Building Parishes with Shoe Leather
There is a saying among the older clergy, that we build parishes with shoe leather! The way to build parishes and dioceses is to visit, visit and visit! Visit everyone on your mailing list. Ask parishioners for referrals, for names of relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and visit them all! Half of them probably don’t go to church anywhere. Visit people you meet at baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals.
Before visiting, we want to pray for the people we will see. Some of our parishioners, the remnant community, can join us in prayer and even fasting for those we visit. Over time some of our nucleus community will join us in visiting, which includes hospitals, retirement homes, prisons, businesses, schools, universities, police stations, fire houses, military bases, service clubs and Chambers of Commerce. Before we go out we pray. “First talk to God about men; then talk to men about God.” We will lift up all our prospects in prayer, and in our Mass intentions, and wait on the Lord in expectancy to see how he will be moving in people’s lives.
And so we let the Lord set up the conditions for growth, letting the Lord prepare the soil, break up the clods, aerate the earth, prepare the community to receive new life and growth. Prayer and fasting and the Daily Offices and the Mass mean less strain, less anxiety, and more expectancy. How is God going to be moving next? Where is He moving now? Let’s get under the anointing, go to the people, the place, where God is (or will) pour out His blessing. And the first place of anointing is the Blessed Sacrament. If you want to get wet in a shower, stand under the shower-head. If you want the blessings of God, stand under the place of anointing…a place we can discern through prayer and fasting, that begins at the Altar of God, where we lift up Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice.
The Urgent Call to Kingdom
The King is with us, and His Kingdom has broken in. Absolute, personal love is absolutely revealed, to me, to us. Jesus says, “the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk. 17: 21) St. John Chrysostom says, "Find the door of your heart, and you will find the door to the Kingdom of Heaven." That’s how central the Kingdom is, now that Christ is in our midst. Our true goal, our destiny, is the Kingdom, the state of affairs in which God is all in all. So the call to the Kingdom is urgent and unconditional. And we visit others with this call to the Kingdom in mind. And as we wear out our shoes, we experience incarnational connectedness to the place where the Lord has put us. The aim is to extend the Kingdom and to cure the souls who come in. Extend and cure.
Lots of visiting does not mean losing sight of websites and social media and how we engage people through them. The internet is a tool, a shovel, which gets a fisherman into the soil, to get the bait he needs for fishing. The visiting is the fishing and the catch for which he has prayed. As the Lord uses us to gather souls into His kingdom, we build parishes, schools, monasteries, works of mercy, dioceses and provinces, and yes, a seminary, and connect these together. Build and connect, connect and build!
One very useful visual aid is maps on the wall, in the home, office and fellowship hall. The maps have dots to show where parishes are, perhaps color coded according to jurisdiction. Other local maps show where parishioners live. With the maps, one can see patterns: who is close to whom, and how visitations can be coordinated. The maps are good for intercession, because, upon looking at a dot, one prays for what or whom it represents.
Kingdom Thinking in our Communities
Kingdom thinking is seeing things from God’s point of view, as the Holy Spirit constantly forms the mind of Christ in us. When our heavenly Father looks at a city, state or region, he sees our jurisdictional lines on the ground. But He is more interested in how His Church will present the claims of His Son to every human being who lives in that region, by every means available, with everyone who is doing the same thing. Our jurisdictional lines are about as useful as paper mache egg cartons. We need the cartons to carry the eggs, but the eggs are what we’re after. So our motto, along with all Bible-believing Christians, could be “to know Christ, and to make Him known.”
Kingdom thinking does not negate the importance of our structures. Rather, it ensures the interplay of the institutional, canonical side of things, with the Holy Spirit, and the new possibilities He wants to open up. The most arresting summary of the Kingdom I have ever heard is from the late great Fr. Alexander Schmemann: “The Kingdom is the love of the Father for the Son, and the Son’s love of the Father, and the Holy Spirit’s gift of that love to the faithful.”
The Church is the Sacrament of the Kingdom, the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom is bigger than the Church, and may move and stir things outside it, but the Church is the Sacrament of it. And biblically, the Church can manifest in four modes: as the family of God, as the army of God, as farmers on the land, and as athletes on a field. As Anglicans we usually prioritize what the Bible prioritizes: the family of God, the household of faith. But lest we get cozy or smug in that mode, the Lord wants us to have a dose of the military metaphor. We are the soldiers of Christ, the militia Christi, as well as part of a family, a farm or a team. The principles of the Kingdom are the same as the 10 Principles of Military Combat, which are available right here on one page for anyone who wants them.
Whether at the parish or diocesan level, we can define a locale or a metropolitan region and seek to network and meet people in it, to befriend them, get alongside them, to share the Gospel as the Spirit leads. We look for partners in this, those who can lend support through their intercessions, those who can open doors and make introductions. In Washington, D.C. in the early ‘90s we worked with one neighborhood, two universities, two military bases, two chaplaincies, three embassies and four think tanks. It could be, someday, that Washington D.C. could be the Headquarters for the G-1, for greater visibility in the nation’s capital, and more impact on our policy makers.
