Reflections on Presiding Bishop's vision of evangelism by Michael Carroccino
Michael Carroccino, master of divinity student and postulant from the diocese of Olympia, is blogging from the clergy conference where Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is speaking "about her vision of being church in the 21st century."
The Presiding Bishop is using Trinitarian theology as a centerpiece for evangelism.
Take a look at Michael's reflections on her presentations today.
Today I have been in Cle Elum, Washington at a clergy conference for the dioceses of Spokane and Olympia. While the weather is chilly and wet, the mountains outside revealed their splendor throughout the day as we shuffled back and forth between worship and discussion and food. I have seen much that excites me - both for my own future and for the future of the church.
The keynote speaker here is Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, and she is here to talk about her vision of being church in the 21st century. This morning's session was an exhaustive rundown of every aspect of what the church can become as it moves ahead: she covered polity, worship, evangelism, mission, spiritual practice, the roles of clergy, ecclesiology, and much more; all from the perspective of casting a vision for what we can become. All of it was well thought out and broad in its outlook. I took copious notes on it all and will be digesting it for quite some time to come.
Her guiding metaphor for the entire talk centered around the Trinity - someone had thoughtfully put an icon of Rublev's Trinity in the worship space, much to Katherine's delight - and what it implies. For her, the Trinity is an eternal conversation, but in a sense that hearkens back to a much older form of the word. In medieval language, conversation had a much deeper meaning, which can be alliterated as "to turn about with," but also implying things such as: to be in community with, to have dealings with. She further related conversation to the theological concept of perichoresis (the Greek word for the 'eternal dance' or 'mutual indwelling' of the Trinity). Conversation, then is the work of God that we bring into the world as the church.
She explored this a bit further, pointing out that there are two theological bases in our tradition upon which to found this idea: the creation of man in Genesis and the baptism of Jesus in the New Testament. Both begin with a kind of creation from the waters of chaos, and both immediately move toward blessing: "it is very good" in reference to humans at the creation, and "this is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased" at the baptism. Then, both move away from that: humans fall and are cast from the garden, Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Schori says that we make a mistake when we base our conversation in the second part of the story: our first and primary interaction with God is one of blessing, one of being the beloved.
Given this as a guiding story, there are tremendous implications for evangelism, and Katherine talked extensively about some of them. First and foremost is hospitality, but not in the traditional sense. Rather, this is a hospitality of being able to receive a gift - for we first must be able to make ourselves open and receptive to God's gifts to us before we can give anything to others. This hospitality plays out in our community interactions when we meet others with an openness to the gifts they have to offer. Evangelism, then, becomes rooted in seeing the gifts already extant in others' lives and encouraging those gifts toward joining the conversation of the Trinity. Evangelism, she quoted from Dwight Zscheile, is about initiating someone into the Kingdom of God for the first time by touching their compassion for themselves and encouraging them to go deeper with it. In realizing that God's compassion for them goes far beyond their compassion for themselves, they are free to realize that that same divine love and compassion extends to all people everywhere. Thus we are working toward recognizing our true nature and status as the beloved of the creator of the universe - we are working our way back toward the beginning of the conversation.
Schori's discussion and interpretation of Trinitarian theology and its implications for the church are exquisite to hear and take part in, and her pastoral presence in a room full of pastors is undeniable. She says that the Trinity is something that bears far more discussion in our churches, something we should be hosting discussion groups about rather than just preaching. After all, the Trinity is a divine mystery: we all have to enter together, and learn from each other as we walk the journey.