However, while at the consecration of new bishop Carl Wright at the National Cathedral in February I was approached by Executive Director Rev. Alison Liles and Administrator Ms. Shannon Berndt to return to the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. (I had served as their chaplain for two years awhile ago.) "No", they urged, "this time we'd like you to serve as the vice chair."
I needed to mull that one over, some. It meant working for real and not from the safe, spiritual sidelines and commitment had a sting these days. Read on.
It was a simple mulling, really. I'm not sure the institutional church matters much anymore. The stock answer is that the Body of Christ continues through history as an on-going presence and legacy of Jesus Christ. It takes a better mind than mine to validate all that but my experience with the Occupy movement convinced me that organized religion in America did not significantly contribute to the moral reflection a civilized culture needed. Mostly, it meanders using its own continuing existence as a point of reference. In nearly every occasion the expressed need in the world might be addressed but invariably attention would circle back to what the church was, had done, and would do (if the next fund raising was ever completed.)
I accept the generalities in the preceding paragraph and giving sad evidence of these facts will only be mentioned as an afterthought in this blog as I try to find and share the vestiges of a remaining relevant church. There is evidence of such a "church" but now it travels under different presentations and names...and at 73 I didn't think I'd be listing them. The easier ones to see are groups like The Episcopal Peace Fellowship (hereon, "EPF"). There are many reasons I say this. Primarily, for now, EPF is not "church" as we have known it but a factor in its journey of discovery. EPF has a history of cheering from the sidelines as it has--hat in hand--lobbied church conventions to emphasize significant stands. Its agenda has been advocacy and more advocacy.
So that's your new definition of "church"? It's a start, because the leftover institutional church has ignored or minimized the importance of witness. To be fair, old church has been urged into other domains such as coziness and member support. There is ample evidence of the present alienating, competitive environment we live in now so religious institutions have offered the kind of succor congregants need. Church leaders emphasize the security of liturgy, fellowship and study, That last item might lead to activism but the subject matter is self referential; highlights will always be prayer, solving modest personal social challenges and, of course, that old standby, "how to grow the church."
Let me give you an example of the quick-to-the-point energy of EPF. On the very afternoon of my acceptance of the vice chair position I joined a conference call on gun violence. During the call I met Bob Lotz, who after discussing some standard worries on the subject, added that there was even greater worry in his town of Lansing, MI about an anti-Muslim hate group, "Act for America" and their intended "March Against Sharia Law." None of us on the call felt that we had strayed from the subject of gun violence and later I wondered why that was so.
It used to be that old church conversation incorporated any social justice topic but now that continues through pan-need fund drives which in effect say, "relax, we'll scoop up all the requests for need and deposit them in a fund drive or a committee for you." In most churches the general population is spared social justice conversation; one can feel the shift of energy when those challenges are brought up...it's not pleasant.
I believe if you are in tune with the deeper needs of the world you want to talk about these things and feel your life has been cheaply modified if you don't give some life time to the discomfort of it. There's an itch you haven't scratched. In old church meetings one can feel the dis-ease when the subject of commitment and action must be addressed. It's a visceral reaction, a serious development, and another subject for discussion here.
But back to Bob Lotz and that Muslim hate march. I think we talked about other things besides gun violence because we could...and we sorta knew no one else in the old church was going to. If EPF does that alone the search for vestiges for relevant church is vindicated.