The New Church's Teaching series has been one of the most recognizable and useful sets of books in the Episcopal Church. With the launch of Church's Teachings for a Changing World, visionary Episcopal thinkers and leaders have teamed up to revitalize the series, making it grounded and thoughtful enough for seminarians and leaders, yet concise and clear enough for newcomers. Stephanie Spellers and Eric H. F. Law, volume editors, began the series with a look at the Episcopal Way. Now they bring the series full circle with a dynamic conversation about faith, dialogue, and the generous give-and-take that makes Episcopal life possible. They interview the series' authors and invite readers to expand the faith conversation: with self, with neighbor, with the "enemy," and ultimately with God.
About the Author
STEPHANIE SPELLERS serves as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Canon for Evangelism, Reconciliation, and Creation, helping Episcopalians to share good news and cross boundaries as part of the Jesus Movement. A former church planter and seminary faculty member, she is the author of Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other and the Spirit of Transformation. She lives in New York City.
ERIC H. F. LAW is a prolific author, Episcopal priest, and the founder and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute, which provides training and resources for creating inclusive and sustainable churches and communities. He lives in Rancho Mirage, California.
Read an Excerpt
A Conversation on the Episcopal Way with Stephanie Spellers and Eric Law
"Given the changing cultural landscapes within which we live, given that emerging generations and many of our neighbors have little if any affinity for Christianity, Episcopalians must do two things: 1) get deeply rooted in our neighborhoods and discover the stories, gifts, and wisdom of the communities and cultures around us; and 2) get deeply rooted in the Episcopal Way and discover the stories, gifts, and wisdom of this church."
In The Episcopal Way, we took up that challenge in two ways. First, we examined the major markers for life in the second decade of the twenty-first century — such as social media, multi-tasking, networks, flattened authority, globalization, and secularism — and then identified unique elements of the Episcopal Way that might balance or complement those trends.
Then we turned the tables to take an honest look at Episcopal Church life, its light and its shadows. We pointed to the church's capacity for adaptation and its fear of change; its love of beauty and its sometimes idolatrous relation to liturgical and aesthetic norms; its history of generosity and the shadow of elitism; the high value we place on reason and the temptation to think ourselves right out of love for God. From there, we listened for wisdom beyond the church, to see what others could teach us about following God on the Episcopal Way.
Four years after launching this project, we found ourselves convinced this conversational method is more urgent now than ever — for the life of the church and the life of our world.
Eric: I wonder ... what did you like most about our book?
Stephanie: I hope what comes through is our genuine love of the Episcopal Church and the God this church helps both of us to follow. As I look at it, this book feels like a love letter to the church. When you love someone, you accept and celebrate what they are, and you want to be a part of what they're becoming.
It also feels like we were leading people through a dance: looking back to the rich gifts of the past, looking forward to the challenges and promise of the future, looking within at the practices and stories of the Church, looking out to the wisdom and longing of the world. That's the only way Episcopalians can live faithfully — looking, touching and engaging all those realities. It's like the Via Media in action.
Via Media: the "middle way" or a comprehensive, "both/and" path that draws on the wisdom of multiple perspectives to move toward a fuller understanding of the truth.
Eric: I'm glad we addressed the essential question: is the church relevant for people who might say, "I'm spiritual but not religious"? Some people dismiss Christianity because it seems like it's always looking inward, like the church knows all the answers and excludes the rest.
Stephanie: Yes, I think the book really makes a different case: we know some, the world knows some. If you're spiritual but not religious, you just might know things we don't know, and you might appreciate some of the things we've worked out over hundreds of years. Let's walk it out together.
Eric: I also like that we don't protect the church. We challenged the church. You've got to talk about how privileged we have been and still are, as a whole church (in terms of our status as a majority white, majority middle- and upper-middle-class church, with a disproportionate number of college-educated members). Don't hide from that — take responsibility for it.
Stephanie: What about for you, Eric — what part of the story felt most important to you?
Eric: My passion is for the church to continue to learn from the world. When we choose not to do the life-giving thing — not to follow Jesus, do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God — when we need to be pulled back to the source, sometimes the world helps us to do that. For instance, there are a lot of exciting things happening in science and in the business world. Everybody is talking about relationship.
Stephanie: Yeah, I now have a checking account that's called "Relationship Checking." Come on!
Eric: Some businesses are figuring out how to relate, how to have a social purpose in the world, and how to make money. Putting our faith next to what goes on in the world, we come to a new way that is more faithful than anything we had before.
Stephanie: Speaking of testing things in the real world, it was important that this book (and future volumes) featured things like the "Try This" exercises and "Road Rules" for engaging others and study guides for continuing the conversation. I am reminded of that wonderful Latin phrase: lex orandi, lex credendi. It's literally "The law of praying is the law of belief." But it really means, if you want to know what we believe, watch how we pray. Watch what we do. Even as we were writing and teaching in the book, some of that teaching could only happen by asking people to go do something. That's the Episcopal Way. Go have an experience and then we can talk some more. Go talk to someone else and come talk to me. That's where God is waiting.
