This past week I've been attending something called The Festival of Homiletics, which was held this year in Denver, Colorado - a great city that I had never before been to. I confess that while I was very excited about coming here for a time of continuing education, there was also a little voice inside of me that was trying to make me feel a bit guilty. "This is for preachers," the voice said. "You now work in diocesan ministry and while you do still preach, you should probably do some CE in congregational development, or church growth, or transition ministry - something that is actually part of your day-to-day work now. This is for preachers..."
Lucky for me, I didn't listen to that voice. Instead I listened to the voice that said, "you are still a priest, ordained to preach the gospel and to celebrate the sacraments, and the narrative matters..." As it turned out, I made the right decision: I feel like I've been to a revival this week. It has been soul work - and I have to believe that soul work is good for all people, even canons to the ordinary.
Brian McLaren - who preached a homily with the title, "Good News: Christianity is Pregnant." In the lecture that followed, he unpacked this notion and offered three potential futures for Christianity: (1) decline continues and we need hospice care and then we die; (2) there is a fundamentalist resurgence; (3) something new is born.
He argued, and I agreed, that while there has been denial about mainline decline for decades, the problem is that this has become our narrative, even long after it's pretty hard to deny. The evidence is clear about the decline, to be sure. But it's now pretty hard to ignore. If we make that our narrative, then we might as well pack it in right now.
In my work I hear it too often from diocesan and national church leaders; it's almost like, "hey, last person left, turn out the lights!"
McLaren challenged us to imagine something new being born - and to entrust some leadership to the next generation of leaders. (Actually he was pretty honest about this; saying that baby boomers are in denial that they are old and that it's not ultimately their work, but to partner and ally with the next generation of church leaders who do see new possibilities. Again I wanted to shout, "amen!")
A second takeaway is that this kind of ecumenical event is also good for my soul. I LOVE being an Episcopalian. But our world can be too parochial, too small. When I do CE with Episcopalians I know the language, and the blindspots. Being with Methodists and Lutherans and Presbyterians and United Church of Christ folks - with a few Episcopalians thrown in is VERY good for me personally. It's more than just saying, "hey, we're all in the same boat!" It's seeing what others are trying, sometimes with success - of being open to the fact that the Spirit can and does move outside of denominational structures.
The big takeaway: I leave Denver energized and hopeful. I want to write another post or maybe even two about some specifics, mostly as a way to take some notes for myself that others perhaps will want to look over my shoulder on. But for this post, this is enough. Tomorrow I head back east - but I do so encouraged and renewed, for which I am grateful.