Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sustainable Future?

Crusty Old Dean has written a pretty blunt piece about the state of change in the Episcopal Church. It's excellent, as are all of his postings, and the takeaway is that we will do ourselves no favors by ignoring the possibility that we are edging towards collapse as a church. First, Anglican identity in North America has pretty much always struggled, except for a "golden age" in the mid-20th century. That golden age is going now. Second, Christianity as "Christendom" has run its course, and we are pretty much at the end of the privileged position for the church in our culture. Yes, yes, there are plenty of Christians left, and plenty of places in America where Christianity is expected and assumed, but Christendom is in retreat in those areas where is not already defunct.

So COD raises the question of sustainability. Our numbers are shrinking and continuing to shrink. Fewer parishes are in a position to support a rector. So, perhaps it's time to ask for what purpose does the Episcopal Church exist? Would it not at some point be more reasonable to merge or be absorbed into another part of the Christian family?

Theology? Our theology is, overall, progressive, but perhaps not as progressive as the UCC. Would theological progressives who wish to advance that cause feel more at home there?

Liturgy? Our liturgy, particularly our prayer book, matter to us, but then again we're seeing an explosion of liturgical forms and diversity in worship, from Enriching our Worship to Hip-hop Masses to the regular use of the New Zealand Prayer Book, so at what point are we still a church bound together around a common prayer? The Liturgical Movement has done much to equalize our rites. Those for whom liturgy is very important will be able to carve out a ministry for themselves in Methodist or Lutheran or Presbyterian congregations.

Anglican Communion? Our membership in the worldwide fellowship of Anglicans is important, but not so important that we're willing to forego changes in doctrine and practice. At what point does "Anglican heritage and identity" drop by the wayside?

I keep hearing about how the institutional church needs to change in order to serve our core functions: mission and ministry. Would these be better served if we joined forces and made common cause with the ELCA or with the UCC? Why, in a nutshell, are we remaining Episcopalian? Is it nostalgia? Do we do something or other "better" than other churches? If we can answer this, we might be on the way towards discovering what we have to offer the culture around us.


  1. Ok, I have to respond to this with a little bit of anxiety-lessening.

    We cannot control what happens in the Communion. We cannot control what happens in TEC.

    We cannot control what happens even in one parish. But we can help foster growth, change and lay ministry in a parish. We can improve its quality of life, we can leave it a better place than we found it. And, we can make a living improving the church that we love. That's a good thing.

    Whether or not the great existential crisis of Christianity is real or not (And I would argue that it is not.) Those things are beyond our control. No one is bigger than his or her parish. Focus on that, local, expression of Christian community.

    Or, put another way by Christ, via the King James: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

  2. My past: Raised in the Southern Baptist Church, spent most of my adult life in the United Methodist Church. After seeking for many years, I was confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church 4 years ago.

    In the past six months I have discovered that in my heart I am Orthodox, but I am neither Greek or Russian, so in my weekly worship I'm now happily found at the Episcopal Church. It is where God has led me. It has been a circuitous route, but I am happy to be home.

    After this long journey, I can only hope and pray that the Episcopal experience does not veer off the path, but remains the only other true place I have found to worship (not just attend a service and be entertained).

    Please be not discouraged, I know I am not the only one in need of a true worship experience where all are welcome to The Table, not just the average soul like me.