The Diocese of San Joaquin has left the Episcopal Church, despite Katharine Jefferts Shori’s asseveration that only some people left, by an overwhelming majority vote.
This news is not unexpected, but certainly welcome.
My prediction on how this will all turn out? The Episcopal Church, as recognized in corporate documents on file with the state of New York, will be dead in 40 years, maybe less.
Yeah, that is a pretty tough prediction. I’ll be 76 when it happens, and I almost certainly won’t be in the Episcopal Church as we know it, even if my current parish and Diocese survives the changes in the future.
At GC2009, there will be blood on the floor over the leaving of whole Dioceses of the church, especially due to the fact that, even if suit were filed against San Joaquin tomorrow, nothing will be legally resolved within that time frame. General Convention will extract revenge on those conservatives who have remained within the Episcopal Church, and it will not be pretty. I’m not going to say anymore on this point, as I don’t want to give anyone ideas they may not have thought of (yet), but I am sure Mr. Beers will have all manor of things waiting for us at GC2009. That is the more or less immediate future. But, what of the real future?
Let’s look at the Episcopal Church, for a second. If TEC were a publicly traded company, is this a company in which you would buy stock? Your average Episcopal congregation has about 70 people in it. To me, this means your average Episcopal Church will likely close in 40 years. The number of churches declining in the Episcopal Church outnumbers those that are growing by more than a 2 to 1 margin. Moreover, as the church contracts, the remaining bureaucratic structure will fight to survive and force more resources from beleaguered congregations to support Diocesan offices and the national church. If you have a church with 70 people, you can hardly afford a regular full time pastor. Rather than being supported by your Diocese, your Diocese will have its hand out. That won’t last for long. I would further predict that, given the current state of affairs, as Dioceses leave the Episcopal Church, they will not be reconstituted. Rather, the liberals and property that is won through litigation will simply be attached to another Diocese. Look for the San Joaquin loyalists to be attached to either Northern California or El Camino Real (my bet is on ECR). Look for the Fort Worth Loyalists to be attached to the faltering (at least financially) Diocese of Northwest Texas. Look for Pittsburgh loyalists to be attached to Northwest Pennsylvania. And so on.
Moreover, we are churning out priests who have no Gospel with which to evangelize, but who are maintenance priests, created from the beginning to service the current constituency of the church. In forty years, that aging constituency will be pushing up the daisies. In bankruptcy parlance, this church is the equivalent of a buggy whip manufacturer in the religious sector.
On that note, given the current rates of decline, I would predict that Katherine Jefferts Shori will be the last Presiding Bishop to dwell in a swanky Manhattan penthouse and have a swanky office on Second Avenue for the entire duration of her tenure as Presiding Bishop. The 28th Presiding Bishop will continue to be a Diocesan Bishop with jurisdiction over a domestic Diocese rather than merely the convocation of American Churches in Europe. This will occur 16 years from now. At that point, the Episcopal Church will be about on the level with the Unitarians of today, numerically and, probably, theologically, only with vestments. The demand for buggy whips continues to decline. Duh.
What will come of those parishes and Dioceses that choose to realign or otherwise hold fast to the faith in a church bent on its own destruction because of some ill founded belief that the demand for buggy whips will come back?
Well, they will either fragment like the continuing church movement, or they will create a missional minded and vibrant denomination that carries forward the traditions and structure of the early Church that will some day receive into its ranks former Methodist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, non-denominational, what-have-you congregations that want to be a part of the Church Catholic. This is the crossroads at which we stand. Previous behavior being the best predictor of future behavior, I believe it will be the former which will happen. As Bishop Michael Marshall once wrote, so much of renewal heralds a time and season of reaction, not of a desire to get the right answer, but to get a different answer. So has most of the reformation of Christianity since it began.
To further paraphrase Marshall, if we are to create a household of faith like a castle where we have blown up the drawbridge, shut down the portcullis to separate those within and without it, we have missed the point of the Gospel. Rather, the new Anglicanism in North America must be like a family reunion, providing a home for Christians who know where they belong before their longings take them to new places; being truly free to explore new territory yet above all knowing where they can return and where they can be welcome even when they got it wrong. If Anglicanism does not preserve this aspect of its true self, then the experiment of the via media between Catholicism and Protestantism, the Church Catholic listening to and placing in positions of leadership rather than marginalization reformers and enthusiasts calling for a return to the Gospel and the basic teachings of Jesus Christ to bring the Church back into oneness for which Christ prayed before he died and of which a broken world is in dire need, will be lost. If that occurs, I will grieve my entire lifetime, while today, I grieve the loss of unity in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America no more.
