History tells us that as the Mormon settlers were making Salt Lake City their home, Brigham Young insisted that the streets be wide enough for a wagon team to turn around “without resorting to profanity.”
How appropriate that the Episcopal Church is having our 78th General Convention in this fair city. There’s a lot of talk in the church these days about “turning the ship around.” Given the enormity of such a vessel, that may be too ambitious. Let’s start with a wagon. And let’s try to leave the expletives at home. Or, at the very least, save them for after hours gatherings at General Convention.
Many of our churches are falling apart at the seams. One cannot seem to find a priest out there who isn’t overworked and underfunded. And the ethos of the Episcopal Church at large feels ambiguous at best. We are scurrying to seem relevant and relatable. The Huffington Post writes an article about Millenials liking liturgical worship and we all cheer from the sidelines, our anxieties momentarily relieved. But then we see the latest Pew research on church attendance and we all want to hurl into our fear buckets. Its scary out there, people. And no amount of resolutions or righteous indignation are going to change that fact.
Let’s not waste the opportunity that General Convention is giving us to name the Episcopal Elephant in the room. Stop trying to be a business that is really a church or a church that is actually a business. We are bad at both versions. It is high time we turn this church wagon train around and head straight for the only thing about us that really matters.
Why don’t we head towards Jesus? And not the versions of him we have managed to create in our heads: Social Justice Jesus, Moral Compass Jesus, or even, Episcopal Jesus.
Why don’t we turn to the Jesus we find in scripture? The Jesus who knows and loves all of us, regardless of our political party affiliation. The Jesus who forgives us of all our sins, known and unknown. He even goes so far as to forgive us of our profound need to hear ourselves amplified at a church convention on hotel speakers.
Things will have to be cast down to be raised up. Like actual things. Namely, our agendas, dying churches, and our fixation on making everyone comfortable with everything. All of those things must die and get out of the way. And the only way we will wade through those murky waters together, is to turn our tired, broken hearts to the one who came to save us from ourselves.
If we want to spend hours arguing about things on microphones or insisting on resolutions that don’t amount to anything actually happening, then fine. Go for it. But remember this, if we are not working for the Gospel, if we are not telling our neighbors about the Good News of Jesus Christ, if we are not allowing our lives to be moved by the Holy Spirit, then we are teetering dangerously close to the clanging bell category. And hopefully, we can all agree, everyone has heard enough of that useless noise.