Genesis II: Re-Vision and Renew

Prepping for 2050

May 17, 2021

By: The Rev. Katie Nakamura Rengers, Staff Officer for Church Planting

When I took the Clifton StrengthsFinder a couple of years ago, it revealed something my husband swears he already knew: I am a futurist, and probably to a fault.  “Achiever, Strategic and Futuristic” all appear in my top 10 themes. Toward the bottom are “Context” (gathering wisdom from the past) and “Adaptability” (the ability to live in the moment.)  So I tend to either drive others crazy (or just make them laugh) when I get going on the future of the Church, or of the planet, or anything else.  And sometimes, even I start to remind myself of a doomsday prepper.  

So humor me here when I say … 30 years from now is going to be a revelatory moment, and we need to get prepping now!  

Three major paradigm shifts affecting my world are destined to collide around the year 2050.

First, and maybe most well known, is that 2050 is the year by which the International Panel on Climate Change says we’ve got to cut carbon emissions to ‘net zero’ in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.  

Second, 2050 is around the year Dwight Zscheile told Episcopal News Service that, statistically, there will be no one left in the Episcopal denomination.

Third, by 2050 – a bit before, actually – the U.S. will have become a majority non-White.

The first, of course, reflects a truly existential crisis.  It’s hard for me to imagine the magnitude of displacement, uncertainty and suffering the climate crisis may cause.  I’m beginning to see missional leaders in the Episcopal Church think about how they can prepare the ground now for what’s to come – whether it’s by creating a community culture that provides accountability for making sustainable decisions in its members’ personal lives, or by purchasing land that might eventually house an  influx of climate refugees.

For me, the second and third shifts are intimately connected.  At a conference last week, my friend and colleague The Rev. Fred Vergara, Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries, spoke about an inevitable “re-peopling” of the Episcopal Church.  The Episcopal denomination is largely led and attended by an older, white, affluent population.  As demographics shift, the religious culture of America changes and Mainline churches decline, we must be spiritually prepared to pass on our buildings, traditions and endowments to the next people who can use them.

How do we make such a paradigm shift?  Partly by asking the Episcopal Church – as it is now – to be intentional about raising up leaders with strong multicultural skills.  We can start by identifying people who have been doing this kind of cultural adaptation their whole lives – the children and grandchildren of non-white immigrants, “third culture kids,” and people who for other reasons have never quite felt “on the inside.”  We can also start strategically planting New Episcopal Communities, which tend to garner excitement and reach different populations than are in our existing parishes.  But, of course, all this starts with a fresh and honest look outside the walls of our church buildings and asking the Gospel of Luke’s ageless question, “And who is my neighbor?”

And, it does help to have folks with the gift of “Context.”  After all, the re-peopling of The Episcopal Church isn’t inevitable just based on research and statistics.  It’s inevitable because the entire history of Christianity has been about re-peopling – ever since the full inclusion of the Gentiles that started on the Day of Pentecost.  The Church has carried on because, sometimes willingly and often unwillingly, it’s been swept up in the Spirit that compels it to hand over everything it has to people who look, sound and love differently.  

So, how do we make the most of the current moment, the Church’s rich history, and clues to the future, to become ready for what the Spirit gets up to next?