Major church reformations often coincide with great leaps forward in culture and technology. Why this might be the time for the Episcopal Church to shift. By the Rev. Brad Mullis
This Sunday, November 1, is the Feast of All Saints. It’s one of my favorite days in the church year. Growing up in the Baptist Church, I never heard of All Saints, much less celebrated it. And Baptists have a wide independent streak anyway. One of their hallmarks is the autonomy of the individual congregation.
So maybe one reason I love the day so much is that it reminds me that we are connected. The unity we share with Christ in baptism we live out in our church structure as members of a diocese and of the wider Anglican Communion. Our unity with all the saints—past, present, and future—of course transcends any denominational lines, but we in our corner of God’s vineyard display our “knit-togetherness” especially on this day. That means a lot to me to belong to something greater and bigger than what I can see with my eyes each week.
Our unity as Episcopalians will find special expression the first Sunday this November in Washington, D.C., when the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry will be installed as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He will begin a nine-year term, succeeding the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts-Schori.
This day is especially meaningful because Bishop Curry is ours. He served our diocese for fifteen years, leading us through the turmoil of the early 2000s and then setting us in a missionary direction. He called us to “make disciples and make a difference,” and most recently has held up the image of Galilee as our destination, meaning that crossroads where the world is, where the people are, where the gospel needs to be preached. I think he has gotten us to begin to re-think what it means to preach the gospel, how we tell the old, old story in new ways. I hate to lose having Bishop Curry so close to our parish, but I am really joyful and hopeful that the wider church will be blessed by his new ministry.
That seems to me to be what we need. The great Phyllis Tickle, who died just a month ago, says the church seems to go through a major reformation about every 500 years or so. The last big one was facilitated in part by new innovations in communication such as the printing press.
Well, guess what? The one that she in her writings says the church is currently undergoing is in response to and is facilitated by innovations in communication such as social media and the internet in general.
As with 500 years ago, we are now seeing a fracturing of the institution of the Church and greater democratization of the Christian body. And Phyllis Tickle says that we are moving into what she calls “The Great Emergence,” one aspect of which is a greater emphasis on the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit.
People seem to be seeking God’s will in their lives apart from the institutional church, asking the Spirit for guidance as they read scripture or make ethical decisions. In fact, Tickle titled her last book, The Age of the Spirit.
The point of that little excursus is to suggest that the church, the institution, has an important place out among folks who might think it is a dinosaur with nothing to say to them. Tickle is right that the religious landscape is changing at warp speed, and that we as the institution need to be nimble and responsive to change. God is not done with God’s church yet, not by a longshot. I think Bishop Curry gets that, and I’m thankful that he will be leading us all out into the world, in the power of the Spirit, to listen and to share, and to proclaim the good news in word and deed.
I hope you’ll be in church to celebrate the Feast of All Saints and to mark the installation of Bishop Curry. We are connected, and together we will love and serve a beautiful, broken, changing world in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.