Many of you will know this from your biblical study, but I want to remind us of it because it speaks to our time in the Church).
Brueggemann notices there are psalms of:
Orientation: Thanksgiving and praise for God when all is going well, smoothly, comfortably. We know who we are and all is working the way it is supposed to.
In a time of Disorientation, there are Psalms of Lament: language of being “in the pit”, “stuck” in mud up to our ears, things have fallen apart. We ask “Why?” “How long, O Lord?” What has worked before doesn’t work anymore. We feel alienated. Who are we now? (Uncertain, anxious, frustrated)
Scripture talks of this disorientation as a wilderness or desert time. There is a loss of identity. We cannot go back. The future is unknown. We feel threatened. It is a time of testing and trial.
The Neutral Zone is the same as “Biblical Wilderness time.” (It needs adaptive change.)
That is like when Moses and the Tribes of Israel wandered in the desert after the Exodus, before they reach the Promised Land.
Jesus was in the wilderness, too; before he begins his ministry.
It is the Inner work of the Neutral Zone: A need to integrate the experience.
Healthy transition needs “fallow emptiness”; “attentive inactivity” (like the Disciples waiting and praying).
We do not like the Wilderness temptation and want to fix it and jump in with solutions, when what is needed is patient tending of foundational questions. Asking: “Who are we?” “What is our calling?” “What are our values, our vision, our mission?”
The third stage is RE-orientation, (resurrection; new life) but that is a gift, and is in the hands of God – and we work as best we can…
But in the meantime, during this in-between time of Dislocation in the Wilderness time; what is needed is Adaptive leadership.
We must resist the temptation to go back to what is familiar and comfortable. In the wilderness we must resist the temptation of a quick fix, but remain willing to experiment, to adapt and then adapt again, to be leaders with a non-anxious presence — all of us are called to this (all of you as Synod members are leaders!) We learn in the wilderness to trust in God/hope in God, to hear the angels who say “Fear not!”
Disorientation is the realm of the Holy Spirit, when we are stripped of our dependence on anything but God. Where we learn that God is ultimately where our hope rests.
It is an Understatement to say that the church is in a time of Disorientation — not for a few months, but for the rest of our lifetimes — even for (Chris) the youth delegate from Cranbrook — his generation is used to it and better equipped to live into it!
Within this framework of “Disorientation” let me remind us where we have been in the past few months and some of what we have ahead of us, as far as we can see it.
At Synod 2021 we decided to form a Structures Working Group
Last Synod, in October 2022, the Structures Working Group (SWG) led us through lively conversation in small groups regarding our needs and priorities as a diocese. How do our structures serve God’s mission? This consultation was part of our ongoing work of church renewal; the SWG interviewed groups and people and listened carefully. The reality of what we are facing became clearer, their mandate morphed in accordance with what they were seeing. Not quick fixes, but huge changes needed.
The Diocesan Council received the SWG report in December 2022, a report called, ”A Path Forward,” which honestly named our structures as palliative – i.e. our structures are not life-giving and sustainable. We are not alone in this: every part of the Church is facing this. e.g. Diocese of Ontario named “our structures are fragile, faulty and failing.”
Not that the Church (Body of Christ) is dying, but that the way we organize ourselves needs to die, to change radically to fit the current reality.
For some, we are moving too fast; for others, too slowly. For some, this report was alarming; for others, a relief to finally talk about it.
Today we consider an Implementation plan brought to us by SWG to begin this process of adapting.
We don’t know what the future of the church will look like, “but we can build more adaptive capacity into the system itself — structures, processes, people and leadership.” (This is a quote from Bishop Anna Greenwood as we find ways to share structures in the Province.)
HISTORY: This year marks 120 years since incorporation as a diocese: why are we looking back? We need the long view, to help us not be nostalgic about our Sunday school days or some other idealized Glory days of the Church – we are not returning or going back! But we can learn.
It is remembrances that give us courage, resilience, and perspective (See the 1968 headline for the July issue of the Highway: “Diocesan Structure revamped.” Plus a change.
Change is simply part of what it means to deeply respond to the needs of the world around us. 120 Years ago parishes knew the diocese as an expression of the Body of Christ, able to do more together, to support each other. “The Diocese is Us!”
The diocese has a ministry of equipping parishes and leaders.
Exploring our history helps us ask the question of Dislocation times: “Who are we now?” “What do we take with us?” “What do we leave behind?”
The “GOD WITH US” slide presentation was created thanks to Kathryn Lockhart, Diocesan archivist, and Catherine Ripley from Kimberley’s Shared Ministry; and thanks to all of you who offered stories of faithfulness through the challenges and joys of the last 120 plus years. I pray these will be a source of renewal and encouragement for us, as we continue into the future. I commend the slides and Kathryn’s essay to be shared with your congregations.
The stories are examples of daring discipleship and vision.
“A Path Forward” I want to point to a few things I see ahead.