Fighting for the Kingdom
We know that today, as never before, we are up against principalities and powers which are working feverishly to neutralize and eliminate the Faith of our fathers. We are fighting a real spiritual battle against a foe who is getting ready to play his last hand.
One of the guiding principles before us all is not to fight this war with the tactics of the previous one, as fought in the glory days of the Episcopal Church. New strategies and tactics are for today’s battles. A “new” strategy for today is to re-configure our structures and boundaries to get redundancy and static out of the system, for maximum spread of the Kingdom, or rather, “re-configure until we get it the way God wants it.” That’s really an ancient strategy, employed by St. Theodore of Tarsus when he was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 7th century. He organized the Church in Britain along lines that are still applicable today.
A “new” tactic is to allow jurisdictional boundaries to be modified if this will make our life more efficient. Some dioceses may want to merge, and other new ones are free to form. New parishes and especially schools are set up for everyone’s benefit. Regional clericuses meet across jurisdictional lines, making it possible to see the day when a regional clericus becomes a new deanery or diocese, or when the parishes of a state decide to leave their existing jurisdiction and form a new diocese based on state boundaries. We have had clericuses in Colorado Springs, the Philadelphia metropolis, Birmingham, Alabama, Marshall, Virginia, Columbia, South Carolina and Southern Pines, south of Raleigh, North Carolina.
In all that we do together, Kingdom thinking is to focus on the mission, not on turf, or personalities, or on who gets the credit. The mission is the focus, the spread of the Kingdom, and the cure of souls. We can get a lot done when that is the focus.
Another “new” tactic comes from missionaries of old, and that is taking the energy of a new development and spinning it into another. The newly established parish is a springboard for starting another one, or for starting a school. A new parish or even a new diocese can be spun off a youth camp, because every ingredient for a new parish or a new diocese is present in the camp. This is the growth model of the Book of Acts.
Claiming our Neighborhoods for the Kingdom
Yet another new tactic, taken from the middle ages, is to build synergies with our small institutions, so that these institutions work in a dynamic rapport with each other. Thus a cathedral ideally has six elements, six cylinders in an engine: a parish inside it, a school, or other youth or campus work, a seminary, a religious order, a relationship with the neighborhoods around it, and ties with other cathedrals both domestic and foreign. The devil wants to separate all these elements out, to divide and conquer. A diocese, and a province, is meant to keep them all together, in harness with one another, all living and breathing and witnessing to know Christ, and to make Him known.
Slowly at first, but gaining momentum in our ranks, is the restoration of street processions, on Palm Sunday, Rogation Sunday, Corpus Christi, or feasts of title. For some years we had a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Bishop Charles Grafton, a Patron Saint of our community, with a grand street procession in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, complete with Salvation Army band and the Sisters of the Holy Nativity and police escort, processing up to St. Paul’s Cathedral, and finishing with a Solemn High Mass and Litany of the Saints and lunch. Processing around, say, a block, is staking out a claim for that part of the world for the Kingdom.
So too with house blessings. The blessing ropes that house, corrals that house, into the Kingdom, and reveals it as a Christian home. When we process around, or bless a house, or go on a pilgrimage, we can invite family members, friends and neighbors and colleagues. There was once a rector in a college town who set up a Wednesday Lenten Bible study for students at 5 am, knowing that students love a challenge, and doing something a little outside the box. So too before the First Sunday in Advent, and before Whitsunday, he would teach teenagers how to keep an all night vigil before the Blessed Sacrament.
Kingdom Thinking Thinking is Counter-cultural
Now, let us exult in the counter-cultural! As our culture unravels, we keep getting more counter cultural as we build our own culture and restore among us the biblical world view, biblical thinking, which is the parent of Kingdom thinking. Thinking biblically is the truly exciting way to live. The Holy Spirit reveals life in the Kingdom as high adventure. Even the mundane is part of the adventure.
The way we use language beccomes more biblical. We say “brethren” because that’s what the Bible does — for a very profound theological reason. The Bible’s anthropology is the one we can trust. Everything is subsumed under the masculine, just as Heaven is, eternally. Our dress becomes more biblical, as more of our younger women opt for head coverings in church. Liturgy is rich. Ancient Plainsong is used more. Time is sanctified with the Ordo Kalendar. People lean into their stewardship, and renewal comes through penitence.
There are parishes that make frequent use the 10 Commandments, with the Penetential Office on Saturday evenings, after Evening Prayer, followed by the Sacrament of Confession. As with the whole of Scripture, we are unapologetically patriarchal. Jesus redeemed patriarchy and revealed it to be gracious and kenotic. We are helping to restore gracious, kenotic patriarchy. Reality-seeking women find this sublimely refreshing. They can at last be free to lavish their feminine energy as help-meets for their husbands, and mothers to their children, and the making of a home, the highest thing there is in the Kingdom, next to the Altar and the Pulpit.