I almost feel the process was just as important as the topics we addressed in the first book. In other words, social media and the internet or network theory are important, but they're bound to change over generations, cultures, and just time. You have to remember the exercise of drawing the connections, trying it out and reflecting and trying again. That is a core Episcopal practice.
Eric: So we're asking people, "How would you work the process we've named for yourself?" Lift beyond the specific issues. Learn the Episcopal Way of walking faithfully with whatever the world throws at you.
Stephanie: I wonder which part of the story you would change?
Eric: Starting in the 1970s, the Episcopal Church embraced psychology as a field that shaped much of how we do church, how we live in community. It's given us the Myers-Briggs personality inventory and Clinical Pastoral Education in hospitals, both as an almost uniform requirement for ordination. Sometimes we embrace psychology too much. For instance, the priest is expected to be like a one-on-one counselor with people. Now that I think about it, that might be one reason why this church hasn't grown much over the last few decades. It's impossible for a church to grow beyond 150 people if the priest is this professional, personal caretaker for all the people.
Then again, I wish we could listen more to the latest research from intercultural studies. For example, there is a stage-theory called the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity by Milton J. Bennett:
In denial, we avoid difference.
In defense, we polarize our differences.
In minimization, we minimize our differences and uphold our sameness (where most of us are today).
We need to move beyond minimization to acceptance of difference. That's when we are curious about difference and want to learn more. Look at the song, "In Christ There Is No East or West," then look at the last verse: "In Christ now meet both East and West." That's the next stage in our development.
Then comes adaptation, as we adapt and adjust our behaviors and thinking in different cultural environments, without losing who we are. Do you realize that's basically the Via Media? What we propose as a church is actually an advanced level of intercultural sensitivity development, so it's not surprising that people may really struggle with it. Intercultural theory helps us name where we've been and where we are now and where we hope to be going, and maybe why it's so hard to shift from one to the other.
Stephanie: I notice we devoted a chapter to the need for the church to fall in love with God again. We also had a long list of the church's gifts to the world around us. In both places, we didn't say that much about Jesus. We spoke of story, we spoke of Scripture, we spoke of God, we spoke of ritual and traditions, we spoke of saints. We didn't really name relationship with Jesus as one of the gifts — the primary gift — of the church to the world.
Sometimes we're sensitive to a fault, trying not to offend anybody, so we don't talk about Jesus. Soon after we wrote The Episcopal Way, Michael Curry was elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and he invited us to see ourselves as not just the Church but as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. I think today, as a church, we are exploring and waking up to the power of Jesus as the center of our lives. We're finding our words and getting comfortable sharing Jesus. His love can heal a changing and often hurting world. He's a force for love, liberation and life, and we don't need to shy away from him at the heart of our life.
Eric: What would you say to someone you're companioning who is in the "next generation" (under the age of thirty) or new to the faith?
Stephanie: When people are newer to faith, they may feel like they can only be learners and listeners. I hope they know they also have something to bring. I hope they know they can bless this venerable old church, as much as it blesses them. I hope they know God rejoices in working in their lives as much as God has been praised in the lives of saints.
I hope they also get encouragement to be curious and humble. We can say, "I am absolutely in love with God as I know him in Jesus, and I am absolutely curious about how you experience the divine and come into wholeness, too." We need that kind of curiosity and humility in the world today.
Eric: I agree. I would want them to know that their story is an important part of the conversation. They are part of the sacred. So often we dismiss young people's stories. We say things like, "You call that music? You call texting communicating?" We could really help them to value their own story as they read the Bible. See what this book has to do with the world today. What in their own experience is challenged or affirmed by the story? In fact, we could simply say, "Don't just read the book. Do the book."
Stephanie: Exactly! There's a reason why we shared our own stories early on in the book. It was an invitation to others to put their lives into conversation with the story of God, the church, the world.
Eric: They can navigate through all the polarizing issues of the day — including politics, media, the erosion of trust, personal and moral behavior, sexual harassment and everything else — if they choose to be curious and walk with a diverse community. Please don't do faith in an isolated community or with people who think just like you. That just continues the polarizations. Be with people who are different, people who ask you to re-tell your story because they haven't heard it before. Be with people who tell their stories and help you to discover the greater God story together. That's the Episcopal Way.
Stephanie: In our strongest moments, we understand faith is not about arriving somewhere. It really is about walking the way with companions. And if we didn't say that as clearly in the first book, we're saying it now.CHAPTER 2
A Conversation on History with Thomas Ferguson
"Christians have always adapted, always been diverse, and always needed to embrace global realities. Anglicanism, from the Reformation to the birth of the Episcopal Church, to the development of the Anglican Communion, has done the same. We can only hope to be as faithful as our forebears, as we are all cocreators of the Christianity that is coming into being."
