After my last post, I've been thinking more about the future shape of the church. I've heard lots of people tell me what the future of church looks like; everyone seems to have a preferred model (house churches for everyone!). But it strikes me that there isn't one ideal model out there, and whatever the future looks like, I think we'll be seeing a much greater mixed economy of "church" than we've seen in a long while. There are places where the traditional parish model still works (and well) and is very effective.
Looking specifically at my situation here in West Virginia, one of the most obvious things about this diocese is its lack of urban areas (see last post) and given the open marketplace on religious affiliation, many locales are not able to support the traditional parish model
[As an aside, it strikes me that there are plenty of places where rather than 14 branch offices of Christianity, they would be much better served by just one community church. The ever present desire to go our own ways and dismiss Christians who see things different from ourselves as somehow lesser is a cancer on the body of Christ.]
But isolated, self-supporting worshiping communities have not always been the norm. It may be true that such a model has been the preferred way, but are there any examples of a relatively thriving Christian Church in the absence of cities? Well yes, there is - ancient Ireland. The Christian Church managed to establish itself and spin-off some pretty amazing folks (Ss Brigid and Columba for example) who remain as example and who were instrumental in the spread of Christianity elsewhere in Europe. And what I recall is that the locus of activity for the Irish church was not the parish or the diocese, but monastic communities.
Now I don't necessarily think that the future of the Episcopal Church in rural America is monasteries, but what about intentional communities of some sort? I'm imagining a core of individuals and families committed to worshiping together, committed to a revenue generating activity, and committed to a focused ministry. Perhaps, if such communities could be fostered and grown, they could operate as Christian centers whose influence could spread across a much wider region, supporting smaller worship communities and perhaps even developing new focused intentional communities on the same model as themselves.
I'm not suggesting this as THE answer, but something like this has worked in the past and it thrived for hundreds of years. I don't see it as an impossibility, so if anyone has some usable property (or maybe a little cash) to offer in Southern West Virginia, let me know. Maybe we could start our own Christian micro-distillery!