Meet my new friend Geoff – EpiscoPals 01

Below is the first in a series of conversations between myself and Bishop Geoff Woodcroft, Bishop of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land in Canada. Geoff and I first met in an elevator at General Synod 2019. Following another more recent encounter I posed some questions to Bishop Geoff to which he generously responded. The notes below are a transcript of two of our conversation points edited for clarity and length.

1) In a recent email you expressed curiosity about “the consumerist nature of the church.” I think I triggered you with my thought that congregants tend to treat financial support less as a tithe or regular offering, but more as a “pay as you go” commitment. What are you thinking about here?

The phrase “pay as you go” pushes me to consider that perhaps many who participate in, or visit church, view financial gifts as a fee for service more than their full participation in the Body of Christ. What is lost is the deep care of managing/stewarding God’s economy that is love. In the way we use language to describe our involvement in Church some seem to think of Church in relation to what they are getting and like out of it–We like the people with whom we gather; we like the music; we like the building, the windows, and the smell of snuffed beeswax candles. Thinking longer term, some have said that all they really desire is a familiar place from which to be buried.

Considered individually, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the things I have just mentioned, and how that makes folks feel.  If that is the full extent of our involvement in the Body/Church, there is an overwhelming sense of the primacy of the individual, leaving the celebration of Mass to alone speak of the corporate Body, the community. Can we not again imagine the Body of Christ, as the opposite of a consumer transaction, and speak of it in terms of how our sacrifice of self intricately weaves us all into Christ’s identity. Surely God continually calls us to be a Body and to live Jesus’ life in this age. I am convinced that the four canonical Gospels constantly speak into and against consumerism and individualism by way of describing and shaping discipleship.

2) As a bishop in a Western Canadian Diocese, and considering the language of the Ordinal, you are “You are called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.” What does that look like these days?

I am most definitely called to uphold such work. Throughout COVID I have been a disappointment to some lay and clergy leaders,  because I have followed the rule-book and not taken more risks. Alternatively, some have been very disappointed that I have not used the rule-book more heavily. COVID has brought these things to the surface—it has exposed the illnesses and dysfunctions of our Church. Many parishioners and visitors however remain indifferent, and probably could care less about any rule-book or anything I have said or done. This indifference group is deafening to my ears as it illustrates our apathy, our non-commitment to Jesus, and most unfortunately our dependency upon “the way we have always done  things around here.” We see apportionment programs as taxation, and stewardship as fund-rising. In short we appear not to trustingly subscribe to the Body, but conduct our Church affairs as a temporal underdeveloped business.

To guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church means to me that the ongoing formation of disciples (of life-long learning), is at the heart of every solution for a Church which must die in order to be resurrected. We must acknowledge that the Church of our youth (I was born in ’61) and memory did indeed die decades ago. It is now suffering the huge birth-pangs of cracking through the pod/egg/womb; and this new baby ain’t gonna be the same as the old.

We now have the wonderful opportunity to fully embrace the stories of Jesus–making, teaching, correcting, and befriending disciples. For me, this is the work of guarding the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church. Such work connects us to the millions (Anglican and others) who do the same around this earth. It also emphasizes the necessary journey from independence to interdependence, individual to full inclusion/participation in the Body.

A most useful tool for Anglicans is found in the Baptismal Covenant; the same stratagem is echoed in both the Confirmation and Marriage rites. Following the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, if the word “therefore” is inserted afterward, the aspirational strategies of Christian Presence come alive:

Will we continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? 
We will with God’s help.

Will we persevere in resisting evil and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? 
We will with God’s help.

Will we proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ? 
We will with God’s help.

Will we seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourselves?  
We will with God’s help.

Will we strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? 
We will with God’s help.

Will we strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?  
We will, with God’s help.

And from the Confirmation and Matrimonial rites:

Will we who witness one another’s affirmation vows do all in our power to support disciples in their life in Christ?  
We will, with God’s help

When the word you (singular), is replaced with the word we (collective plural), this is what I guard.

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