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GC2009: Jefferts Schori Tells Episcopalians to Travel Light

GC2009: Jefferts Schori Tells Episcopalians to Travel Light

By Michael Heidt
Special Correspondent

Thousands were anticipated, but The Episcopal Church's Leader, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, preached to a half full Convention hall at Sunday's United Thank Offering Eucharist, themed "Ubuntu and Mission." Speaking to Luke 10:1-9, in which Christ sends out 70 disciples, Schori advised her congregation to "travel light", warning against turning the structure of the Church into "an idol."

After asking her listeners if they were "open enough to receive what's being offered here... from your housekeeper... the Deputy across the aisle?" she told them to go out in the world and "expect to find the presence of God... and the image of God in who you meet." This is because Episcopalians in general and Convention goers in particular, are "being sent out to do just that... (and announce) the reign of God is already here."

"Are you ready to be sent?" she asked, "are you ready to go ahead of Jesus?" Not as "strangers" or "aliens", but as the Church which "as a whole has to travel lightly enough to take its message to... different cultures, or contexts." She went on to make a foray into sacramental theology, saying that the "offering we receive today is a sacrament of traveling light... a sign of inward gratitude for what is turned outwardly to mission."

After referencing several kitchens where healing is found from learning "cooking skills" and various hospitals around 'the Communion" (of The Episcopal Church), the Presiding Bishop stated, "Mission is our life and its life spent on the road, traveling light..." and that "the reign of God is breaking in on us whether we like it or not... go out there and become Sacrament, the sacrament of the reign of God."

Powerful words and apt because The Episcopal Church may not have much option, but to "travel light." Last year saw a decrease of 50,000 members, a loss of almost 1000 souls a week. A third of all parishes are unable to afford a full time minister. The average age of Episcopalians is in the region of 65 years. The list of unfavorable statistics goes on and on. On any given Sunday, a little more than 700,000 souls are in attendance at TEC churches and these are dying at a rate of 19,000 per year without replacement by birth or baptism.

All this spells financial trouble for a denomination with high structural overheads and costly strategic commitments. Fewer people means less giving. This is reflected in the PBF Committee's estimate that there will be a $15 million shortfall in the proposed budget.

Why the loss? Could it be that the message behind the mission of a denomination increasingly unencumbered by people is somehow lacking? Perhaps it is and perhaps the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church can turn the situation around by its new found evangelistic tool, the "Public Narrative," in which its members share one another's stories. That's the mission component of this Convention and it is Bonnie Anderson (President, House of Deputies) and Jefferts Schori's answer to all questions concerning the mission and growth of the Church. As the latter said this morning to a half empty hall, be prepared to "travel light".


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