Provinces Share Mission, Each in Its Own Way

Episcopal News Service. May 5, 1977 [77145]

Louisville, KY. -- Despite vast differences in churchmanship, geography, economy and lifestyle, the nine internal provinces of The Episcopal Church were united in many of the concerns they held up to the national Church structure.

These concerns included a recognition that the Church is defensive and concerned with survival. This shows itself, the provinces saw, in parochialism on all levels; in viewing mission congregations and underused buildings as liabilities; in a reluctance to be a witnessing Church; and in a concern for numbers.

The provinces pointed to the need for true evangelism over and above the concern for recruiting members to The Episcopal Church. They called for educational work to make Episcopalians more aware of and responsive to their Biblical and historical tradition.

A second universal theme was the need to create real belief in the ministry of all baptised Christians and the need to support people as they attempt to find and build their ministries. Seminaries and diocesan institutions were called on to evaluate programs for ministry training in light of this commitment and to find ways to help both clergy and laity break out of existing patterns of clericalism.

Overseas partners generally had praise for the variety and ingenuity of stewardship work in The Episcopal Church, but called on the provinces and the national Church to expand this work to include the theological recognition that the Church is called to be stewards of all of creation -- environment, energy, and natural resources as well as money.

The problems of urban life and the need for unified Church response to them were underscored by a number of provinces which emphasized the need to create an understanding of the intimate relationship of rural and suburban congregations to the cities.

Most provinces were also agreed that ecumenical planning and program needs to be done more thoroughly and conscientiously at all levels of Church life.

The question of Church structure and of authority were also raised in most provinces and the Executive Council was called on by the partners to examine these issues.

While there was concensus on these issues, the diversity and nature of each province made the reports and approaches distinctly different.

Province I highlighted the concept that "Partnership is non-coercive" and, while citing a number of opportunities for partnership, did not urge the member dioceses to immediately launch new programs. The province vowed to see that the synod considered these issues and began to share information on a regular basis. Worship was both an issue and a means of resolving issues. At one point, the consultation seemed stalled until the daily Eucharist was advanced and the members offered up the circumstances which were frustrating them as intercessions with the result that "what had been stumbling blocks became opportunities for mission." During a discussion on evangelism, one member suggested that our strong Eucharistic tradition may actually be an initial barrier to those unfamiliar with the Church and touched off a minor furor.

Province II also agreed to direct its concerns to the next meeting of synod, but went on to suggest that work in inner cities be shared immediately by creating a conference to examine the variety of programs. Challenging the Church to develop new and indigenous ministries, the Rt. Rev. John S. Spong, Bishop Coadjutor of Newark pointed out that "God loved the world, so he entered it in a way we could understand. We have to enter that world not by moaning, but by taking it as a wondrous opportunity so that we can proclaim out our Gospel in that world with integrity and let the Church form a new shape that will be capable of the ministry in that situation.

Province III, in addition to raising the urban issues most strongly, held up the need to work within "flexible coalitions built upon a partnership of mutual concern." The members urged churches both inside and outside the province to enter into covenants in order to concentrate mission in areas of human need. This call for flexible coalitions of particular need rather than fixed structures reflects strongly the reputation that Province III carries as having the least interest in formal provincialwide structure.

Province IV, on the other hand, has the reputation of having the strongest province structure in the Church and the members of the consultation found themselves grappling with that and considering it a burden. Their conclusion was that there was no functioning provincial structure and they asked both the dioceses and the Executive Council to examine ways of using functional coalitions.

Province V declared however, that, "in many ways a province was created at this consultation." Within the framework of an intensive worship and devotional life, the members of the province identified a number of concerns -- energy crises, special provincial ministries and investigation of causes of urban crisis -- and challenged dioceses to consider allocating additional sums -- of one per cent of each diocese's budget to these new strategies. They also recommended that synodal meetings call in experts from each diocese on a particular concern beginning with evangelism.

Province VI -- which includes the vast northern plains and stretches from the Great Lakes to the Rockies -- cast its report in the form of an epistle to its widely scattered parishes. They found their position as a minority church in this region to be a real gift, enabling them to be sensitive to the needs of minority groups and held up the need for increased work among the Native American population within each diocese. They became aware of the conflict inherent in being both a meat-producing area and a coal-rich area, since the needed grazing lands conceal the equally needed coalfields.

Province VII found many of its special concerns focusing on the rapidly growing population of Mexican-Americans within the region and took initiative to collaborate on ministry with this group with Province VIII. They called on each member and on the Executive Council to make a commitment "to hammering out the implications of the Gospel of love in our changing times," and responding to the Venture in Mission with clear priorities for work with minorities and the urban poor. Each member was called on to forge inter-diocesan links as it saw fit, and not to be limited in them to the boundaries of the province. They closed by asking the Church to plan a second Partners in Mission consultation within three years to evaluate the progress of the Church in mission.

Province VIII: Ministry with the wide variety of immigrants and minority ethnic groups was a major item in the Province of the Pacific with its large populations of Asian, Pacific Island, Native American and Hispanic people and there was general agreement that this work has to have a wide focus. Again, flexible working coalitions seemed to be the answer with Native American ministry being carried on in concert with neighboring dioceses in Provinces VII and VI and the work with Asian and Pacific people done through Episcopal Asiamerica Strategies Task Force (EAST) and through national coalitions to address problems peculiar to each Asian group. In addition, the group agreed to the value of seeking out close relationships with those dioceses and provinces around the world from whom the populations come, so that work may be co- ordinated at both ends of the immigrant's journey.

Province IX is, in the opinion of many who took part in Partners in Mission, the one province of the Episcopal Church which comes close to conforming to the meaning of the word "province" for the rest of the Anglican Communion. The development of that position was the major issue when the province met in Panama. Their need is for creation of their own theological and educational materials and for support as they study the steps toward eventual provincial autonomy. In the partners' report to the Executive Council, Canon John Arnold of the Church of England, noted that the Episcopal Church held in trust for the rest of the Communion, "a magnificent treasure of Hispanic Anglicanism" which would one day have to be turned loose.