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Spiritual Geography

Spiritual Geography

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Published by TheLivingChurchdocs
We need to ask smaller dioceses present us with a problem to be solved or a parabolic challenge to be answered.
We need to ask smaller dioceses present us with a problem to be solved or a parabolic challenge to be answered.

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Published by: TheLivingChurchdocs on Jun 30, 2012
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By Michael B. Cover
The members of the body that seemto be weaker are indispensable.
—1 Cor. 12:22
The impending merger between the Diocese of Chicago andthe Diocese of Quincy is more than an isolated incident: itis a sign of the times. It shows that the current financialstruggles faced by many small dioceses in the EpiscopalChurch can reach a breaking point and portends the potential for further consolidations. In some cases,such a “reunion,” as the Chicago/Quincy merger isbeing heralded— along with the Diocese of Spring-field, they originally formed the Diocese of Illinoismay be necessary. But before we rush to adopt anadministrative solution for fragile dioceses, it is crit-ical to take a step back and ask, first,whata diocese actually is,and second,whether the Episcopal Church’ssmaller dioceses present us with a problem to be solved or a parabolicchallenge to be answered.
Diocesan Spiritual Geography
The Church, like the people of Israel,doesnot need to assert its right to exist.Unlike the Jeffersonian right to the pur-suit of happiness which is founded onhuman self-evidence, the Church’s eternalfoundation is the Incarnation, Passion,Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ,who created her as his instrument to bring sal- vation to the world (2 Sam. 7; Rom. 11:28–29; Matt.16:18). Even if God should punish or chastise her fora time, his covenant promises are sure (Hos. 11:1–11).Dioceses, in the high view of St. Ignatius of Antioch (
 Letter to the Magnesians,
7), constitute churches. They exist wher-ever the bishop gathers the people of God,and as distinctspiritual geographies they participate in the Church’s election.Each diocese, however, to risk an imperfect analogy, is like-wise an unrepeatable ecclesial species. In ecclesiastical ecol-ogy, this means that each Episcopal See is unique and irre-
Spiritual Geographic
The Charisms and Challenges of Smaller Dioceses
ORDERLY COUNSELEssays in Advance of General Convention 2012
THE LIVING CHURCH • July 15, 2012
 placeable in the Church’s 2,000-year history. WhileGod retains the right to prune the Church as he seesfit, an orderly discernment on our endregardinghow to meet the practical needs at the local levelshould keep this theological identity of dioceses inthe foreground.
 A Charism, not a Problem
 Any discussion of small or fragile dioceses in theEpiscopal Church shouldbegin with their spiritualcharisms. All three bishops with whom I spoke aboutthis issue (Bishop Edwin Leidel of Eau Claire, BishopRussell Jacobus of Fond du Lac, and Bishop EdwardS. Little II of Northern Indiana) consider
one of the spiritual gifts of their diocese; few liked the label“fragile.” Writes Bishop Jacobus: “We may be smalland have a lot of challenges but we are
in our commitment to the mission and ministryof our Lord in this place.”Over the last four years, I have served as a newlyordained deacon and priest in the Diocese of North-ern Indiana. Since I know this diocese best, I willoffer two examples of itscharisms.First, as Bishop Littlenotes, thediocese’s manageable size makesus “relationally rich.” Thanks tothis charism (and Bishop Little’sshepherding), Northern Indianahas lost no churches since 2003. As a further consequence, clergyholding a wide range of theologi-cal commitments live and servetogether in communion. Ourclergy conferences serve essen-tially as think tanks composed of  veteran and younger priests fromacross the theological spectrum.In light of such collegiality, the increasingly shrill polarization evident in corners of the EpiscopalChurch seems less and less intelligible. NorthernIndiana offers the wider church an alternative visionof herself.Second, the Diocese of Northern Indiana has along-standing relationship with the Roman CatholicDiocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and provides aunique center for joint service and ecumenical dia-logue between our two Communions. When Presid-ing Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori made her visi-tation to the diocese in October 2011, a RomanCatholic priest was among the clergy welcoming herand offering an appreciation for the role of the Epis-copal Church in South Bend. St. Margaret’s House(stmargaretshouse.org), an Episcopal day center forwomen and children adjacent to the EpiscopalCathedral of St. James, is directed by a RomanCatholic laywoman, Kathryn Schneider. And of course, there is the unique intellectual ferment of Notre Dame, where Roman Catholic, Anglican,Protestant, and Orthodox scholars have been sharp-ening one another in all areas of theology for many years. Were Northern Indiana to be consolidatedinto another diocese, ourrelational richness and dis-tinct ecumenical vocation would become largelyattenuated as ourparishes fell under the pressure toconform to the mission of larger dioceses whosefocus was (geographically) elsewhere.
Interdependence, not Dependence
Given the autonomy of Episcopal dioceses as uniquespiritual geographies and the good of preservingtheir charisms, what can the General Convention of the Episcopal Church do to support diocesan struc-tures without unduly influencing this autonomy?One proposal in this year’s Blue Book (Resolution A100) focuses on the interdependent relation of dio-ceses to their provinces and to the Epis-copal Church, and suggests that finan-cial and administrative support forsmaller dioceses might be sought at the provincial level. Resolution A100, to mymind, is asking the right question in anorderly fashion. It suggests that conver-sations should happen first at the dioce-san level, and goes so far as calling for“revenue sharing” among dioceses and potentially administrative sharing at the provincial level as well.Some further questions: might a dio-cese temporarily become a “mission dio-cese,” either of the Episcopal Church, of its regional province, or of another diocese, as an
