REFLECTIONS ON MISSIONAL VOICES CONFERENCE:
The Reverend Donna S. Mote, PhD
Missioner for Engagement and Innovation
On Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16, Alan Cowart, Caroline Branch, and I attended Missional Voices at Virginia Theological Seminary, a gathering of 200 lay and ordained leaders from 38 states, 69 dioceses, and 11 seminaries. We are ministry innovators, mission developers, and missional movement workers from across the Episcopal Church.
Missional Voices is the brainchild of VTS seminarians. It was born out of discussions in the summer of 2015, organized and executed entirely by seminarians, and inspired particularly by this question: “What if God is up to something really big and global but it can only be discovered through the small and local?”
Missional Voices was an extended two-day conversation happening in the midst of a deconstructed Eucharist that began on Friday afternoon and culminated Saturday afternoon. Speakers included Stephanie Spellers, Jane Gerdsen, Christian Kassoff, Katie Nakamura Rengers, and Winnie Varghese. These inspiring and honest presentations were interspersed with panel discussions featuring diocesan missioners, consultants on missional initiatives, and practitioners of local missional expressions, including Southside Abbey in Chattanooga and The Abbey in Birmingham. There were plenty of opportunities for attendees to be in conversation with each other and to ponder what the Spirit might be stirring within them.
The organizers of this gathering posit that there are three Missional Voices, and we need to bring them into conversation. They are the Theological Voice (What does the tradition, practice, and history of our faith have to say?), the Contextual Voice (What do the people, cultures, and neighborhoods in which we’re serving have to say?), and the Participatory Voice (What do the leaders and innovators doing this work have to say?)
Important questions and quotations for me included:
- How are we redefining for the 21st century what the orders of Presbyterate, Diaconate, and Laity look like?
- In the suburbs, what does it mean to be in the community?
- A parish of medium size is an army of good; how can we get these good people out into the neighborhood?
- When it seems like there isn’t really much you can do (especially on your own), you’re in the right place, the sweet spot.
- Millenials are not disenfranchised in the church: they were never enfranchised.
- What’s the one thing you couldn’t do without God’s help? That may well be where you are being called.
- Hack the canons. Use our current structures to deal with changing/new contexts creatively.
- Respect the seasons: do not take on the burden of perpetuity; every ministry experiment doesn’t have to continue indefinitely.
Missional Voices 2017 will be held at VTS on April 21 and 22. Please consider joining us at that gathering. And please be in conversation with us about innovations and missional endeavors in the Diocese of Atlanta between now and then.