cjbanning: (St. Thomas)
[personal profile] cjbanning
The first and most important need of the Church is of course to serve as a means of grace for the members of the Body of Christ and as a source of light for the world as a whole. All other needs must, if necessary, be ultimately subordinated to that central one. On the parish level, this means first and foremost performing the sacraments, serving the community (global and local) through the works of mercy and justice work, and seeing to the spiritual and corporeal needs of parishioners. Much of a priest’s attention, then, is quite properly focused on the “bread and butter” of church operations: on celebrating the Eucharist, preaching the Good News, baptising infants and converts, visiting the sick, comforting the distressed, marrying those in love, and burying the dead.

To most fully achieve its purpose, however, it is necessary for a parish or mission to draw on the various gifts provided by the Spirit to each and every member; a church which authentically lives out the calling the Spirit delivers to its members will (if such is God’s will) thrive and grow as a consequence, whereas one which adopts a false persona in order to attract new members will in fact alienate them by virtue of that very inauthenticity. The role of the ordained presbytery, then, is to assist congregations in thinking theologically so as to develop their own sense of their guiding principles in order to live them out in their engagement with the world as a whole, to help a congregation realize what makes them special and unique and to more fully grow into that vision which is organic to them alone--through their liturgy, through their service, and through their attempts at dialogue. Christian education opportunities need to be available for both adults and youth to “teach the conflicts” (cf. Gerald Graff, Beyond the Culture Wars ) that have divided the Church, both historical and contemporary (e.g., Eucharistic presence, the resistability of grace, the nature(s) of Christ, etc.), while making clear that all points of view are welcome in the Episcopal Church and at the Lord’s table.

Furthermore, each parish or mission must seek to build connections not only in the local community (although of course it must not stop building such connections!) but also across the diocese and across the globe. For better or worse, the era in which a parish could survive by serving a small local community bound together by their geographical condition is ending; in what Tony Jones calls “this postmodern, wiki-world,” the churches which are thriving are those urban and suburban churches which can reach across an urban city or suburban region to form connections among geographically disparate members.

For myself as a young adult in the Diocese of New Jersey, I have found myself invaluably enriched by a number of retreats and volunteer opportunities offered to young adults in the diocese, almost all organized by the Rev. Greg Bezilla (the Episcopal chaplain to Rutgers University). These diocesan events have managed to supplement what my parish offers in an area where it is particularly weak (it having relatively few young adults, and literally no other regular attenders in their late twenties) and connect me with other Episcopalian young adults in New Jersey. The age of Facebook and other social networking technologies (including this one!) makes it possible for the relationships forged at such events to endure even across distances as far as that between New Jersey and Arizona--or even across the globe itself.

The job of the priest, then, is to facilitate the building of these types of connections and to empower parishioners to take their places as not only members of a parish, but citizens of a Church which is truly Catholic, taking part in conversations and dialogues which extend beyond the limits of a brick-and-mortar church building. This ecclesiology is distinctly Episcopal in both senses of the word: locating ultimate stability not in the parish church or the inter/national organization but in the diocesan cathedral.
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My Prayer

"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

All entries copyrighted © 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Cole J. Banning


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