Saturday, December 17, 2011

Putting God's Mission First -- our best future at Christ Church Cathedral

This past Thursday, your Cathedral Chapter met for more than four hours to wrestle with the budget for 2012. There were many figures discussed that involve how Christ Church Cathedral can continue to exist ... but none of that is as important as WHY we exist. 

Since we began journey together more than two and a half years ago, I have held up the mission statement for the church that is in our prayer book. "The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." (BCP, p. 855). It is a mission of reconciliation and it is the definition Paul gives us in 2 Corinthians 5:16-20.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Reconciliation -- breaking down the barriers, making real God's reconciling love in a hurting and broken world -- this is God's mission. The Church as an institution is only worth existing as we put God's mission first. The opportunity for the church today is to prune away things that aren't helpful to God's mission -- or are no longer appropriate to God's mission in this new day -- and put our energies and gifts on living that mission today as powerfully as possible.

Thursday night, Chapter used this scriptural text from 2 Corinthians and a sermon by Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut (click here to read it ... it's definitely worth the time!) to frame our discussion as part of our evening devotions. One of the questions we wrestled with is "What are the things that are essential for us if we are to 'put God's mission first.'"

The Chapter came up with the following list:
*Trust in God and each other
*Putting God first
*Love and care for the community as a whole
*A place to worship
*A way to worship together
*A commitment to serve and give of ourselves
*The Bible
*A common understanding of what it means to live together in Christ as a baptized community.

We talked about which of these things can cost money ... and there is many of them that can. We also realized that if this is what faithfulness to God's mission looks like, we can be faithful no matter what our budget is ... but particularly that commitment to give of ourselves will determine not just the resources we have available for God's mission but the depth of our own commitment to incarnate God's mission in the world ... to be the Body of Christ.

We talked about how if we were just starting out planting a church, this would be a very different conversation. We would feel much freer to create new structures and embrace God's mission in new ways. But we are far from a church plant. We have huge old, beautiful buildings and even bigger old, beautiful traditions -- all of which can be assets and barriers to God's mission. We talked about sacred cows and the difference between an icon -- something that helps us encounter God and God encounter us -- and an idol -- something we worship in the place of God ... and the importance of looking at all we have and making sure we are embracing icons and destroying idols.

We talked about how many of us just want to come to church as a sanctuary from the difficulties of the world -- difficulties that include uncomfortable change, and the last thing we want to hear about when we're here is how we need to change even more. I noted that God always loves us as we are but never leaves us as we are ... and so figuring out how to let God love us through the change we need is a key part of the leadership task we share as Chapter and clergy.

Throughout the whole evening, again and again we came back to God's mission ... not just how we as a Chapter can live it more deeply but how we can lead the whole congregation (and the diocese and the city) into God's mission of reconciliation. As we struggled with using endowment monies to -- once again -- bail out our budget, I felt a consensus and a commitment emerge to no longer allow "business as usual" to be the rule of the day. That Clarence and Zua Pope have given us a gift of a bridge to tomorrow ... but if we use it to stay in yesterday we will have not only dishonored their legacy but will have missed a great opportunity God is giving us to be at the forefront of God's mission in the future.

I wish you all could have been at this Chapter meeting Thursday night (and all Chapter meetings are open!). I encourage you to come to Chapter meetings, which are on the third Thursday of each month at 6 pm. Talk with your Chapter members. Ask how you can help.

Most of all, look, listen, pray, worship, learn, serve give. Be a part of God's mission.

It's who we are. It's what we are about. It's the best that Christ Church Cathedral can be.

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