Friday, February 22, 2008

The Episcopal Church Isn’t Dying

This column was distributed February 7 by the McClatchy-Tribune News Service. We received a copy from the Rev. Lauren Stanley and are proud to post it here.

About the Author: The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an appointed missionary serving in the Diocese of Renk in the Episcopal Church of Sudan. She is serving temporarily in the United States. Also see her essay, "
The Vast Majority," published last week at the Daily Episcopalian.

The Episcopal Church isn’t dying
By Lauren R. Stanley
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

NEWS FLASH: The majority of Episcopalians in the United States voted to stay in the Episcopal Church today.

They did so by going to church, by receiving Communion, by participating in God’s mission and ministry, by praying, preaching and acting on God’s holy word, by working with youth and the elderly, by doing all the myriad things that have been doing through the history of the church, and by proclaiming, in many and varied ways, the love of God for all of God’s beloved children.

Why is this a news flash?

Because if you read the newspapers or follow events in the Church online, all you read about are the congregations that are splitting up, about priests leaving, about lawsuits in which the Episcopal Church and its dioceses are being forced to defend the canonical structures of the Church in order to keep the property of the Church.

And if that is all you read – in newspapers or online – no one would criticize you for thinking that the Episcopal Church in the United States was the verge of collapse.

So it is a news flash to find out the Episcopal Church is not teetering on that verge, and that the majority – the vast majority – of members have decided not only to stay, but to get on with God’s mission and ministry in this broken world.

Which just goes to prove, once again, that bad news still sells, good news does not.

The bad news is, some parishes, some priests, some individuals, and at least the leadership of one diocese have left the Episcopal Church. Which certainly is newsworthy.

But the good news far outweighs that bad news, for the good news is that the majority of Episcopalians in this country are staying.

The latter bit of news certainly is not exciting, and as one who spent more than two decades editing newspapers, I can tell you, excitement outsells the same-old-same-old every single day of the week.

But excitement doesn’t trump the truth, and the truth is, the Episcopal Church is in fine fettle, thank you very much, and those of us who are staying would like the rest of the world to know this.

We would like you to know of the extraordinary ministry we are doing: that every single day, some Episcopalian somewhere is heading off on a mission trip; the poor are fed; Sunday School lessons being prepared; children are cared for; prisoners are visited; prayers are said; sermons are prayed over; choirs are practicing music ancient and modern; the ill are comforted; advocacy for God’s kingdom is taking place; baptismal preparation is held; relationships are built; marriages solemnized; and loved ones are being buried in both grief and celebration.

We who engage in these ministries celebrate that fact every single day, and while it would be nice to get more coverage of this work, no one is doing this work for the coverage in newspapers and online. We are doing this work because this is what God has called us to do, and that’s good enough for us.

Part of what makes us stay is the realization that despite all the controversies revolving, in great part, about sexuality and gender, the majority of the Church, and the majority of the Anglican Communion to which the Church belongs, does not care one whit about those controversies.

The Rt. Rev. Musonda Trevor Mwamba, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Botswana, said as much recently at the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. The majority of Anglicans around the world, he said, do not care about the disputes over sexuality, or about the possible split in the Anglican Communion.
“The truth of the matter is … we must understand the majority of African Anglicans, about 37 million, are not bothered by the debate about sexuality,” Bishop Mwamba told the North Carolina convention. “The majority of African Anglicans … have their minds focused on life and death issues, like AIDS, poverty … and not on what the church thinks about sex or the color of your pajama pants. Villagers who live on less than one dollar a day aren’t aware this is going on.”
You can read, in the newspapers or online, nearly every single day about some parish or priest or even a diocese leaving or talking about leaving the Episcopal Church. And if that is all the news you read about the Episcopal Church, it surely would seem that it is falling apart, and that its demise is imminent.

Which is why you need to read the following again:

NEWS FLASH: The majority of Episcopalians in the United States voted to stay in the Episcopal Church today.


Blogger Scott Gunn said...

On the one hand, I think this is exactly right. The "crisis" in the Episcopal Church is largely a creation of some anxiety-laden conservative clergy.

On the other hand, we cannot deny that the Episcopal Church has real problems, notably in steadily declining attendance. If we don't face this fact squarely, we won't be able to reverse the trend.

I wrote a bit about this over on my (new) blog here.

