Random Thoughts about the #MissionalVoices Conference

This past weekend, I attended the Missional Voices conference at Virginia Theological Seminary. It was deeply moving for me. It has given me a lot to think about and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you. I’ve struggled a lot with writing this. How am I writing it to? What is the impact I hope it will have?

This morning, I was reading Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation. It starts off with “If the Trinity reveals that God is relationship itself, then the goal of the spiritual journey is to discover and move toward connectedness on ever new levels.” Missional Voices, at least for me, was a move towards connectedness on new levels, a movement I hope will continue afterwards.

There were three seminarians from Yale that went down to Virginia as well as a priest from Tarriffville. The event was also live streamed and the Dean of the Cathedral in Hartford posted about the livestream on Facebook. I hope to stay in touch with others that participated and am looking for ways to help make this happen.

As I thought about my discernment process, it struck me that this was an event that people seeking discernment should participate in. I hope to go down to the conference again next year. If they livestream the conference again, it would be something good for people to gather at various locations around Connecticut, like The Commons in Meriden, to view the stream together and talk about it, similar to what happens with the Trinity Institute.

One of the discussions was about how you measure success of missional activities. There were frequent references to ASA, which being an old photographer, I only knew of as American Standards Association measure of film speed. Eventually, it became clear that this stands for Average Sunday Attendance, a metric that many at the conference didn’t think was all the relevant.

Instead there were discussions about Average Weekly Impact as a much better measure. One of the panelists spoke about being asked, every day at the dinner table by her father, what she had done to help the community that day. There were also various discussions about the importance of stories.

I’m not sure what the rules are on Parish Reports. My understanding is that they are for standard data required nationally. To the extent they could be shifted to focus more on the stories about impact a church is having on the community, it would seem like a good thing. Of course rectors might bristle and being asked to provide even more information, but that information might be really valuable.

e.g. A Connecticut Addendum to the Parish Report: What are three stories that best illustrate the impact your parish had on the community over the past year? I don’t know if there is anything like that, but it would be great. One person suggested it would be great from a communications viewpoint and talked about the idea of having diocesan or large parish beat reporters.

As an aside, to what extent is any of the data accessible? I’ve seen generalized reports on a diocese by diocese basis on a website, with reports up through 2010, but I’m wondering if the data is available for further analysis.

Another topic that caught my attention was a discussion “Mission Churches”. It was suggested that in common usage, a mission church is really a financially supported church, and it may be better to refer to financially supported churches as such, saving the phrase “mission church” for churches seeking “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ”, which ideally should be every church.

When people asked about my journey, one of the things I talked about was the role of poetry and mentioned the Diocesan Poet. I don’t know to what extent other dioceses have diocesan poets, but it seems like that might be another part of mission, ideally going even beyond what we have by encouraging poets in other languages, supporting poetry slams etc.

I write all of this, thinking about my own journey, as well as the journey of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut and the mission networks of the restructured church.

There were various ideas that were floated around about being willing to take risks, be vulnerable, and not fear failure. There were talks about mission work being messy, and just doing it. There were talks about #FlashConpline. Anyone up for #FlashCompline in Connecticut? How about Laundry Love, a program to help those without sufficient housing to do their laundry, like a twenty first century foot washing?

There were talks about intentional communities, worshiping communities, arts communities, and young adult communities. There were discussions about how these communities take place both face to face and online.

What are your stories of average weekly impact? What sort of event, like a #flashcompline, have you had recently? What are you planning to do next? How do we gather as a community, both face to face, and online to share God’s Love, “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ”?

One of the comments I loved from Missional Voices is that sometimes it is important to ask the question, even if you know what the answer is going to be, because the question needs to be asked, it gets people thinking. So, my first action is to ask these questions. In my case, I don’t know what the answers will be, but I pray they will lead to further actions, further questions, and further answers.