Thriving Congregations Initiative

Reimagining Church

New Models for the 21st Century

Co-conspirators and breaking glass

Co-conspirators and breaking glass

Lee Febos's picture

In October, I began my blog post with an anecdote about falling and breaking my phone. In November, I broke my phone again.

I break things. It’s partially my clumsiness, partially my absent-mindedness. It’s a personality quirk. It’s also something I wish I could change about myself.

For the second time in a period of a couple months, staring down my broken phone, I was frustrated with myself. Frustrated with my inadequacy, frustrated with the fact that this fragile construct of glass and wires was not designed to survive a total of three feet to my bedroom floor without shattering entirely, frustrated that I do rely on my phone for my daily functioning.

And so I feel that selfsame frustration about the state of the Episcopal Church. On a certain level, I know this is not “My fault.” In the same way I am not at fault for the technological impulse toward planned obsolescence, I am not at fault for the decline of family participation in church over the generations. But I cannot let that impulse to pass along blame be a part of my interaction with the church that I love.

Earlier this year, in a course requirement for completing a degree in Anglican Studies, I was asked to use a word to describe my relationship to the Episcopal Church, and the phrase I came up with was “co-conspirator.” So as I finish up my second to last semester at Yale Divinity School, I feel a serious need to take some accountability for the state of the church if I plan to lead it in any meaningful way.

I broke my phone. I should not participate in the breaking of the church.

I am seriously grateful for my group, grateful for the last meeting in which we came up with the most obscene things we would do with our grant money without informing the parish. This musing included painting a mural on the side of the church of Adam and Eve, sans fig leaves.

And the uncontrollable smile that comes to my lips even repeating that is a part of my love for this group and the work we are doing.

For too long, the work of church has been the loud exhortation of the ideals of excess, of a line steadily going up with massive, exponential growth. But that growth has been sustained by a list of unsung heroes, often women, often those who are marginalized and overlooked.

And that historical reality brings out a lot of bitterness for me, especially in view of the need for barriers to help those who might be exploited by this same impulse. There is a pain that people have expressed for centuries that the church can own and change.

And something that has come up in the small group many times is the place of that history in the current moment of the church. Because we should not forget how the church got to the place it is now.

A challenge we must now face is how we are able to take that history and map it onto the authority of those who are participating in the work of the church without demanding their further labor.

Because in a generation, when I look down at the fragile glass that has slipped from our hands, I hope that greater attention has been paid to the integrity of that object. But I want to know that the project of reimagining offers a reality beyond small, broken objects.