2/22/2008 8:32 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

Every year in the Kansas City metropolitan area together, a variety of congregations from large to small,provide well over 500,000 meals to our neighbors. Just this cold morning at St. Paul's in KS City, KS slightly under 200 children and adults had a hot breakfast of pancakes, eggs, ham, fresh fruit, Panera breads and the smiles of volunteer servers ranging in age from children to senior citizens. That is a good numbers game! Ron Reed, Vicar

2/23/2008 1:20 PM  
Blogger Beryl Simkins said...

Some, like John David Schofield in the Diocese of San Joaquin, keep bringing up the issue of declining attendance. Don't you believe that ongoing conflicts and schisms attempted by some priests and bishops of dioceses have something to do with that? How many deanery meetings have I attended in this diocese where the national church and her leaders were demeaned and disrespected. Literature is published and distributed, like "The Slippery Slope," outlining what is described as the gradual moral decline and developing "heresy" in the Episcopal Church. Do actions like this draw people to the church? Only if you already love the church are you likely to stay. Certainly anyone who is new is not going to be drawn into the fold. If the purpose of some, such as John David Schofield, was to destroy the church from within, and to bring about the declining attendance, I would say he was doing it successfully.

2/23/2008 10:24 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Beryl, I recognize you are in a unique and miserable situation in San Joaquin.

I'll just speak for myself and the folks out here in Missouri. The folks here don't hear and dont know about Schofield's vitriol. Folks are coming into my parish because they are drawn to what the Episcopal Church (at its best) is.

I think that's the reality to which Lauren Stanley is speaking: The good stuff about TEC.

And, yes, the larger TEC does need to support you folks in San Joaquin. I hear the recent Executive Council actions as a solid beginning. No doubt, there's more we can do, and I will be hoping to hear more specific requests from you good sisters and brothers.

2/23/2008 10:36 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, Ron. Your story and your witness does my heart glad. And I think that's exactly what Lauren Stanley was trying to highlight. Some few malcontents keep trying to grab international headlines. But at the local level, folks like you are going on about the mission of Christ, and that is what turns hearts.

2/23/2008 10:40 PM  
Blogger thnuhthnuh said...

The Episcopal Church isn’t dying. It's just pinin' for the fjords. Lovely vestments, the Episcopal clergy.

2/27/2008 2:53 PM  
Blogger toujoursdan said...

On the other hand, we cannot deny that the Episcopal Church has real problems, notably in steadily declining attendance. If we don't face this fact squarely, we won't be able to reverse the trend.

While I agree this is a problem that we need to look squarely at, it isn't merely an Episcopalian problem, as the much discussed Pew survey shows, the Roman Catholic Church is facing an even bigger problem. (30 million ex-RCs.)

It seems to me that even without the sexuality row we would have a problem with declining attendance. The birthrate for Episcopalians is something like 1.3 per couple (replacement is 2.1) and the average age is 51. Those demographics are found throughout liturgical churches and can't be turned around quickly.

2/29/2008 2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tojoursdan, the average age of an Episcopalian was 57 in 2001.
From a 2020 document:
"The average age of a person in the United States is estimated to be 34.6 years old. The average age of an Episcopalian is estimated to be 57 years old."

And I believe that the so few people are entering the church that the average age is going up by one each year and now stands over 60. (Could not find a more recent official number.)

The Episcopal church was the fastest declining denomination, over 4%. I am confused by the mention of the Roman Catholic church. It is the largest, and it increased almost 1% last year.

3/08/2008 11:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. Fox, may of us here are well aware of what is going on in DSJ. I find your comments somewhat disturbing for that reason. Furthermore, I would suggest that neither the diocese of Missouri or West Missouri represent what "is best in [the church]" How dare you presume to speak for us all.

3/16/2008 9:24 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Anonymous, I did not mean to speak for all Episcopalians. I simply spoke to the experience I have had here in Missouri. I recognize that vitriol has characterized the news in some of the rejectionist dioceses like DSJ.

3/16/2008 9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife and I made the decision to leave TEC almost a year ago. I had been a warden and had served 2 terms on the vestry; my wife had been active on several committees. It wasn't the sexuality issue that drove us out the door but a general sense that TEC doesn't give a damn about the faith once delivered, that there's not much Christianity left, that there's no "there" there. Of course, I'm speaking of our particular diocese and metro area, not generalizing to all dioceses. Also, the trend in the national church was becoming worrisome--we didn't want millions spent on litigation even if there's a likelihood of coming out victorious (we're glad we left before the lawsuits started flying). Lastly, the children's programming in our parish--and in all the other TEC parishes within a goodly distance--was just terrible. No wonder so many children "graduate" from the church and never darken its doors again. I want much better Christian education for my children (ultimately of course it's up to them whether they abandon the faith or not). It's simply the case that TEC has too many problems and too little will to address them. We miss the liturgy and the BCP, but not for one second have we missed the parish we devoted almost 15 years to.

