I was taken by something M. Craig Barnes had to say in his Christian Century “Faith Matters” column of June 24, 2015. He wrote in part that “no one in the pews is holding their breath to read the next position paper from the denomination…” “It’s time for the denominations to get off the backs of their own pastors. It is so easy for them to send their delegates to some distant city and delude themselves into thinking that voting, voting, voting without congregational accountability will bring about the kingdom of God. It doesn’t.”
My own denomination, the Episcopal Church, is now meeting in its triennial convention. Day seven is done. Day eight about to begin. I’m home doing other things, but reports come daily about committee sessions lasting into the wee hours, of long, vigorous floor debates, and of momentous votes covering every conceivable issue that might tickle the interest of a denomination. It is the very frenetic busyness of it all engaged in by nearly a thousand people following long tenured legislative protocols only a bureaucrat could love that infuse it with a sense of self importance that cannot be avoided. Indeed one vote, the one codifying same sex marriages, did eke out a smidgen of national publicity. The vote made official what we’ve been doing anyway for several years.
It was a necessary and significant vote. Just the same, those back home sitting in the pews and doing the work of being church through their congregations have relatively little concern for what is going on in that distant city. They will offer polite interest when the bishop returns home to tell the story of all the that the convention did, and then go on their way with more important things to do and think about. Even the clergy, except for a few diehard church politicos, will quickly shelve their collection of position papers, never to be looked at again.
Having said that, I am not against these things taking place. In fact, I have twice been a delegate (we call them deputies). I just think we could be a little less self deceiving about how important they are, or we are for being there, or what effect convention decisions have on our congregations and the communities in which they are located. Gather together for a few days, have fun, reconnect, network, worship, have worthwhile conversations about issues, discipleship, and God, especially about God, vote on the few important things that must be done, and go home. As short, simple, and to the point as possible.
Then let us get on with the work of becoming a people who proclaim the good news of God in Christ Jesus through word and deed.