Next week is our annual diocesan clergy conference with the theme “No Longer Business as Usual.” That’s an understatement! Ours is a mostly rural diocese with many communities losing population, some holding even, and a very few growing. Areas of tremendous promise have been hammered by the recession, and, although their long term future holds a great deal of hope, the present is not very bright at all. The majority of our congregations cannot afford full time clergy, a few who had do so no longer, and the very few multi-staff congregations have cut positions. With a few exceptions, the prevailing religio-political tilt of the region is conservative, meaning that the liberal reputation of the Episcopal Church is not attractive to many who might otherwise find it to be the very place of spiritual nutrition they so desperately crave.
I wonder what that will mean to the mood of our conference. Suppose that it becomes a conference of defeated clergy who lack the energy, imagination and courage to do anything more than hang on. Where would the gospel be in that scenario? Suppose, on the other hand, that it becomes a conference of clergy who rejoice in the Easter message not only of resurrection, but also of reconciliation and new hope. What if the economy and regional political winds are shoved to the side so that greater room can be made for the good news of God in Christ? What sort of difference would that make? We shall see, and I will have to be careful to keep in check my own tendency to be a clergy conference provocateur. It’s a tendency I find very hard to resist. I’m inclined to think that sometimes we need these periods of crucifixion, so to speak, in oder to prepare us for times of resurrection. We humans find it very hard to shed the ways of ‘business as usual’ on our own. Sometimes we need to have it forcefully and unceremoniously stripped from us in order that we may finally recognize a renewed and reenergized vision that is not centered on us but on Christ.