During the presentation of the nominees for Presiding Bishop, Bishop Breidenthal of Southern Ohio was asked this question: “what must the Church be willing to leave behind?” Bishop Breidenthal gave an answer that surely upset just about everyone in the Episcopal Church. He said that the Church should be willing to leave behind “good music, old buildings, and fancy liturgy.”
Though his answer may have caused great consternation among the organists and sextons of the world, his answer was not nearly bold enough for the Church to flourish in the future. Music, buildings, and liturgy are the scapegoats for much of our self-perceived lack of relevance to the wider world. It is difficult to imagine that if every Episcopal congregation gave up on the hymnal, moved into the local coffee shop, and adopted creative liturgies that the Church would instantly become an icon of health and vitality.
No, what the Church must be willing to leave behind is much deeper. The Church must leave behind our milquetoast preaching of the gospel, our inability to articulate why Jesus matters for us and for the world, and our petty squabbling that only distracts us from the true mission of the Church given to us by our Lord in the Great Commission. We must leave behind our tendency to substitute a Meyers-Briggs typology for an identity rooted in baptism. In other words, we must drop the apologies and take up apologetics.
And, perhaps most shocking of all, we must leave behind General Convention as it is. True conversation and Christian fellowship cannot take place on the floor of a legislative body. Our system is set up in such a way to create winners and losers. The Church, at its best, is the assembly of disciples called together for worship, evangelism, and fellowship, but the time and money spent at General Convention does not reflect these priorities. General Convention, at its best, could be a moment when Episcopalians gather together for a time of spirited fellowship layered with worship and prayer rather than an opportunity to press political agendas. The Episcopal Church must learn to organize for conversation instead of legislation.
Leaving behind our pale Christianity and our rigid system of governance might, at first, seem like a betrayal of who we are and what we have inherited. This is an opportunity to imagine a Church that may or may not have good music, old buildings, and fancy liturgy. As Richard Hooker would say, those things are mutable. We can leave them behind or not. The Church must drop the unproductive burdens that we are carrying so that our hands are free to pick up the cross of Christ.