3/29/2008 3:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This analysis is one which while true in the underlying facts is false in it conclusion. The logic is that people are coming to church therefore people support what the church is doing. Not a fully correct statement but one which contains a bit of truth. But it is not fully true and with that the logic fails.

The next logic to be considered is that those who are in the pew are going to stay. This is an unstated assumption in the logic above.

There is more logical errors but all in all a nice fluff piece, sort of like the Italians who spoke nicely of their dictator by saying at least he keeps the trains on time.


4/02/2008 4:22 AM  
Blogger Hiram said...

There are many parishes where the clergy do not talk about the issues, and suppress any effort that lay members might make to bring the issues up. And there are many lay people who say, "Sure, some parishes/dioceses are having lots of problems. But as long as we don't have a gay rector here, or must use these suggested 'inclusive' liturgies, we are OK."

A lack of opposition cannot be equated with strong support of the new things. People will stay in parishes they like for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with theology or practices, as long as the new things are not shoved down their throats. And some of those who do not oppose the new things will simply fade away over time, as they recognize that what they believe is being by-passed.

4/04/2008 6:28 AM  
Blogger R. Badger said...

As a child I enjoyed participation in the Episcopal church as an acolyte and choirboy. In a world that is changing all too rapidly, it was a relief to have a modicum of stability that the church of my childhood seemed to represent. It started to change with proposed changes in the Book of Common Prayer, finalized in 1979. All the memories I had acquired of prayers and catechism of countless Sundays were now askew. This was followed with changes in the hymnal with "Onward Christian Soldiers" and the Naval Hymn" removed, other hymns were revamped, and new ones inserted. It was disconcerting and try as I might the service did not sooth me as before. As a liberal I believe in the freedom of ideas. In the persuent of the rights of the individual the institution of the Episcopal church has fallen into the same insular belief system of certaintley that the Christian charismatic groups they vocifurcesiously denounced of having. The forfront of church policy now is an intransigent belief in dogma. What a varied table the Church had, laden with both the necessities and luxuries of a spiritual life. That you took as needed was a private affair left to you and your own communion with God. What was apparent but unspoken was that the spiritual concerns of a child were not necessarily those of a man. As with the stations of the cross ones spiritual life was an ever deepening connection and understanding of one's relationship with God. Compelled by primacy the church increasingly concerns itself with the Kalashnikov culture that defines modern life. Politics, and the shrill demands of conformity are now echoing in the parishes, increasing among the congregation the alienation already found in the secular world. The demands of the few dictated to the needs of all. Tradition became subservient to fashion. Rather than ask what it was in the rather ridged Catholicism that attracted and maintained the ranks of the Pope; the wheel was reinvented, Rather than attempting to establish a new set of beliefs with a new church outside of the existing one, the easier path was chosen; the abduction of the present church. Rancor is now the pervasive emotion as the body of the church roils under the dictates of those who divining a deeper gnostic, political, understanding of The Word. Being blind I will probably never drive a car, but it never precluded a ride until recently.

4/09/2008 7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There have been no new items in awhile; has the blog been abandoned by its owners?

4/23/2008 5:34 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

No, we haven't abandoned the blog. But we are talking about what role we can or should serve.

It seems to me that, in one sense, the battle is over. When we started this blog, in August 2006, Presiding Bishop Griswold was our primate, the official organs of the Episcopal Church were not speaking out for our church, and there was a need for the voice of the folks in the pews to speak in defense of our beloved church. Many of us feared a right-wing takeover of our church, which would destroy our Anglican heritage.

Now, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori is in place, ENS and other offices of TEC are speaking out clearly and responding to the silly charges against our church.

Those few who were committed to schism remain committed to schism, and they are making their moves to Nigeria, the Southern Cone, etc. But it's clear that the good heart of the church is safe. Sadly, there are still many legal and financial issues to be resolved -- in San Joaquin and various parishes -- and two more dioceses may seek to stir the waters. But theirs is a dying cause; there is no groundswell for schism, and their numbers are not growing. We are no longer fearful, and certainly not fearful of a rightwing takeover of our church.

So ... we have taken a bit of a vacation from the blog.

Thanks for asking and for moving me to respond.

4/23/2008 7:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4/03/2009 2:39 AM  

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