experimenting with change

A weekly Rector’s Notes article, May 27, 2019

I had the privilege this past week to speak with The Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija, the Founding Director of TryTank: An Experimental Laboratory for Church Growth and Innovation. This is an exciting joint venture between two Episcopal Seminaries, Virginia Theological and General Theological, that is allowing room for creative thinking and approaches in the church through experiments. Each of these experiments are coming out of many conversations happening all across the church, finding a home (and quite importantly, financial support) in this unique venture. What is so exciting to me about these different experiments is that they afford us an opportunity to take a chance on something, even if we might fail.

Too often we are too afraid to change how we approach church, to the point where it has become both a joke about our church (Q: How many Episcopalians does it take to change a lightbulb? A: CHANGE?!?!) and a dire warning of how people will react (“we can’t do that because people are afraid of change,” which in and of itself is a somewhat self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecy). And, even when we see a needed change, or an avenue towards change, we fail to grasp the moment because we are worried we might fail. But, this stifles our creativity and keeps us stuck in a very specific way of doing church that will crumble under the very rigid structures it has placed around itself. This is why TryTank is so exciting. This is why my conversation with Fr. Lorenzo was so encouraging. Here is an opportunity to engage in an experiment without the fear of failure because we don’t have one of the (at least perceived as) most important (and for us quite limited) resources riding on it: money.

I reached out to Fr. Lorenzo because I was interested in having St. Stephen’s be part of a specific experiment centered around baptism (experiment #16 on the website). I don’t know if we will be selected for this specific experiment, but I do know that we will have opportunities to engage in other experiments and help craft new ideas worth trying. I encourage you to reach out to me if you have thought of things, resources, activities, tools, that the church could and should have, and we can present them as potential experiments to TryTrank. When you are engaging in ministry, think of tools and resources that would make that ministry that much better. Get creative. Let the ideas flow. Don’t be worried about change.

I encourage us as a community to also engage in our own experiment making. We may not have the resources to pull off some of the more elaborate experiments that TryTank is engaging in, but that doesn’t mean we cannot create new experiences and resources and tools for the wider church. We will, hopefully, fail quite a bit in these, because that means we are truly pushing the envelope and allowing ourselves to learn and grow from our failures. Fr. Lorenzo told me in our conversation that in a recent report to the Board of Trustees at General Seminary that he apologized that TryTank experiments had been so successful to date, because that means he’s not pushing ideas that are radical enough, that are truly on the edge of where the church is headed. Imagine if that’s how we felt about all of the work we do as a church, embracing our failures as positive signs that we are moving in the right direction. I encourage us to live into this reality, to be creative, to experiment, to fail, and then to grow together as a community that embraces and celebrates our collective curiosity.

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