Let's focus on 24/7, not 20/20

Let's focus on 24/7, not 20/20

by Julie A. Wortman jawortman@thewitness.org

I've been thinking lately about the new 20/20 initiative aimed at building up the church. 20/20 refers to the year (2020) by which this program, if successful, is supposed to have doubled the number of baptized Episcopalians. Undoubtedly, the catchy name is also meant to imply what a clear-sighted scheme this is. One church-growth enthusiast, Richard Kew, reportedly told the Episcopal Church's Executive Council that this new evangelistic effort will require the efforts of 10,000 new clergy -- "missionary pastors" -- who can "transform people from consumers of religious product into disciples." Eighty percent of the needed growth, he says, will come from "planting" new churches. 20/20 is not a program, we're to understand, but "a movement to alter the culture of the Episcopal Church."

I'm sorry, but I smell a rat. With its emphasis on clergy-led church planting, 20/20 hardly seems a departure from the status quo. If anything, this is a reactionary step.

Don't get me wrong. Congregations can and do serve many positive purposes. Here our youth can be introduced to Christian theology and tradition. Here many people find a community with whom to share their lives. Here people in need or distress often find help and comfort.

But congregations do not define what it means to be church. Sacrament and solidarity do not require buildings, vestries, altar guilds, every-member canvasses or even clergy. If we don't want to encourage religious consumerism, we must stop building church convenience stores.

Discipleship requires on-the-job training and public witness. If we hope for a Christianity-in-practice, we must spend more time showing one another the daily, weekly, seasonal embodiment of what that means.

So if there are things I wish the Episcopal Church would campaign to have more of, it would be for more involvement in groups like Los Angeles' CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice), an ecumenical group with strong Episcopal participation that has become a prominent player in the push for dignity, respect and a living wage for that city's low-wage workers.

And for more opportunities like Omaha's Resurrection House and the Episcopal Urban Internship program for younger adults to experience first-hand what simple living entails and how the structures of economic injustice operate.

And for more groups like Episcopal Power and Light, the Episcopal Economic Justice Network, and the Diocese of Rochester's PPICS (Public Policy Issues and Christian Stewardship), which are working to find faithful ways of addressing the current energy crisis and economic and social inequities.

Along the way, I believe, the church's culture will indeed change. Our prayers of the people will become more specific and detailed. We'll more often find ourselves celebrating Eucharist in the places where flesh-and-blood struggles are occurring. News reports will more regularly feature our leaders' public calls for justice.

If a catchy label is needed for this campaign, call it 24/7. To my way of thinking, that's a clearer vision of the kind of discipleship the church ought to be trying to grow.

Julie A. Wortman is editor/publisher of The Witness magazine, http://www.thewitness.org.


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