The Episcopal Church is reaching out to the world with more than headlines and sound bytes at this General Convention: the comprehensive 20/20 approach to evangelism and church growth is taking shape to proclaim that the church is for everyone.
“We are fostering a mission perspective,” said Sarah Lawton, chair of the 20/20 Strategy Group and vice chair of the Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism. “It’s something you cannot legislate, but lay out the framework. We’re fostering that culture in every level — national church, diocese, and congregations — and it’s being received joyfully.”
Lawton, a deputy from the Diocese of California, has spent long hours on the Convention floor considering legislation. Agreeing that a legal process doesn’t make a church, she also knows that in many ways, in the Episcopal Church, it is legislation adopted by General Convention that drives the action.
“We want to be disciples who make disciples. We preach not the Episcopal Church, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake,” said the Rev. John A. M. Guernsey, chair of the Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism, addressing the House of Deputies on the second day of convention.
“The emergence of the 20/20 vision opened our eyes,” the Rev. James Lemler told Deputies. “The church needs to get ready for the mission we are talking about.”
Resolutions spread into nine areas (leadership, spirituality, prayer and worship, research, new congregational development, vital congregations, the Next generation, communications, funding and reporting) and emerged with challenges to the church to be “a church we haven’t seen yet,” according to the Rev.Winnie Varghese, chaplain at Columbia University.
Though many resolutions remain to be adopted by both Houses during the closing hours of deliberation, enough have already been put into action that will begin to turn this ship around, Lawton said.
“Many of these have a sense of urgency,” to get on with the mission of the church, she said. Resolutions to help the growth of vital congregations through evangelism, education, communication and spirituality, prayer and worship have been adopted, she noted.
Episcopalians should see efforts to plant churches speed up with partnership money for dioceses and congregations earmarked from the national church—especially those reaching out to underserved areas, diverse populations, and urban areas.
New funding would also provide publications in different languages, especially Spanish, to reach the quickly growing Latino presence in the United States.
The 20/20 vision has also identified ministry with youth and young adults as the number one priority of the church.
Liturgy is a central subject contained in several resolutions, including the House of Bishops reauthorizing “Enriching our Worship” to expand liturgies and music to reflect the diversity of cultures and peoples to which the Episcopal Church is reaching out.
“We breathe in through liturgy, and breathe out in action,” said Lawton. Embracing ceremonies reflected in many languages and cultures and incorporating them into Episcopal liturgies will enrich the church.
Urging or requiring contemporary language competency for those seeking ordination was discussed in both houses. Whether it will be the stronger “required” from the bishops or “encouraged” from the deputies, it still has raised the bar on awareness and reality of the flood of immigrant population coming to this country and those of the Episcopal Church from Latin America in the ninth province of the church.
“Regardless, it elevated the discussion for the first time about bringing (multicultural) leadership everywhere to the center,” Lawton said. “We never send missionaries out into the world without training and a level of competency. We must think of domestic mission in the same sense as foreign—for they are here, among us. We are urging dioceses to get people thinking about that.”
One of the most important steps was approval of leadership programs for 18-25- year-olds, internships for young people, and money to fund it, Lawton noted. Convention is considering a budget that includes $5.3 million for youth and young adult ministries for a $146.4 million total.
“That is huge. These are our leaders for the next generation. Youth and young adults were taken seriously and identified as the number one priority identified by Program, Budget and Finance,” Lawton said.
“It is an exciting time to be an Episcopalian,” said the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas in a General Convention newscast interview. Domestic and international mission are entwined, and this convention has named both a great urgency and greater understanding for the church to act.
Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold said in his opening address the first day of Convention, “My prayer is that this convention will be a part of the continuing process of discovery and growth.”
As Convention comes to a close, Lawton said, “We need to adjust to being a church in a very changing time. People seem ready to embrace this. Now go home and do it.”