Adaptive capacity: I will establish a canons’ committee for Synod 2024 —
One example of what is needed: we have reestablished the Administration and Finance committee, but need to rethink how Administration and Finance relates to the Diocesan Council — with redundancies, extra meetings, how do we streamline committee structures in a way that utilizes more limited volunteer energy efficiently?
The canons’ committee is to bring suggested changes for consideration in preparation for next year’s synod.
Another example of needed structural change is that we need a warden’s manual that arises out of the current realities of small parishes with clergy vacancy.
- Regional rethinking is happening in all parts of the diocese — again in local realities.
- Leadership training /formation for ministry — not just lay leaders equipped to lead whole-hearted worship, but also wardens, treasurers, administrators supported and equipped for leadership by the diocese.
- We bring today a proposal to hire a Coordinator to implement “A Path Forward” — to build adaptive capacity in each parish.
There is urgency about this.
The Idea behind the Implementation plan is for parishes to take the values /vision/ mission statement and work on their own local expression of it.
Each parish will have a unique expression of our shared mission. St Andrew’s, Kelowna, has already done this work, restructuring to serve their mission. Implementation of “A Path Forward” is to support capacity for each worshipping community in this revitalization. Smaller parishes need diocesan assistance for this work.
“Call to Ministry.” Each of us are called to ministry by virtue of our baptism. At this time, we need more Locally Trained Priests, Deacons, and Licensed (trained and equipped) Lay leaders. Part of the good news of this time is the availability of Education opportunities online with local mentors.
The Diocese has a history of adapting ministry for the times. The “Mutual Ministry teams” was an innovation of West Kootenay that needs to be revitalized in our time. One structure that is not sustainable in the church is for everything to fall to one leader. We know we face a high level of exhaustion amongst our leaders.
One of our current realities is that there are only 3 of us, including me, at the Synod office, and we have around 15 parishes in transition, mostly small, many now without paid clergy, who need more support from the diocese… (remember, “The Diocese is Us!”).
As I have said, the Vision of people 120 years ago was that incorporating as a Diocese would be for mutual support.
Today we consider the resolution for the implementation plan, including hiring a paid Coordinator. Funding comes from non-parish sources (i.e. does not belong to a particular parish presently in existence), and not out of the current operating budget of the diocese. These funds were given in the past for the well-being of the diocese, some many decades ago, that have been saved for a rainy day. I don’t need to tell you: It is pouring!
Building leaner sustainable structures in a way that supports thriving parishes in the future takes investment of time and money now.
This plan has evaluation and adaptation built into it; doesn’t lock us in but leaves flexibility, as we discover more of what works and what doesn’t work.
There are many parishes who are facing the current challenges with courage and ingenuity, stepping up to the call for leadership, open to exploring new ways of sharing leadership and worship.
One example: St Margaret’s, Peachland, has a team of laity who are figuring out ways of sharing wardens responsibilities as well as a “transition team” planning for sustainability.
Some parishes are waiting (but active in the meantime) for example: St. John’s, Fruitvale, a flourishing “house church,” want the money from the sale of their building to go toward a new ministry project for Kootenay Region when one evolves. Green Abbey didn’t work (yet) but we have learned some things we need to make it happen. Things we didn’t have in place at the time, but we are still open to some form of new monastic community happening.
Meanwhile, Fruitvale is sharing worship with Christ Church Creston, even meeting on Kootenay pass for a Eucharist.
To close, let us return to our theme from Isaiah, “Behold, I do a new thing.”
For this Synod worship we added the next verse in which God promises “I will make a way in the wilderness.”
Notice the new thing God is doing is still in the wilderness for a time! But God will provide a new path through the uncertainty. And we will be fed. God nurtures us in the wilderness. “I will give drink for my chosen people so they might declare my praise.” We trust in God whose Church it is. We praise this God of resurrection and new life.
Yours in Christ,
The High-Way July 1968 provided by Kathryn Lockhart from the Archives.
Diocesan Structure Revamped
The 40th session of the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay has abolished the Diocesan Council.
The change in the structure of the diocesan organization came as a result of “unnecessary duplication of personnel, overlapping in some places and gaps in others in the program, and a clash in proposed activities which tended to create divided loyalties or make unfair demands on the time of people involved.”
The executive committee will now be flanked by a group of five planning personnel and another group of five reviewing personnel. These three groups will be available only to Synod. The Diocesan staff including the bishop, the administrator and the program director will be on the next level down.
The Bishop’s charge, delivered to the 130 lay and clerical delegates by Rt. Rev. E. W. Scott, Bishop of Kootenay at the opening session in All Saints’ Church, was discussed by synod as a whole.
The overall effect from the discussions seemed to be the need for more work, more information, more training, more communication and a sense of urgency about them all.
Editor’s Note: Even though the article goes on to say that it’s better to think about the future rather than reflect on the past. It does appear that what was happening sixty odd years ago was not so very different from what is happening today.