Tom Brackett: Less Death or More Life

Tom Brackett is the Episcopal Church’s Missioner for Church Planting, Ministry Redevelopment and Fresh Expressions for Church.

In this video Tom challenges viewers to reconsider Jesus’ message of new life in light of 21st century church building.

Through his role with the wider Episcopal Church, Tom convenes networks of ecumenical and interfaith congregations and emergent church communities that are involved in challenging traditional church structure by placing increasing emphasis on discerning the Holy Spirit and sharing personal faith stories and less emphasis on rituals and systematic theology.

The Episcopal Church partners with Fresh Expressions of Church to foster the mission of new and unconventional faith communities and to train traditional clergy to be aware of evidence of the Holy Spirit at work outside the walls of the church.

This video was taken at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church held July 5 through 12 in Indianapolis.



  1. Katherine Wilhelm

    I did not attend General Convention but I read about it in The Wall Street Journal. Does this sound like less death or more life?…………………………………….
    “What Ails the Episcopalians”
    Its numbers and coffers shrinking, the church votes for pet funerals but offers little to the traditional faithful.
    Episcopalians from around the country gathered here this week for their church’s 77th triennial General Convention, which ended Thursday. Although other Protestant denominations have national governing councils, the Episcopal Church’s triennial gathering stands apart. For starters, it’s one of the world’s largest such legislative entities, with more than 1,000 members.

    General Convention is also notable for its sheer ostentation and carnival atmosphere. For seven straight nights, lavish cocktail parties spilled into pricey steakhouses, where bishops could use their diocesan funds to order bottles of the finest wines.

    During the day, legislators in the lower chamber, the House of Deputies, and the upper chamber, the House of Bishops, discussed such weighty topics as whether to develop funeral rites for dogs and cats, and whether to ratify resolutions condemning genetically modified foods. Both were approved by a vote, along with a resolution to “dismantle the effects of the doctrine of discovery,” in effect an apology to Native Americans for exposing them to Christianity.

    But the party may be over for the Episcopal Church, and so, probably, its experiment with democratic governance. Among the pieces of legislation that came before their convention was a resolution calling for a task force to study transforming the event into a unicameral—that is, a one-house—body. On Wednesday, a resolution to “re-imagine” the church’s governing body passed unanimously.

    Formally changing the structure of General Convention will most likely formalize the reality that many Episcopalians already know: a church in the grip of executive committees under the direct supervision of the church’s secretive and authoritarian presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. They now set the agenda and decide well in advance what kind of legislation comes before the two houses.

    Bishop Schori is known for brazenly carrying a metropolitan cross during church processions. With its double horizontal bars, the metropolitan cross is a liturgical accouterment that’s typically reserved for Old World bishops. And her reign as presiding bishop has been characterized by actions more akin to a potentate than a clergywoman watching over a flock.

    In recent years she’s sued breakaway, traditionalist dioceses which find the mother church increasingly radical. Church legislators have asked publicly how much the legal crusades have cost, to no avail. In the week before this summer’s convention, Bishop Schori sent shock waves through the church by putting forth her own national budget without consulting the convention’s budget committee—consisting partly of laymen—which until now has traditionally drafted the document.

    Whatever its cost, the litigation against breakaway dioceses—generally, demanding that they return church buildings and other assets—has added to the national church’s financial problems. Many dioceses are no longer willing or able to cough up money to support the national organization, and its bank accounts are running dry. On Monday, for example, the church announced that its headquarters at 815 2nd Avenue in midtown Manhattan—which includes a presiding bishop’s full-floor penthouse with wraparound terrace—is up for sale.

    In the past, General Convention, for all its excesses, at least gave ordinary laymen a sense that they had a democratic voice in governing the church. But many Episcopal leaders have chosen to focus more on secular politics than on religion over the years. Donald Hook, author of “The Plight of the Church Traditionalist: A Last Apology,” estimates that church membership has declined to fewer than one million today from three million in 1970. This is another reason, along with financial woes, to save money with a slimmed-down legislature.

    And yet there are important issues at stake if laymen are further squeezed out of what was once a transparent legislative process. A long-standing quest by laymen to celebrate the Eucharist—even taking on functions of ordained ministers to consecrate bread and wine for Holy Communion, which is a favorite cause of the church’s left wing—would likely be snuffed out in a unicameral convention in which senior clergy held sway.

    Also in jeopardy would be the ability of ordinary laymen to stop the rewriting, in blunt modern language and with politically correct intent, of the church’s historic Book of Common Prayer. The revisionist bishops who would hold sway over a unicameral convention in the future haven’t hid their desire to do away with all connections to Thomas Cranmer, who was appointed archbishop of Canterbury by Henry VIII. He was a classic figure in the English Reformation. But today the man and his prayer book are deemed too traditional by some church bishops.

