Episcopal Church & Celebrity Culture: The other guys do it better…and it’s wrong


After the Sunday morning Eucharist, Katherine Jefferts-Schori recesses down the aisle to a round of applause.  No one is quite sure whether the applause is for her or the two former Presiding Bishops that recess with her. Over one-third of the Convention Center’s worship space has empty seats.  The applause decays as the three of them turn left and go past the powder blue “Refreshments” sign.  

The clapping was the most rousing moment in the service.  The sermon was more explanation than inspiration.  Katharine’s tonal speech pattern tends to produce sleep-friendly delta waves. 

Even if the sermonizing had been so motivational in content and delivery we all walked out committed to mission  instead of blinking our eyes in the Southern California sun wondering where we could get some decent huevos rancheros , Katharine’s exit down the cement floor of the worship space,  is not momentous enough to warrant applause.  Not the equivalent of Elvis has left the building.  The central event was the Eucharist and celebrating sacrifice and community despite the fact that for General Convention 2009 it was shorn of community Bible study.

Church Publishing’s booth has Katherine’s picture all over it and I suppose there are those who buy her books simply because they are her books.  Outside of this small circle of Episcopalians, very few buy books based on the cover art of a woman posing in front of a plane.  That is unless the woman is wearing a bikini.  Anne LaMott sold many books, and in the early days, her readers could only imagine what she looked like.  Anne rose through the ranks based on her writing, broadcasts, and witty, irreverent theology. I’d go on a mission trip with Annie any day, but think twice about a walk to the grocery store with this lady who’s like the kid in the back of the class with her hand up to answer every question.

The former Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, showed up at his last Episcopal Youth Event in Kentucky behaving like a Mick Jagger without the music.  He made a dramatized entrance into the worship space waving and smiling as he hung from the back of a golf cart; big belt buckle and tee shirt tucked in to reveal that he had been to the gym a lot for a guy his age.  You’d think the position of PB wouldn’t give him that much time with his personal trainer.  Unless he felt he needed to get in shape for this appearance at EYE the way a movie star trains for an action flick.  No…couldn’t be…..

Despite the announcement “And now…The Presiding Bishop!” the teens were asking each other “Who is this guy?”  (Interpretation: Who is this old guy?)  It’s been described by those who worked at The Episcopal Church center, that for a number of weeks there was on display a dressmaker’s dummy with a dress on it given to Frank’s wife during a trip to Africa.  People who entered the building saw this homage to someone who happened to be married to a bishop before seeing the chapel, security guard, the map of the Anglican Communion,  before the books on religion.  A dress.

The Presiding Bishop was originally a bishop who presided at meetings, a bishop with diocesan responsibilities but who was willing to impose Roberts Rules of Order.  A historian can better interpret at what point the position got its own salary, staff, and Manhattan penthouse.

A tactician can plan for a future of The Episcopal Church that doesn’t run on the fumes of former grandeur. 

There are the others who play on the class C Mount Olympus of The Episcopal Church, but a bit farther down the slope.  Despite the small audience, they seem quite content to build modest careers by performing or doing workshops just for Episcopalians with stars in their eyes.

Chris Hedges, in a piece on Michael Jackson and the cult of celebrity says: 

The fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply to entertain. It is designed to drain us emotionally, confuse us about our identity, make us blame ourselves for our predicament, condition us to chase illusions of fame and happiness and keep us from fighting back. 

The CANA crowd has taken the TEC’s cult of family celebrity and run with it to their advantage.  The leadership of TEC gets their knickers in a twist when David Virtue produces his fever-dream-driven screed because there is such a confusion between personality and content. 

(TEC focuses on poster boys and poster girls rather than content. Virtue drains those who buy into this fiction by attacking the poster boys and girls. He successfully confuses the handful – unfortunately those who are in leadership positions – to mistakenly think the identity of the TEC is bound up in people like Gene “I’m ready for my closeup Mr. DeMille” Robinson.  Then everyone on both sides blames the wrong things for the declining membership of The Episcopal Church,  and those at home don’t fight back because they don’t know what’s going on.  They are huddled together waiting for the next blow in a reality that does not involve ABCs, PBs, CANAs, or GCs. )

What’s important in the world is what The Episcopal Church does, not who is doing it.  And let’s face it – we can never be as photogenic as the ones who do this on an international level. 

As we’ve observed with Joe the Plumber,  nothing good comes when you push for that 16th minute of fame.

No one knows who Virtue is either.  So treat him for what he is – a fart in the wind.  Don’t let the s.o.b.s distract you – The Episcopal Church is shrinking because of what happens on the ground level, in small parishes. They’re the canaries in the coal mines and as they go so will the larger parishes with more resources. 

For the sake of the future of The Episcopal Church, and to give those of us watching out there hope, make this General Convention about the work, about empowering the laity, about repairing the chasm that exists between resolutions and what happens in small parishes. 

They’re dying, you know.  Many don’t  have a photo of Katharine Jefferts-Schori in the narthex – they don’t know who she is.  Church is that family that hangs on together on Sunday mornings. They think the only thing happening in Anaheim is Disney. In many cases, these good people have to endure dreary inane  liturgy to make it to the fellowship.

 Hope gets lost when the core of the worship is lost in distractions and projection and needless applause.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s