The Hopeful Episcopalian has a daily struggle not to believe The Episcopal Church can do nothing right because she comes up against so many who believe TEC can do no wrong.
When confronted with the cheerocracy of TEC, it requires enormous discipline to not lose heart entirely.
On December 1st, the first Tuesday of Advent, The top story of Episcopal News Service was a report from the Committee on the State of the Church. Headline: Committee sees vitality in Episcopal Church despite challenges.
The challenges faced by TEC are cultural and economic, one having a direct effect on the other. Since 1990, the part of the American population claiming no religious identity in has doubled from 10 per cent of the population to 20 per cent. As the church involvement declines, so do the financial resources.
Question for those in the TEC loop: Does the number of committees, commissions reflect a proportional downsizing? If not, who exactly are these teams producing reports for?
Matilda Kistler, chair of the of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church and the person who presented, first deflects responsibility by citing data that indicates all protestant mainline denominations are losing congregants. It seems other denominations matter to TEC when they’re all caught with chocolate on their faces from digging into dessert before dinner. When it’s time for sharing resources or credit, TEC holds them at arm’s length. Witness the other ENS news release this week about online Advent calendars – not a link to anything but Anglican resources provided.
Then Matilda gets on to the optimistic part of the report: “However, we believe that the committee’s research will confirm what most of us know instinctively — that active, vital and transformative gospel ministry is being done on all levels of the church.”
Matilda and the House of Deputies Committee are not doing their jobs. We can’t operate on instinct and happy talk in times of crises. When you’re in a life boat on open water, you need to actually have flares and rations on hand and know where they’re located. The sharks are operating on instinctive knowledge.
TEC is in desperate need of emergency room or possibly hospice care. All we get from the top of the food chain is propaganda. Is it coincidence that the primary generator of this hype now has offices adjacent to the Presiding Bishop?
We are a people of story and hope, not of spin and optimism. The stories of vital gospel ministry are there, happening from the ground up. When spin becomes the official language of The Episcopal Church, it encourages an disingenuous ethos in parishes that are trying to find or have lost their way in naufragous waters.
This was a week where as I lived into my prayer of watching attentively, I heard news of three more vital Episcopalians with enormous gifts to offer who have stopped going to church. I saw a child’s relationship to learning transformed – possibly for life – through administrators and teachers employing flexibility. At a Christmas pageant rehearsal, I heard 40 children sing new songs of their faith, making promise a reality with their unique gift.
I heard from a friend who is married to a Missouri Synod pastor. After watching the street activity and community life surrounding her husband’s church in a neighborhood filled with cultural, racial, and economic diversity, she has started a community music school. She is enormously accomplished, with a doctorate in organ and liturgical music and said “What is the point of putting on these concerts where all we do is pay ourselves? Is that what God wants us to do?”
Missouri Synod is notoriously “conservative”. I have no idea what my friend believes about openly gay bishops. I do know that with a son in the military, who has been deployed in Iraq twice, she does not believe there is a “just” war. I know she and her husband do their best to serve the poor. Maybe political ideology isn’t what gathering on Sunday morning is supposed to be about. Maybe if we focused on the work of the kingdom instead of producing another press release, we would all be transformed.