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OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD

Would the real Episcopal Church please stand up? I’ve been struck lately by the wide gap which seems to exist between the Episcopal Church one discovers in the parishes across the land and the Episcopal Church as she reveals herself in General Convention.

I’m almost of a mind to call the General Convention version of TEC “Oz”, and the church one finds in most places “Kansas”. Granted my impressions are largely anecdotal, but swimming around in my brain are memories of a number of surveys which have been made available during the last ten years.

I am willing to admit that there are significant parishes in urban and suburban America, largely on the East and West coasts which look a lot like “Oz”. I’ll further admit that there are a good number of diocesan centers which trot out statements in “Ozese”. Elsewhere I’ve termed that arcane language “815 Mandarin”.

At the same time there are equally significant parishes in urban and suburban America, in places like Virginia and Texas which definitely aren’t Oz, but aren’t much like the sort of communities one finds in typical TEC parishes. By typical I mean parishes which manage to recruit somewhere between seventy and one hundred and thirty active parishioners and usually support one priest. These parishes are usually but not always outside the urban and suburban sprawl of big cities. They struggle to pay their way, have little money for the sort of programs available from 815 and church publishers. Parishioners love their parish, describe the diocese as “them” and have little or no interest in the National Church unless General Convention’s actions embarrass them with the neighbors or frighten the horses. At any rate statistics show that the clergy or lay workers in such parishes are unlikely to be represented in General Convention.

One thing is certain. Most of the members of these churches resent being lectured about politics or committed to what they regard to be political actions by conventions or bishops. I’m not suggesting that such resentment is justified. It is real.

When it comes to the liturgy and hymnal they are much more likely to use Rite One at the early service and Rite Two later, unlikely to use any of the supplements and seldom willing to stray outside the offerings of the hymnal. The organ is still normally used. Youth Sundays often turn out to be opportunities for aging sixties folk to dig out the music enjoyed when Hippies reigned.

On the whole they are rather shy of ecumenical relationships, even with the Lutherans, unless cooperation comes in the shape of a few special community services or charitable endeavors. Of late they have become aware of the Anglican Communion and think it’s not a bad idea as long as it doesn’t get ideas that it can tell Americans what to do.

These typical parishes embrace all sorts and conditions of people, as they have always done as long as they don’t make a fuss about what might be thought to be an unusual lifestyle. After all young and even older people nowadays…….!! Least said, soonest mended. There may be a soup kitchen or a thrift shop run by the same few willing volunteers.

One factor is for sure. The parish will be introverted and spend nearly all of its time trying to accommodate its present members. True there will be fly blown notices around referring to such arcane things as Millennium Development, what ever that is, and major disasters will call forth sometimes extraordinary responses. Flyers and brochures about diocesan events or offerings make their way to a table or tract rack and a few take notice. The vestry from time to time discusses outreach in low and discreet tones particularly if the word “evangelism” is used.

Yet from the outside, the actual building remains a rather daunting place for those who have not been initiated into the mysteries.. The notice board is low key and perhaps hasn’t been cleaned up for years. Giant red doors bar the way into something which looks a lot like a castle, built to ward off the enemy. The parishioners are a loving lot –until one discovers the various clans and their claims –but breaking through their love into acceptance demands a good deal of self-assurance. There may be some concern that there are fewer active parishioners than there were twenty years ago. But except for that tasteless evangelical church which steals the young people with jolly activities, most of the other local churches are also weaker.

When I compare this picture of TEC with the one portrayed by General Convention, the picture by which we are accessed and judged by our neighbors, ecumenical partners and the Anglican Communion I’m amazed and puzzled. There’s nothing new in this picture. Unless the very nature of Anglicanism has changed, it will be “Kansas” which endures and “Oz” which fades away. Certainly some of the things the “General Convention” church proposes or adopts will filter down to be amended, accepted or rejected by the common sense of the laity. T’was ever thus. But what an irony that at this moment in time, TEC’s unity and membership in the wider Communion seems to stand or fall on perceptions based on a view of this church which may neither be accurate nor fair.

6 Responses

  1. A-M-E-N ! ! ! After some 50 years as Vicar and Rector I still recall the difficulty of getting
    delegates even to local diocesan conventions. Seems the average parishioner considered the diocese
    ‘they,’ even as they met their assessments. Further, the office of Presiding Bishop was categorically ‘the guy who at times blesses us as episcopalians, and at other times embarrases us with his embodiement of the Democratic Party Platform in public and ecumenical matters.

  2. Provided we survive this “unpleasentness”, I personally think there will be lots more folks willing to go to ‘conventions/convocations” etc.

    We are reaping the fruits of our refusal, and the idea of let someone else do it.

  3. Well, for a West Virginian you sure do claim a lot of knowledge about Texas.

    I am from Texas and General Convention speaks for me. Always has. Always will. When I agree and when I don’t.

    Now, if I could just find an equally faithful bishop.

    Linda McMillan
    Austin, Texas

  4. Fr. Tony,
    I am from Texas, and you are definitely spot on. What you describe is exactly what it is like in most of our parishes. Please note that Ms. mcMillan recently blogged that “austin parishes suck”. The lady has issues and we are all praying for her.

  5. I’m from Texas and second CarolynP.

    Great article. I just found your blog and like it very much.

    – Charming Billy

  6. One hopes for PECUSA/ECUSA/TEC’s sake it will be “Kansas” that endures. My departure in ’83 was precipitated by a move to a thoroughly “Oz” diocese, though I will note to Anonymous that the major initiating event for my departure was my first peek outside the parish walls, attending a diocesan convention (El Camino Real, ca. 1980-82).

    For all that I retain the cradle Anglican’s desire for a unified Anglicanism, TEC will have to undergo major reformation before I can even begin to lean on my bishop and archbishop for same.

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