    For some, the writing on the wall is already clear. On Wednesday, the entire delegation from the diocese of South Carolina—among the very last of the traditionalist holdouts—stormed out of the convention.

    Mr. Akasie, a journalist and Episcopalian, lives in New York City.
    A version of this article appeared July 13, 2012, on page A9 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: What Ails the Episcopalians.
    JOIN THE DISCUSSION at The Wall Street Journal

  2. Katherine Wilhelm

    “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels–a plentiful harvest of new lives.” John 12: 24

    Yeah for death! “Little deaths” lead to “more life” in a spiritually regenerative way. Let us not shy away from celebrating the little deaths of our big egos and our big failures. We have much to learn in our dying from embarrassment, other than how to be give “more life” to superficial Episcopal politeness, silent conspiracies, and groupthink denial.

  3. Katherine Wilhelm

    Abundant Life incorporates, is simultaneous with and is birthed from Death. The Fresh Expression for Church is not a linear either/or paradigm: either less death or more life. The Fresh Expression for Church is a non-linear, spiritual, cultural adaptation of BOTH, a “polarity” to manage, a dilemma, a paradox, or an “unsolvable problem” [Dr. Barry Johnson’s Polarity Management for Transformational Leadership]. The Alban Institute offers this Fresh Expression for Church in their book and consulting service…..
    Managing Polarities in Congregations: Eight Keys for Thriving Faith Communities
    by Roy M. Oswald, Barry Johnson
    This is from the Alban website…”Congregations often find themselves in power struggles over two opposing views. People on both sides believe strongly that they are right. They also assume that if they are right, their opposition must be wrong—classic “either/or” thinking. A polarity is a pair of truths that need each other over time. When an argument is about two poles of a polarity, both sides are right and need each other to experience the whole truth.
    This phenomenon has been recognized and written about for centuries in philosophy and religion. It is at the heart of Taoism, where we find the familiar polarity of yin and yang energy. In the past fifty years, business leaders have come to appreciate the phenomenon, often called dilemma or paradox. No matter what it is called, the research is clear: leaders and organizations that manage polarities well outperform those who don’t.” Praise for the Book……
    “This book should prove invaluable to churches and church leaders who seek to move beyond the either/or thinking that so dominates on our communities of faith. By recognizing, as these authors do, that these polarities are naturally occurring and thus a gift from God, we need to receive them accordingly, and seek the proper balance that leads to thriving congregations. This is, therefore, a must read book for all clergy and lay church leaders.”—Bob Cornwall, Ponderings on a Faith Journey blog
    “As a practitioner of Polarity Management, I have eagerly awaited the publication of this book. It should prove a wonderful resource for faith based communities. The examples of polarities which congregations and judicatories face are excellent and will help people move away from “either/or” thinking. Learning to find validity in more than one side of an issue will enable congregations to overcome differences and divisive conflict.” —Billie T. Alban, coauthor of Creating the Future Together: Methods to Inspire Your Whole Faith Community
    “I was introduced to the concept of polarity management several years ago, but for me it remained a theory without a practical application. Recently I read Managing Polarities in Congregations and the concept came alive! I now have an excellent tool for use with congregations as they encounter an increasing number of polarities.” —B. Leslie Robinson, Jr., Interim President, Center for Congregational Health
    “Finally—an insightful and practical guide for applying polarity management to some very common congregational dilemmas! This book unties knots that keep congregations stuck, and provides ways to shift conversations to new places. Oswald and Johnson are wonderful teachers of the principles of polarity management who reinforce your learning through illustrations and processes that can be grasped by congregational leaders and immediately applied.” —Lawrence Peers, Senior Consultant, The Alban Institute
    “A single polarity map can liberate anxious people from either/or thinking, enabling them to see options, value other perspectives, and think creatively. A robust set of eight such maps adapted to your faith tradition will prove an extremely useful tool as you follow the Spirit’s leading into the fullness of God’s will. The authors of Managing Polarities in Congregations taught me these concepts and I’ve used them many times as a pastor and consultant—with blessed results! Read this book to revolutionize your capacity for critical thinking, creative problem solving, and organizational leadership.” —Fred Oaks, founder of and author of Welcome, Pastor! Building a Productive Pastor-Congregation Partnership in 40 Days
    About the Authors
    Roy M. Oswald is executive director of the Center for Emotional Intelligence and Human Relations Skills. An ordained Lutheran pastor serving in a congregation and a Lutheran synod, Roy has consulted in the area of leadership development for over three decades. He is the author of sixteen books, including Discerning Your Congregation’s Future, The Inviting Church, and Personality Type and Religious Leadership.

    Barry Johnson is president of Polarity Management Associates, an international training and consulting firm. The founder of Polarity Management® and the Polarity Map™, he is the author of Polarity Management, Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems. Barry holds a Ph.D. in organizational development from International College and has more than thirty years of experience as an organizational development consultant.

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