At a meeting today I heard from a prison chaplain who is building one Protestant Church behind the walls of a prison. Kairos, when it begins in this prison, will be a collaboration between this church (supported by a number of outside churches of various denominational stripes) and the Roman Catholic Church. Anglicanism could be this sort of thing. The future will be what we make it. Much of what I call for in this piece and pray for as regards Anglicanism requires humility that I am afraid we just don’t have. But, I remain hopeful.
The other main thing that I think is required is patience. It will take another 20 years for your average Episcopalian to even figure out what is really going on with the Episcopal Church, and that long for liberal Episcopalians who truly believe in Jesus to realize that belief will ultimately not be supported by their church; in fact, it may not even be tolerated. It will take 20 years before there are numerous Anglicans in North America that weren’t Episcopalian and carry with them all of the baggage from these times. Athanasius never lived to see the heresies that distressed the church of his time abate. So is the way of things. Is this a call to delay action? Hardly. It is a call to realize that we will feel lonely for a good long while, as Athanasius must have surely felt.
For me, all I can do is remain focused on Jesus. In the coming year, I will have a great deal to do with planting a new Kairos ministry in another prison, and this is what I am to be about. Lots of things have pointed me to this, not the least of which was a very Cursillo looking rainbow I saw on the way back from my meeting today. God is still so in charge of all things, and He will continue to be in charge of my life – if I let him, if I don’t let my own baggage get in the way, if I don’t let the Episcopal Church and its politics, its trappings, its needs get in the way of that. I still have work to do in my Diocese and in representing my Diocese at General Convention, but that isn’t the main thing.
As most of you have noticed, I haven’t been posting as much lately, and my old blogsite is still down with many gems I have written lost to me except through a tedious process of cutting and pasting from a database of sorts. I am still going to blog, but I can tell you that I won’t be commenting daily on the latest news from the Anglican/Episcopal world. I’ll probably comment on this topic more like weekly, unless some truly big news hits, like it did today. I’ll keep writing other stuff though, no doubt.
Looking at the past, this blog has been about a guy who was raised as a cradle Episcopalian who, after some interesting turns in life, got involved in prison ministry and saw church conflict when he was a kid and as a young adult, and then became a partisan in his own church and a litigator for others after GC2003 when he woke up one day and realized the values he had been taught and the experiences he had of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith no longer squared with where his own denomination was. The guy journeyed down the rabbit hole having no idea how far it would take him. Not being one to simply accept people and things the way they are and leave them there and believing he was an excellent jurisconsult and a faithful Christian naively, this man thought well, I’ll just head right down to this General Convention thingy and just give them a good what for, give them a hug, and all will be well. Wrong. He just didn’t see the buggy whips on the wall that would be used to beat people rather than drive horses as they used to.
Is this important? Maybe. What is truly funny is that all this is merely prelude. As to my remarks regarding grieving the loss of unity in the Episcopal Church no more, I’ve come to realize much of what I have written over the past three years was my grieving process with the church that raised me from my youth and educated me as an undergraduate and young adult. That institution, that feeling, that part of my life, well, is now gone and far better understood in knowing the history and what really happened before, during, and after that day during GC2003 when the revelation hit me that something major had gone terribly awry. The crazy part is that, in my blogging, I have a feeling that I never walked alone, that my rants and raves voiced the feeling of many people in a confused and terrible time in the Church Catholic, that, unfortunately, is still not over.
The only good part in all this is that the future is a bright as it could possibly be, lit by the light of Jesus Christ.
As a closing remark, I pray and hope that one certain Episcopal priest who has received offers to leave TEC for already realigned organizations but has stuck it out with his small yet growing parish in a revisionist Diocese in TEC because he will not abandon his parishioners, a genteel lay leader from upper South Carolina who like me is a Communion Conservative happily doing Cursillo before the poop was thrown at the fan in 2003 and who shares a strange affinity with me for church politics that draws us like gnats to a buglite, and my brother in Christ from Mississippi who was busy tending to the needs outlined by Christ in Matthew 25 yet making a living at it but who realized what was happening in the Episcopal Church was important and needed to be dealt with, and all of whom will be around with me, God willing, 40 years from now to chat about where all these things led, will comment on this piece, if only briefly.
Other comments, from those who have been reading my musings, are also most welcome. We’ve been walking a journey together. Sometimes, you just have to sit by the fire and talk about where you’ve been and what the hope for the future is, rather than just recounting what happened in the day immediately past, and what will happen in the day immediately approaching.