Tom Ferguson is a scholar (faculty at Bexley-Seabury Institute in Chicago), priest (rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Sandwich, Massachusetts) and blogger (crustyolddean.blogspot.com). His volume on history — The Episcopal Story: Birth and Rebirth — required all those gifts. Tom introduced not only the nearly 250-year-old story of the Episcopal Church but the sweep of Christian history from the birth of the faith through its initial spread, into the rise of Christendom, the Middle Ages, the Reformation, Anglicanism's birth in England and America, nineteenth-century mission, and the contemporary Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.
Stephanie: I wonder ... as you review The Episcopal Story, what do you like best?
Tom: Looking back over the book, I've come to appreciate the introduction more and more. Sometimes introductions can look hopelessly dated, because what the author has written doesn't age well. I decided to organize the book around the themes of diversity, adaptation, and globalization in part out of necessity: trying to boil 2,000 years of Christian history into 100 pages means you can't get lost in weeds. You have to think about the lenses through which you view the past.
I think the key themes of diversity, adaptation, and globalization have become, if anything, even more relevant since the book came out. Christianity is always in a process of change and adaptation, and it's becoming increasingly clear to me we are in the midst of a massive change and shift in how we do church. We have been since the middle of the twentieth century. Realizing that we are doing what Christians have done again and again, what Christians have done anew in each generation, should give us some comfort in the midst of our challenges. Our forebears navigated diversity, adaptation, globalization. We are doing it. Our descendants will, too.
Stephanie: That's so very true. Are there also parts of the book that feel even more important to you now?
Tom: I'm probably overly fond of the chapters on the history of the early church — and not just because my PhD focus was in Early Christianity and this is where I like to geek out. In both academic and parish teaching and formation, I've found a lot of folks don't have a lot of interest in the early church. They wonder what relevance it has in our context. The very "otherness" of that context can be off-putting. So yes, we don't believe in witches and that God divinely appoints emperors. Yet there are startling similarities, as well, that I think we overlook at our peril and can learn from.
The Christianity of the first centuries unfolded in a diverse, globalized, rapidly changing world that was at times aggressive and hostile to the Christian message. Looking at how Christianity adapted to that context can teach us about our own reality.
Stephanie: Speaking of change ... if you could add another chapter or two, perhaps to speak to this very moment, what would you change now about the book?
Tom: I would have liked to have had more focus on the church in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries — even though I realize writing a book is like a game of Jenga, and to start changing pieces in one section would cascade throughout the whole project. Yet I think the period from 1910 to 1960 is an extraordinarily important one for the Episcopal Church: it's where a lot of our modern structure starts to emerge (for example the Church Pension Fund; the Executive Council; the presiding bishop becoming a full-time job; diocesan structures becoming more active; continuing engagement in global mission with growing awareness of its complexities; the emerging Civil Rights movement and questions of racial and cultural diversity).
"There's a dizzying diversity in what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Study of the church's history helps to reinforce this."
Since we still have a number of people with us who lived through our modern history, I think many Episcopalians have a better grasp of what happened in the 1960s than the 1910s. But that period from 1910 to 1960 is crucial in shaping the latter twentieth-century Episcopal Church.
Stephanie: Finally, imagine you're a companion to a young person or someone who is fairly new to the faith. What would you highlight for them in your book?
Tom: I say time and again in the book that we're always going through processes of change and adaptation. This is, frankly, still news to lots of people, many of whom seem to think the church changes slowly, or never, and that the way the church currently looks is the way it's always been. When I was a campus chaplain, I engaged a lot of young adults who had extraordinarily negative associations with Christianity. I would highlight to them, as I would to anyone new to the church, not to let anybody tell you with confidence what church "is." Being a person of faith isn't any one thing; there's a dizzying diversity in what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and study of the church's history helps to reinforce this. Experience it for yourself, while drawing from the deep reservoir of our past.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Companions on the Episcopal Way Volume 9"
Copyright © 2018 Stephanie Spellers and Eric H. F. Law.
Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I Conversations on the Way 1
Chapter 1 A Conversation on the Episcopal Way with Stephanie Spellers and Eric Law 3
Chapter 2 A Conversation on History with Thomas Ferguson 11
Chapter 3 A Conversation on Theology with Jesse Zink 15
Chapter 4 A Conversation on Social Witness with Winnie Varghese 23
Chapter 5 A Conversation on Ethics with Scott Bader-Saye 29
Chapter 6 A Conversation on Ministry with Michael Curry 37
Chapter 7 A Conversation on Scripture with Lauren Winner 45
Chapter 8 A Conversation on Worship with Jeffrey Lee and Dent Davidson 53
Part II Practicing the Way of Companionship and Conversation 61
Chapter 9 Walking and Talking with God 63
Chapter 10 Walking and Talking with Yourself 73
Chapter 11 Walking and Talking with Community 79
Chapter 12 Walking and Talking with the Neighborhood 87
Chapter 13 Walking and Talking with My Enemy 95