When new people come to us on Sunday morning, they are either instantly repelled, or mysteriously drawn to the sweet fragrance and radiant joy of life in the Kingdom. They sense that they have stumbled across what is real and true. There are now many scores of hundreds of young men and women and young families on the Canterbury Trail…or, should we say, the Walsingham Trail! Yes…let’s go all the way: the Walsingham Trail! Most are coming from evangelical churches, who are the baptizers. We are the confirmers, who disciple and confirm the new multitudes coming to us, who have discoverd the Liturgy and the Fathers.
We are all sad about the unravelling culture. But our enthusiasm is unquenchable, because it arises from the radiant joy of the King’s eternal victory. Our life in Christ is a summons from ahead, from the End, where God is all in all. We are the branches of an upside-down Vine, whose roots are in Heaven. We draw our resources from a risen, victorious Lord. The Eucharist, and all our lives, are a dress rehearsal for heaven. The new life of the new creation is manifested as gracious, mannered and courteous.
Step by step we are creating our own shadow culture, a culture of life and love, of life restored as love. Home schooling is spreading, with new networks of home school co-ops. New parish and diocesan schools are opening up…and some new colleges too. Parishes discover that they have, within their ranks, their own teachers, doctors and nurses, attorneys, their own musicians and artists and writers and media platforms. Some folks bring foodstuffs and clothing to coffee hour to sell for pennies on the dollar, or give away…eggs, venison, berries and bread. People who come to coffee hour without a job will leave with one.
When people ask for healing or recovery, we are ready with the Sacrament of Holy Unction. Jesus says to us, “as ye go, preach, saying, The Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10: 7-8)
Kingdom thinking involves ecumenical dialogue with those who uphold the consensus of the undivided Church of the first millennium. C. S. Lewis’ had a version of this which he called “mere Christianity.” And it is good to see where it is possible to accept inputs from para-church organizations or at least to check them out. I have worked with, or received help from Campus Crusade for Christ, Cursillo, Tres Dias, Alpha, Jews for Jesus, and Full Gospel Businessmen. I once met a man at a Full Gospel Businessman’s meeting who came over to my table and asked if I would take Communion to his house-bound great aunt, because her priest never visited. After I went to see her, the great nephew became a member and his wife became the organist and together they became major benefactors and helped us build our church.
The Path Forward in Unity
This January 16-18, various G-3 bishops will meet in Charleston, South Carolina, hosted by St. Timothy’s, to envision proposals for how to go from G-3 to G-1, how to finish building the house. At present we are on the site, surrounding the foundation and the emerging structure with our temporary RVs, mobile homes and tents. One proposal is that each diocese of a church like the ACC would join either the ACA or the APA. The overall structure would be the ACC, which would have two provinces in it. The two provinces could remain as they are or, over time, make whatever adjustments they deem appropriate. More provinces could be added on as they decide they want to walk with us. This plan is analagous to the Church of England, which is the umbrella for two provinces, Canterbury and York.
As the Holy Spirit draws us together in Christ, there is sometimes a concern for our distinctives as a jurisdiction. Will we lose our distinctives? If we let so-and so-on board, or if we get too involved with so-and-so, will our unique charisms, or our brand name, be diluted, or contaminated, or even suffocated? But when we are walking humbly in the Spirit, forbearing one another in love, soaking our decisions in prayer and fasting and waiting upon the Lord, our life together super-enhances our distinctives. We become more ourselves through the union. This is true of a good marriage. The unique features of the two parties are hyper-accentuated, and become perichoretically available, one to the other, as the gift each brings to the other, as the dance we do together.
There was never a more differentiated group of men than the 12 apostles. Yet when they are with Jesus, they work together, they focus on the mission, they appreciate one another and thank God for one another. There is the apocryphal story of a man who dies, and St. Peter shows him supper-time in hell. Each person is given a long, three foot ladle for his soup. They don’t know how to feed themselves with this clumsy long ladle, and they are wretched. Then St. Peter shows our man supper-time in heaven. Each person has a three foot ladle, and is using it to feed the man next to him.
The saints through the ages show us that the two foci for renewal in the Kingdom are our Lord in the Eucharist, and our Lady in the Church. Jesus in the Eucharist, and Mary in the Church. Mary is not a mechanism for getting Jesus into the world. She is a person, Jesus’ Mother, and ours, the new Eve of the new creation, the feminine fully redeemed. The Church is not a mechanism for getting out the Word and Sacraments. The Church, like Mary, is the Bride of the Holy Spirit, the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit, the Sacrament of the Kingdom, the Sacrament of the Age to Come.