One of the best experiences I've had recently was a two-conference trip I took to Seattle several weeks ago. I began with a group of entrepreneurial Episcopal Church clergy that were gathered to talk about leadership in the Episcopal Church of the twenty-first century. Originally convened by retired Bishop Claude Payne (author of Reclaiming the Great Commission), the group was a collection of priests and bishops from across the country who were focused on a hopeful future for the Episcopal Church and not, for once, focused on the ongoing sexuality disputes that seem to come up whenever two or three are gathered, to paraphrase a biblical passage. We talked with each other, learned from each other, laughed with (and occasionally at) each other, and pretty much encouraged one another. There was no real "expert" who guided us along but simply a handful of colleagues sharing some of their own journey.
Perhaps one of the most profound questions I heard at that gathering is this one: "Whose kingdom are we building?" Those of us who work in and for the church tend to focus on survival of the institution--that desire to grow so that we preserve what is here for the future. Yet nowhere in the early church does there seem to be any similar emphasis. Most often, Jesus refers to the "Kingdom of God" and, in fact, in the Lord's Prayer we pray "thy/your Kingdom come." Even in the definition of church membership, it says nothing about the church as such. A member of the Episcopal Church is defined as someone who "works, prays, and gives for the spread of the Kingdom of God." So the question must always be asked: Are we building and spreading the Kingdom of God, or some substitute Kingdom?
After three days there, I then attended the Catalyst One Day conference in Seattle. At that conference, much more evangelically-based, I heard Pastor Greg Groeschel of LifeChurch speak. Among other things he and other pastors talked about--guess what--building the Kingdom of God rather than building up individual churches! I also felt something I've rarely felt in such an evangelical gathering--a genuine welcome and acceptance of the variety of ways of doing and being church. I'm fairly certain that they would not agree with any number of theological positions that the Episcopal Church holds, but I heard not a word of condemnation or competition--just encouragement to build the Kingdom of God. How cool is that?!
Several days ago, as if to reinforce the message, I ran across following video from last year's multi-day Catalyst 2009 Conference:
What a great statement, and a great reminder, from two different and distinct voices: it's all about the Kingdom of God.
I pray that is what we are building here at St. Edward's as we have people come and, God willing, join us. I hope and pray that we are building the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of St. Edward's or, God forbid, the Kingdom of (Fr.) Tom. As we focus on our four-fold mission to welcome all, worship fully, witness to God's grace, and walk the way of Christ, I pray that others will be eager to join us on this journey.
See you Sunday---and bring a friend!