measure to support it through a difficultseason and to better equip the saints for every goodwork in some of our country’s most economicallychallenged regions? What of a missionary “collec-tion” for a diocese, as St. Paul carried out for thechurch in Jerusalem? The early Church, as well asthe history of the Episcopal Church, provides awealth of ecclesial models that, with a little creativ-ity, we might draw on in the 21st century.
 A Time to Build Up
Our limited meansraise a natural question: whichdioceses should be funded? That decision could
 Any discussionof small or fragiledioceses inthe EpiscopalChurch shouldbegin withtheir spiritualcharisms.
(Continued on next page)
July 15, 2012 • THE LIVING CHURCH
depend on the creativity, vision, and energy for mis-sion among the dioceses which request help. In this vein, Iwould like to make two observations regard-ing smaller dioceses, which are
suggestions butsimply calls for reflection. The first has to do withour buildings.Our buildings are beautiful. Like the fabled pillarsof the earth— from cathedral arches to rood screensin country parishes— our sacramental spaces pro- vide architectural dignity amid surrounding waste-lands,seemingly buttressing the vast Midwesternsky. But they do not serve all of us equally well. I amfortunate enough to serve in a parishwhere our pewsare full most Sundays, yet the building presents majorchallenges for families with young children and theelderly. Other congregationsbarely fill the church buildingsthey so faithfully steward.Howmight we turn our buildingsfrom burdens into assets? Coulda congregation be called to“fasting” from its building for aseason of missiological revi-sioning and renewal? Whatwould happen to our parishcommunities in the process?Second, when should a dio-cese plant new churches or other ministries? In 2009, Archbishop Robert Duncan challenged the AnglicanChurch in North America to plant 1000 “works in the Anglican Way” during the course of his investiture(is.gd/AboutAnglican1000). How might Episcopalians plant new Anglican works using our current buildingsas constructive assets? The answer will vary from dio-cese to diocese, but as every gardener knows, a plotwith no new intentional planting thrives on random volunteers and inevitably goes to seed.
Kemper, Prisca,and Aquila
I have focused on what might be called“polity solu-tions” to the challenges we encounter in smaller dio-ceses. None of these, however, will matter much if the Episcopal Church does not recover its evangeli-cal vocation, which in the Midwest once went hand-in-hand with catholic worship and order.Polity willnot help us for want of “mere apostolicity” in themode of St.Paul and Blessed Jackson Kemper.I spoke recently with the music minister of a non-denominational church in Mishawaka, Indianathey have four full-time pastors, two of whom are young fathers. He told me his family had left an afflu-ent Chicago suburb to respond to a call from hischurch in Northern Indiana.What would it take forour smaller dioceses to call clergy and laity withsuch confidence?Kemper himself apparently had trouble persuadinghis New York colleagues to join him on the prairiesand the farmlands of the Middle West. As a result, hetrained clergy locally. That tradition is alive and well,and one which small dioceses with universityresources should continue to foster. In addition todrawing on their academic partnerships, small dio-ceses are recruiting more “tentmaking priests,” thosewho are able to hold a primary vocation elsewhereor who are willing to take untraditional posts. Acase in point: a courageous young priest I know willbe leaving an affluent diocese to take up a cure inNorthern Indiana, overseeing
small parishes,while his wife pursues doctoral studiesat Notre Dame.The importance of calling gifted layministers to small dioceses likewise can-not be overvalued. Writes Paul:“GreetPrisca and Aquila, who work with me inChrist Jesus, and
who risked their necks for my life
, to whom not only I givethanks, but also all the churches of theGentiles” (Rom. 16:3-4, emphasis added). Although it’s subject to debate, Paul doesnot call Prisca and Aquila “apostles” (cf.Rom.16:7); as such they probably did not share thatdesignation. Nonetheless, they underwent the same personal risks characteristic of the apostolic ministry(2 Cor. 11:21-33). In seeking to call charismatic leaders,how can churches and dioceses call the laity to a newlevel of missionary commitment?No polity can thrive without apostleship. However,the joint calling of clergy and laity to step up to theapostolic challenge will also lead to new polities, as ishappening in Northern Indiana. One particular modelwhich Bishop Little has spearheaded is that of “regional ministry,” a particularly inspired example of which can be found in the recently formed CalumetEpiscopal Ministry Partnership. The partnership com- prises three independent parishes, whose vestries haveagreed to envision themselves as “one church in threelocations.” They share a lead priest, who celebrates attwo of the three churches each Sunday. Retired clergyin the area help fill in the gaps. The most inspiring part of the ministry: although the three churchescontribute to the lead priest’s salary disproportion-ately according to their income, the lead priest’stime is to be equally divided. This kind of “revenuesharing,” similar to that envisioned by Resolution A100, embodies the Gospel.
Our buildingsare beautifulbut they do notserve all of usequally well.
ORDERLY COUNSELEssays in Advance of General Convention 2012
(Continued from previous page)
THE LIVING CHURCH • July 15, 2012

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