Episcopal bishop lays out plan for church's growth

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Bishop George Wayne Smith stood before the more than 200 Episcopalian delegates and clergy gathered in Old St. Vincent's Church Friday evening to outline his plan for the church's future.

The plan included more practicalities than theories and a call to evangelism, revitalization and rebirth. Smith addressed the delegates during the opening Eucharist and worship celebration of the Diocese of Missouri's annual convention.

Business meetings and workshops continue today at Drury Lodge. A prayer breakfast is being held at Christ Episcopal Church at 7:30 a.m. before opening session at 9 a.m.

"I stand before you with the intent of sketching out a missional focus for our life together," said Smith, who was ordained as the 10th bishop of the diocese in May.

There is no way to do everything the diocese wants to do nor everything that is worth doing, Smith said. "But I'm learning that we can do some things and must do some things."

The church has taken on a national emphasis toward evangelism. The campaign "20/20: A Clear Vision for Rebuilding the Church" calls for developing healthy congregations, planting new churches and increasing the ministry presence among minority groups and young adults.

Those things are vital to the Episcopal Church in Missouri, Smith said.

"The church knows how to survive," he said. "If it knows nothing else, it knows how to keep on keeping on. But the question isn't if you choose to survive. The question is about choosing to thrive."

The focus and energy must go to building up congregations, Smith said.

A means to a mission

He also spoke about the clergy shortage that has struck the nation. Churches must learn to train up their own deacons, priests and leaders to serve their congregations. "We need to be more serious about growing our own to the ordained ministry," he said.

Doing that is something that isn't a strategy of survival but a means to mission and ministry, he said.

There was little reaction to the bishop's words during the service. He attributes that in part to reflecting back to the people what he's heard them already say has to be done.

Smith said he wants to encourage the church to step outside its walls. "If we can get out from behind those walls," he said, "that's when you find renewal."

And getting outside also means creating more interfaith relationships, which also is important, Smith said.

The evening's worship service had an interfaith beginning. The clergy participating in the processional donned vestments in the former synagogue next door to the Roman Catholic church where the worship service was held.

Typically, the church is used for Mass and is considered part of St. Mary's Cathedral. It's not too often that other religious groups request its use, said Monsignor Richard Rolwing.

The Episcopal Diocese has used the church before for its 1994 annual meeting. The diocese serves the 54 easternmost counties in Missouri, which includes 48 congregations.


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