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Changing the Conversation

Changing the Conversation

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Changing the Conversation: 
Some Reflections
John A. Dick, Ph.D., S.T.D.
 
 
Reform-minded people need to change their conversation about church reform. Otherwise they end up either talking to themselves or simply repeating what everyone else has been saying for the past ten years. 
 
Changing the conversation means looking at church life in new ways and developing new strategies and patterns for church life today and tomorrow.
 
 Some proposals for reflection:
 
1.  Look less at the church as institution and more as a community of faith. What is happening within your own community of faith? What are the life-issues that really concern your family and friends? Where do you find your support? How can you motivate and help the men and women in your community to truly minister to each other? What is keeping us from experimenting with new forms of parish and parish life? Perhaps a parish should be a collection of many smaller communities of faith? Household churches in which the heads of the households - men and women -- preside over informal Eucharistic liturgies, as in the Apostolic era?

2.  Look deeper than the shortage of ordained ministers and ordained women ministers. Let's look at the meaning of ministry itself. Let's look at and examine the very idea of ORDAINED ministry. Jesus did not ordain anyone. Let's scratch our heads about new forms of ministry and break out of the old patterns and paradigms. Why not have ordained graduate students helping out in university parishes? Ordaining men and women for five year terms? Perhaps a parish should have many part-time ordained ministers who have "regular" jobs? And how about dropping the word "priest"? And why not elect bishop overseers for limited terms of ministry, like five year terms, which could be renewed for just another five-year term? Should we close all seminaries and agree that they are not the best structures for the formation and education of ordained ministers? Speaking of bishops, do they even have to be ordained? Non-ordained bishops - men and women -- would help dismantle the clerical old-boys club for sure.
 
3.  Catholic and Christian. Healthy Catholicism is rooted in healthy Christianity. So what does it really mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ today? This raises questions of belief. What do we really know about the historical Jesus? He was not white, for sure. Jesus was most likely dark brown and sun-tanned. What about all of those rather saccharin and androgynous images of Jesus that really distort who he was and what he was all about? Was his biological father the Holy Spirit or the man we call Joseph? Isn't the "virgin birth" more about saying he was a very special person than analyzing the biology of his conception? What if Jesus was gay or a married fellow with children? Would that make a difference for you? Would that destroy his meaning for Christian believers? Why? Was Jesus God? Early Jewish Christians, including St. Paul, would have never said that. Or was Jesus the revelation of God's graciousness and love, as well as the revelation of authentic humanity? 

4.  Ecumenical discussions. What are the real differences between church groups in Christianity today? Are there any good reasons why we cannot simply start worshiping together? Are we not locked in medieval theological categories about "them" and "us"? Are structural church distinctions based on Protestantism and Roman Catholicism still significant differences in belief? Isn't Jesus, for example, just as truly "present" in Episcopalian Eucharist as he is in Roman Catholic Eucharist? What today is the uniqueness of Roman Catholicism?  Perhaps the goal of ecumenical collaboration today should be enhancing the Christian life of all believers and not creating a mega-church institution? Why not turn places, like the Vatican, into United Nations heritage sites. Tourist revenue could be used to fight world poverty. Church palaces could be turned into schools and hospitals or residences for political refugees.

5.  Seven sacraments. We now know of course that the seven sacraments were created by the church not the historical Jesus. What then is the meaning of "sacrament" today? Who controls sacramental forms? Does it make sense to argue about who can "validly" administer certain sacraments? When I got married, I was told, based on Catholic sacramental understandings, that my wife and I as baptized believers "conferred the sacrament" on each other and the priest was simply an official witness. OK, what about baptized gays and lesbians  who get married? Isn't their marriage just as "sacramental" as mine? What about "lay" pastoral ministers in hospitals and homes for the elderly. They are often the key Christian ministers in these people's lives. Why can't they "anoint" the sick and dying? Maybe they should just start doing it? Isn't Christian ministry about prayer and compassion and comforting the sick? 
 
These are just a few thought-starters...... Creative and critical reflection is not a dangerous activity but  a source of life....
 
John A. Dick is Vice President and Treasurer of ARCC
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