From the Psalter:
The Lord has set his throne in heaven,
and his kingship has dominion over all.
Bless the Lord, you angels of his,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
and hearken to the voice of his word.
Bless the Lord, all you his hosts,
you ministers of his who do his will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of his,
in all places of his dominion;
bless the Lord, O my soul.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 103:19-22 (BCP 1979 version) – January 7, 2013.)
Last week the senior seminarians of the Episcopal Church, those who will graduate in the spring and shortly thereafter be ordained to the transitional diaconate, sat for the General Ordination Examination. This mutli-day test is something like a Bar exam for the clergy of our denomination. Each day, after the testing was concluded, one or more bloggers were posting and commenting up on the questions.
A test question in the area of cross-cultural ministry asked about the theological, pastoral, and practical issues a parish minister might face when asked to permit the use of his or her church facility by a yoga group, a Muslim congregation, or a group of Zen Buddhists. In a Facebook discussion, I suggested that it was an unrealistic question, that it might be of interest as a hypothetical to academics, and might possibly describe a situation a priest in a cosmopolitan urban parish might face, but that it was not going to be a problem for the great majority of our clergy who will minister in smaller cities, small towns, and exurban and rural areas, places where there are few Muslims or Zen Buddhists. As the discussion went on, I realized (once again) that there is a great divide in the Episcopal Church between our leadership, drawn mainly from and headquartered in the coastal urban centers and our academic seminaries, and those of us on the ground and “in the trenches” in the small parishes of the midwest, the plains, the Rockies, the deserts, and the rural South. I later posted this comment as my Facebook status: “The academic and urban elites that run the Episcopal Church should stop flying over the middle of the country. They should drive through it and spend time in the small communities in the midwest and the great plains.”
Since doing so, I’ve received plenty of affirmative responses from colleagues ministering in Wisconsin, Nebraska, elsewere in Ohio, Kansas, and other midwestern, southern, and southwestern communities. From colleagues in large urban areas on both coasts, however, I’ve received sarcastic comments about midwesterners being persecuted by New Yorkers and apparently earnest comments describing midwesterners as “ignorant” and isolated but not responsible for “the way they are.” Point illustrated, perhaps?
I bring this up again here today because the psalm reminded me of the discussion: “Bless the Lord, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion.” In all places of his dominion . . . . It truly does seem to me sometimes that leadership of the mainstream denominations, my own Episcopal Church among them, get focused on the urban centers and bound up in the problems that urban life presents. It often seems to me that leaders focus on the ministries of large parishes and tailor church programs to their needs. But, important as those centers and those parishes are, they are not the only places of God’s dominion, nor are they the norm.
We hear over and over again in the church press about the “average Episcopal church” . . . which has about 80 people in attendance on a Sunday, which has a budget of only slightly more than $100,000 per year, which is unable to sustain full-time ordained ministry, and which has fewer than ten children in Sunday school and not enough teens to field a youth group. We have this average because many (probably most) of our parishes are in smaller communities in the midwest, the plains states, the Rocky mountain states, the rural south, and the desert southwest. We have members and congregations in all places of God’s dominion, not just in the urban centers of the coasts.
If we are to bless the Lord in all the places of his dominion, the church (in all its denominational varieties) needs to begin paying attention to all the places of his dominion!
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.