You are here

Institutional vs. incarnational witness

Institutional vs. incarnational witness

Dwight Zscheile notes that the American cultural landscape has changed. “The church no longer stands in a privileged position of moral authority within American society.” (Page 29, People of the Way.)

Not only do most of us lament that, including me – but we continue on as if it were not so. That we make assumptions that the rest of the culture knows the Episcopal Church and what we are about. They just have to come and find out.

Dwight invites us to consider another, more ancient strategy: to be less institutional and more incarnational. To go out empowered and enlightened by the Jesus’ incarnational, cross-shaped mission. (Page 27.)

The Episcopal Church retains much of its privilege. And as long we have that privilege, “by all means the Episcopal Church should be leveraged for the common good.” (Page 27.)

We are learning how to do this more authentically. It will take time. We will give it time. We are moving from a benefactor paradigm – which involves doing good works and retaining a superior status, to a relational paradigm – where the face of the living Christ is manifested in everyone. Giving the opportunity for everyone to be changed.


I respect the diocesan efforts to help parishes realize that in the 21st century, people can't "do church" the way they have in decades past. That is reality and I think it is good to make that point.

However, I feel that much of what this translates into is not what I have always felt to be the Episcopalian identity.

For me and I think for most other Episcopalians, the Episcopal Church's identity is the Prayer Book. Aside from the Creeds and some basic doctrines, we have no unifying theology. I appreciate that fact.

It irks me then to see so many churches in our diocese seem to abandon the Prayer Book. That is what makes us Episcopalian. If not, what does?

I think we should be embracing the Prayer Book and the Hymnal 1982. Why do people assume others are "over" those books? Why do we need all these "experimental" liturgies? If we're not going to have Prayer Book liturgies, then why should we even be in the Episcopal Church.

I wish diocesan and national church funds were going towards campus ministries. Just in Newark there are thousands of students and they're not being evangelized in any way. Missed opportunities, I say....

I think there are many young people out there who would crave traditional liturgy and music. I'm 28 and I know many young people who feel the same way.

We should be embracing our traditions. I believe that's what makes us Episcopalian. How about we go back to the basics.

Maybe the answers are right in front of us?

Ok, this might not be the most coherent response. But I think my sentiments are ones that are not voiced very often. So here I go!


Paraphrasing Dr. Peter Drucker: “A [Church] only exists in the perception of [the community it serves.]” Simplified, if your church at any level, isn’t recognized by the community you simply do not exist, at least to that community. Harsh? Yes, but it is the reality that we have to deal with.

We must serve the larger community of which we are a part. We must also realize that the community isn’t a singular entity, it is a spectrum of people with an assortment of talents, issues, concerns, needs, et cetera. Therefore, the Church cannot fully serve the community if it has only a singular focus. The Church has to be a Religious organization but it also serves the social, educational, and real needs of the community. In addition, we can no longer just be there and expect the community to understand us, support us and participate in our activities.

Word-of-mouth is part of the way we interact, but it must go to the human-to-human level. We must tell the world what we are doing and why we are doing it and get the larger community to participate with us. Despite this being the 21st century simply getting Facebook Friends is not enough. Just as your Facebook friend isn’t going to help you move your sofa, the Church’s Facebook friends aren’t going to assist you with your projects or budgets. This means community engagement and involvement and not a little bit of advertising. We cannot: “hide our light under a basket” and expect to have the world show up on our doorstep willing to participate.

Add new comment

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). The Communications Office of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark reserves the right not to publish comments that are posted anonymously or that we deem do not foster respectful dialogue.